Carry a song


The work I have so far done is nothing or not much -- as good as nothing. I will do better, Lisabeta -- this is a promise. As I write, the sea whispers to me and I close my eyes. I am looking into a world unborn and formless, that needs to be ordered and shaped; I see into a whirl of shadows of human figures who beckon to me to weave spells to redeem them: tragic and laughable figures and some that are both together -- and to these I am drawn. But my deepest and secretest love belongs to the blond and the blue-eyed, the fair and living, the happy, lovely, and commonplace.

Tonio Kröger

This story, and yes this passage -- tears surprised me. This is Hans Castorp, this is his dream -- he managed to be the bourgeois who created the great vision of humanity and joy -- he spun it out himself and saw it all -- with a secret lazy smile upon his lips. And he accomplished this after he decided to bow his head, shrug his shoulders, and give it all over -- heave ho and here we go -- all so that an answer might be supplied about the meaning and purpose of life -- to his prosaic, bourgeois little soul.

He saw to the bottom and he kicked over the traces. And when he was killed, he was killed rushing to battle with a song in his heart -- a song of nature and of love -- Der Lindenbaum -- a song of life.

Bernard, too, rushes into battle with a song in his heart -- a song of glory, and yes, perhaps, a song based on a fiction. But he too has decided to kick over the traces and, perhaps more importantly, to overcome the individual self -- to go beyond it? I struggled with that concept in Magic Mountain. What does this mean, that Hans has become:

the song’s best son…the young man who consumed his life in triumphing over himself and died, a new word on his lips, the word of love, which he did not yet know how to speak. It was truly worth dying for, this song of enchantment. But he who died for it was no longer really dying for this song and was a hero only because ultimately he died for something new—for the new word of love and for the future in his heart.


I thought perhaps that this song represented the 'significant object' that was for Hans a sort of talisman that allowed him to continue to see back to his moment of understanding (in the dreams, the vision of the homo Dei and after the snowstorm). I thought that this song made seeing to the bottom safe -- because this song somehow englobed both the fractured and fracturing truth of seeing things as they are, and not as some thing seen from a specific angle by a specific viewer -- this 'truth' englobed with the greater -- the outward, some sense of the all and the whole. I thought, after my initial reading, that this song was something that Hans kept close to his heart -- it was an answer about the meaning and purpose of life -- and it taught him the dangerous seduction of 'the rage to fill the world with oneself' -- it kept the sweetness of dissipation clear in his mind -- and it made light of these indulgent pursuits.

I don't know if that's accurate at all. I don't know and I can't quite figure it out.

I do know that there is a striking similarity between the end of M
agic Mountain, as Hans, the little bourgeois with a moist spot, helmet on his head, fumes and stench of war around him, charges into battle with a song in his heart and even on his lips -- and the end of The Waves as Bernard turns from his assessment of the world and to the battle -- the rush toward the battle, jousting with Death, heroic like Percival, with a song of glory --

Let me now raise my song of glory. Heaven be praised for solitude. Let me be alone. Let me cast and throw away this veil of being, this cloud that changes with the last breath, night and day, and all night and all day... Heaven be praised for solitude that has removed the pressure of the eye, the solicitation of the body, and all need of lies and phrases.


Yes, to let one's hand fall, fingers loosened, let the book of phrases drop, let the mantle of self crumple backwards. It's just the same in Magic Mountain -- rest backward into the chair, head back, eyes focused elsewhere, a vision of something larger floating before one -- a vision complete and yet so clear that every infinitesimal part can be picked out.

To shift slightly out of the realm I so easily fall into -- this question of music is an important one. During the lecture I attended, we spoke of the 'little language' -- the broken language that Rhoda prefers, the language of lovers : 'broken words, inarticulate words' -- the language that Rhoda and Louis use with one another. Bernard has lived much of his life existing in great rounded, snipped-off phrases. He exists in a world of alphabetically-organized phrases -- of large, meaningful, useful language. And this little language is new -- it is, yes, the language of gaps and spaces -- it is the language that one uses when there are no words.

Such was the case of Hamlet the Dane, that typical literary man. He knew what it meant to be called to knowledge without being born to it. To see things clear, if even through your tears, to recognize, notice, observe -- and have to put it all down with a smile, at the very moment when hands are clinging, and lips meeting, and the human gaze is blinded with feeling -- it is infamous, Lisabeta, it is indecent, outrageous -- but what good does it do to be outraged?

Tonio Krö
ger

And at the lecture someone commented that there was a similar concept of 'little music' -- those aspects of a piece of music which cause us to fall in love -- they somehow reach in and tug. Or perhaps its a resonance, a mutual vibration -- but whatever it is, the little music that dwells between the well-crafted bars. And this seemed right to me -- this little language is what we fall in love with -- it's what stands behind a phrase like 'to fall in love' which we all recognize is shabby with overuse and misuse, and yet we know what is there -- we know the substance behind such a phrase.

And when Bernard says he is done with phrases he says he has no idea how to speak now -- in the world without the self -- in this world that is eclipse-darkened -- strangely dark, eerie and frightening. Woolf wrote in the journals what it was like to watch the eclipse -- to see the world grow fallow and desolate and then that great suck of the soul when colour flooded back -- colour so vibrant that it was as if everything had been painted fresh -- or as if one's eyes had been switched out and polished up. This is, perhaps, what it is like to return to the world after seeing to the bottom -- after scrambling to one's feet, soaked with rainwater from lying in a ditch as a storm passed over.

And Bernard, at the end of The Waves has seen something, that is sure. Just as Hans Castorp had seen something -- and rushed, smiling, to his death. Just as Tonio has seen something -- seen a world unborn and formless -- a world peopled with laughable characters, with Hamlets and Horatios and even poor Yoricks. And he sees that this making tendency -- phrase-making or story-making or maybe even song-making, image-making, scene-making -- this tendency, it is what struggles back to the surface. To respond -- more than that -- to fight. To fight for something, maybe just for itself.