Martha Jungwirth, Niemandsbucht, 2003 Aquarell auf handgeschöpftem Papier, 102,5 x 139 cm
Courtesy Galerie Michael Haas, Berlin, Foto: Lea Gryze
© Martha Jungwirth / Bildrecht, Wien 2023

‘Out of this universal feast of death, may it be that Love one day shall mount?’

Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) is one of those novels that, like most works of genius, appeals to archetypal time and space. It employs very strong metaphors. The first metaphor is related to memento mori: to the death within us, to the desire to know our illness. A healthy person is not aware of this desire. Hans Castorp will never become an artist like Adrian Leverkühn, the protagonist of another novel by Mann. Yet, he becomes himself – a person similar to an artist, tormented by the question ‘Who am I?’ We can say that reality and place mobilized Castorp. On the one hand, this put his life in danger and deprived him of happiness, but on the other, without the sanatorium his existence might have been more banal; he would not have become himself without the time for reflection. The main question is what causes a person to become a person. How does all this happen? What strange needs one can have, so distant from the stereotypical desire for happiness that often ruins one’s life and, I would say, completely limits its possibilities. We have no idea of what lies within us, of what sleeps and hides inside.

When I was young, perhaps after I read The Magic Mountain, I had the idea of writing a novel called The Monastery of Hearers about a group of artists or otherwise sensitive people who want to hear the forthcoming apocalypse. They find a good place for concentration – the ruins of a bastion – and call it a monastery. The group settle in an abandoned post-war building on a mountain and behave like hermits because when surrounded by a crowd one cannot see or hear anything. In order to hear music, we have to hide behind thick walls – when we push through the crowd, music seems like noise. The leader of the group urges everyone to become an instrument that hears the music of the apocalypse. Initially, there was a disaster planned, because at some point the listening group would succumb to demoralization… Somehow, imperceptibly, the book turned to a diary which I’ve been writing to this day. In The Magic Mountain, the patients, separated from the real world, seem to absorb the pre-war anxiety, the essence of irrationality. I may try to include the idea of my book in the performance creation process.

In The Magic Mountain we can feel the author’s permanent uncertainty about identity. The question ‘Who am I?’ causes anxiety and doubt, and makes one reassess one’s youth and wonder whether one should choose the bourgeois model of careless happiness, which has so far seemed natural, or go in a completely different direction. Castorp wants to go in a different direction, but the choice is made for him without his participation. And this is very important. It is not a process that he controls, rather, it strikes him like a disease…

All premonitions associated with The Magic Mountain lie in the pre-war era, when the world was completely different. Thinking about The Magic Mountain, I read Stefan Zweig’s autobiography, Die Welt von Gestern (The World of Yesterday: Memoirs of a European). It is about what war is and what it does to reality and to the development of humanism. In the book, you can feel sadness and a particular nostalgia for the world as it was before the war. However, it shows how fundamentally wrong the development itself was; after all, the customs, self-awareness and ethical norms of pre-war society were very rigid. Maybe our mistakes caused the catastrophe in the first place? At a certain point, that developmental error exploded like a nuclear bomb. Zweig writes about the precise moment when a person loses control and it becomes obvious that they are no longer in charge of the explosive mechanism. Irrationality invades the structure of human civilization that gives the world a sense of rational functioning and maximum security. People seem to think they are clever, but then inevitably succumb to irrationality.

When a war ends, it is pushed out of memory; the experience of wartime is cocooned and closed off. Upon disembarking on the other shore, you will tell it to ‘go away!’ From now on there is no war, only life. These were dark times, but humanity is once again striving for what it so terribly fears… What is it? Why is this happening?

The ship Mann invented before World War I and in some strange way managed to navigate to the other shore is capacious. I would take that ship, it’s special – but what would I carry on it now?

Krystian Lupa


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19. January 2024
The Magic Mountain · Programme presentation Markus Hinterhäuser

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