CultureLab • Permanent Seminar

The Charm of Distance: Thomas Mann and The Magic Mountain

João Pedro Cachopo (CESEM)

Much has been written about the philosophical character of The Magic Mountain. Castorp’s education is evoked, the debates between Settembrini and Naphta, the protagonist’s encounter with the enigmas of time, of love and of death. However — and it is the characterisation of the sanatorium as a morbid place that suggests this — it misses the mark. For if The Magic Mountain is a philosophical book, it is fundamentally so because it raises questions about the advantages and disadvantages of distance for thought. Isn’t distance — at least the distance symbolised by the mountain — a subterfuge? A pretext for indifference, for giving up, for cowardice? If not, what would be the alternative? A call to arms against the sea of misfortunes on the plain? What’s the right distance? Today, in the face of the danger that overthrows dilettantism and the blindness into which militancy falls, this concern — which was Mann’s — is also ours.

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