I’m halfway through The Magic Mountain. It’s a really interesting novel. Very evocative (you really feel like you’re up on that mountain) and full of comic characters. Nothing happens. I mean it. Nothing happens in this novel. Well, I guess he kind of got with the lady. But only somewhat.
And it’s not a problem that nothing happens in the novel, but it does lead you to wonder: How is this supposed to be read? Because it challenges my reading codes. As is normal for science fiction readers, I’m against interpretation. When I read, a spaceship isn’t a symbol for the decadence of capitalism…it’s a spaceship. A cockroach isn’t a metaphor for the anonymous, scuttling existence that we lead under modern capitalism…it’s a cockroach. A genie isn’t about the hopeless, unfulfillable desires engendered in us by modern capitalism, it’s…well, you get it.
(P.S. Is it still fashionable to blame things on modern capitalism?)
So when I read about some mofos hanging out in a tuberculosis sanitarium, I assume that’s pretty much what it’s about. However, that reading clearly doesn’t work. The protagonist, Hans Castorp, is so stolid and superficial that he can’t really carry a traditional realist novel. So one is forced (as distasteful as it is to me) to lean on the traditional allegorical interpretations of the novel (i.e. that it somehow represents the state of modern Western civilization).
Of course, the allegory isn’t exact. One can’t just say, “Oh, Hans Castorp represents modern man, a person who’s been cut off from his traditional beliefs [by modern capitalism].” If it was that simple, there’d be no need to write a novel. There’s a weird transmutation here, a density of symbology, in which meaning accretes around the characters.
The most interesting thing about the novel is the characters relationship to their own illness. They want to be cured, but they also revel in being sick. There’s something very true about that. We want to find the truth, but we also love being lied to. We might circumvent authority (just as the residents continuously flout the sanitarium’s rules), but we are afraid to leave it behind altogether (the residents can leave at any time, but they’re afraid to go against the doctors’ recommendations). We desire a kind of certainty that the world is unable to provide us. And in order to get it, we have to lie to build an illusion for ourselves.
In other news…teaching starts soon! Just three days! Shouldn’t be too big of a deal. I’ve already taught the class before. And my schedule this semester is unreal. All my classes (those that I take and those that I teach) are on Tuesday and Thursday. Five free days every week! It is truly the life that man was meant to lead.
The semester has gone great so far. Good to hang out with my Baltimore peeps again. And really good to settle back into routine. Waking up at a set time (you might notice that I am writing this at around 8 AM on a Sunday morning) has been hard at times, but is pretty rewarding. I don’t know what it is, but every year, as fall approaches, I feel really energized and try lots of new things and get tons of stuff done. For instance, I’ve done some pretty extensive tinkering with how I track and set goals for my writing, and I have a sense that I might very soon break through to the next level, productivity-wise.
The energy will fade and give way to wintertime, eventually, which is a bit depressing, but we just have to get used to these things, I suppose.