Magic Mountain and Der Lindenbaum -- Part 2


[Part 1]

But now I must look closer at this song -- der Lindenbaum -- it is the key to understanding how it is that Hans carries his knowledge down from the mountain -- his new word of love and the key lesson --
For the sake of goodness and love, man shall grant death no dominion over his thoughts.

This is Der Lindenbaum [German original here]:

By the well in front of the [village] gate
there stands a linden tree;
I dreamt in its shade
many a sweet dream.

I carved in its bark
many a word of love;
in joy and in sorrow it drew
me ever to it.

Once more today I had to wander
past it in the dead of night,
and even in the darkness
I closed my eyes [rested and dreamt].

And its branches rustled
as if they were calling to me
'Come here to me, friend,
here you will find your rest.'

The cold winds blew
straight into my face,
my hat flew from my head,
but I did not turn around.

Now I am many hours' journey
away from that place;
but still I hear the rustling:
'You would find rest there!'





This song is the deep structure of this book -- a map of sorts.

Hans' first dream, his nosebleed dream which results in his frightening hovering-body experience, takes place beside water and under shade -- in the meadow where he later 'plays king.' He dreams there of 'love' -- in its first instantiation -- love as lust, as the longing for Hippe-Clavdia -- the Other, the foreign, the element by which his soul can be forced upward. He returns to this love in joy and in sorrow, passes by it (eyes closed, dreamy, in night -- like when Hans speaks of sitting on a lake, gazing with dazzled and bewildered eyes out of glassy daylight across to the eastern sky and the moonlit night draped in a web of mist). And so on, the song is rife with symbol.

In the Snow chapter Hans had learned that his 'old word of love' -- love as lust -- must be lost -- and that there must be a new word of love to carve on the tree -- love as 'brotherhood' and 'fellowship.' This song is Hans' song of nostalgia, his song of love is love for the flatlands, for Germany -- and his love for this song is also suspect -- Hans regards it warily, knowing that behind this simple feeling of nostalgia lies death -- the song is a fruit says Mann,

it is a fresh, plump, healthy fruit, that was liable, extraordinarily liable, to begin to rot and decay at that very moment, or perhaps the next; and although it was purest regalement of the spirit when enjoyed at the right moment, only a moment later it could spread rot and decay among those who partook of it. It was a fruit of life, sired by death and pregnant with death.


This simple German song, this song of love and of homecoming -- to Hans it means life and death -- life in the knowledge of death -- and thus love in the knowledge of death.

This song carefully encapsulates Hans' previous vision -- that man must allow death no dominion over his thoughts -- that love and death cannot be rhymed together -- and as a significant object, it allows Hans to triumph over himself once again --Yes, triumph over self, that may well have been the essence of his triumph over this love -- over this enchantment of the soul with dark consequences. This song allows Hans to hold together in his thoughts both the grisly feast and the sunny civilization of his dream.

But this isn't just about Hans -- though this song allows Hans to triumph over himself, allows him freedom, it is not the dissolute license of Hans' earlier experiments -- this freedom is a return to the 'anonymous and communal' dream of Snow -- and a return to Hans' 'answer as to the meaning and purpose of life.' This song of nostalgia and fatherland and homecoming and even love -- this song is all one would need to become an enchanter of souls, who would then give the song such vast dimensions that it would subjugate the world. One might even found whole empires upon it, earthly, all-too-earthly empires, very coarse, very progressive, and not in the least nostalgic. I think that Mann is saying that under the banner of 'brotherhood,' the most despicable deeds can be perpetrated -- and that it is the notion of brotherhood which takes into account only the sunny civilization and not the bloody feast that is the danger. Brotherhood and fellowship in full knowledge of the bloody feast -- this is what men must strive for. Hans is the song's best son because he has knows that lesson -- he dreamed his way into it and has now found a way of remembering it.

Hans, the song's best son, would be willing to die for this song -- for brotherhood, for homecoming, for Germany -- But he who died for it was no longer dying for this song and was a hero only because he died for something new -- for the new word of love and for the future in his heart.

And so, when Hans leaves, rushing down the mountain to the call of war and the clamor of the great storm which has broken in the flatlands -- he has his song with him -- he can carry this new vision, this new word of love, this lesson about death and life and love -- he can sing his song as he struggles through mud and fire and the dull thunder of groans and hellhound howls. And Hans disappears from sight, singing his little song about a linden tree, singing about homecoming and about cold winds and a word of love -- he has dreamed it all -- his soul forced upward out of simplicity -- into the reaches of 'hero.' Far back at the beginning of the book, before we knew anything about Hans, the narrator told us something telling:

A human being lives out not only his personal life as an individual, but also, consciously or subconsciously, the lives of his epoch and contemporaries [...] All sorts of personal goals, purposes, hopes, prospects, may float before the eyes of a given individual, from which he may glean the impulse for exerting himself for great deeds; if the impersonal world around him, however, if the times themselves, despite all their hustle and bustle, provide him with neither hopes nor prospects, if they secretly supply him with evidence that things are in fact hopeless, without prospect or remedy, if the times respond with hollow silence to every conscious or subconscious question, however it may be posed, about the ultimate, unequivocal meaning of all exertions and deeds that are more than exclusively personal -- then it is almost inevitable, particularly if the person involved is a more honest sort, that the situation will have a crippling effect, which, following moral and spiritual paths, may even spread to that individual's physical and organic life.


Hans goes to the mountain; Hans stays on the mountain, stays as long as his questions are unsatisfied; and Hans leaves the mountain -- leaves because the times force him to -- because of the war. And at the end of the book, after Hans has trotted off, these are the final lines --

And out of this worldwide festival of death, this ugly rutting fever that inflames the rainy evening sky all around -- will love someday rise up out of this, too?


I think that Mann wants there to be hope -- he wants to believe beyond reality, beyond disappointment, beyond the stench and carnal fury of war that some love can rise out of this -- and that love can only be the love of true, clear-eyed brotherhood. There must be a triumph over the self -- not in the name of license and dissolution, but rather in the name of working back toward the 'anonymous and communal,' the universal which he still believes in.

And that is perhaps the root of my love for this book -- because it shows things for what they are (though in a way, as Bernhard's Murnau would say, that is masterful and yet bourgeois) -- Mann sees to the bottom, or rather, has Hans see to the bottom, and at the end, the fight is not for the individual or the self, but rather for some elevation of the self. And though that is hard to still cling to, I do. Mann also loved and revered the simple -- but not the hollow, ciphered simplicity of Peeperkorn -- not one-sided simplicity.

Der Lindenbaum is Hans' Rosetta stone -- this song is his way of understanding both the intellectual and emotional aspects of his stay on the mountain -- it allows a neat package, so to speak, of what he has experienced. And this neat package can be transported -- he can sing it when he returns home! He sings it on the mountains and in the flatlands and it is his song of both leavetaking and homecoming. Hans -- little brave Hans -- he brings the new word of love from atop the mountain, back to the homeland. He triumphs over himself, over the indulgent placet experiri, triumphs over love-as-lust, triumphs over myopic understandings of humanity, and then disappears.

And now I must bid farewell again, kicking over the traces of my rhyme here -- veiling that welling sense of hope and optimism which seems ever more archaic.