Time in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, Part 1.

“Can one tell-that is to say, narrate-time, time itself, as such, for its own sake?   That would surely be an absurd undertaking.”  So Thomas Mann asks and answers one of the fundamental questions of his novel.  It is the “magic” of the “magic mountain” that obscures definite flatland time and establishes the verities of timelessness and infinite space.  However, Mann qualifies this thought by stating that one can only tell a story of time by assuming that time is  something flowing, a succession where one event follows another.  Mann actually views time as something inordinately complex and puzzling.  Humans lack any time organ that could measure it precisely.  Also, watches and clocks have no “feeling for the limits, divisions, or measurements of time.”  A concept of time must embody its actual value, relative value, circular quality, its relation to change and its essential unreality.  Time is so central to his work that he includes two complete sections:  “Excursus on the Sense of Time” and “By the Ocean of Time”, which are philosophical interpretations of time.

He speaks about the scientific definition of time:  the measurement of motion in space.  However, time is extremely relative like the distance from one place to another.  A long train journey might take twenty hours, by foot it would be greatly longer and in the mind it might take but a second.  And the motion of the seasons is also relative.  The calendar might indicate a regular succession of months, but in appearance and in effect, spring might be a phase of winter and autumn might reflect pieces of summer.  The very equinoctial movements are only relative for they anticipate each subsequent season in the midst of a current season.  The seasons flow with time not with the “actual state of the calendar.” Relative time flows like a piece of music.  It is a succession that requires more than one sound, but needs others to form a pattern.  Mann speaks of relative time as a “line composed of a succession of dimensionless points…  that goes on bringing about changes.”

Time is also circular.  After eons or seconds, all is as it was in the beginning.  Time cannot be shortened by novelty.  At first, novelty may seem to pass quickly, but as one becomes accustomed to the novelty, one shifts back to the old life and it is if the novelty has never existed.  Even monotony cannot make time seem long; “great spaces” of monotonous time merely shrink together and make the longest life appear short.  Earth’s very movement and the motions of the planets return to the point they have set out from.  Time is so much of a circle that Mann says it is a “cessation of movement–for the there repeats itself constantly in the here, the past in the present.”  But, at the zero point, an acceleration begins that leads through subsequent changes until finally zero is reached again.  And time change in a cell can be compared to time change in the individual.  An individual is born only to die, but in death he has only “closed his eyes on time.”  In fact, the individual has an abundance of time and is “timeless.”  The dissolution process of death is caused by combination with oxygen in the process of oxidation.  Here the circular time is complete, because life also rests on oxidation.  Living consists in dying and the dead partake of life processes.

Gokusen: The Japanese Morality Tale

Gokusen was a Japanese manga series(2000-2007) by Kozueko Morimoto that was later converted to a three season TV program(2002, 2004, 2008.)   Gokusen(“gangster teacher”) concerns the adventures of orphan, Kumiko Yamaguchi, who has been brought up by her gangster grandfather in the Oedo Clan.  She is in line to take over as the fourth head of the Clan, but chooses instead a life teaching estranged, would-be delinquent boys in all-male private high schools as a homeroom teacher.  Because of Kumiko’s training in the Oedo Clan, she has become an expert in all forms of martial arts and can defeat most opponents easily, even groups of opponents.  The role of Kumiko in the TV series was played by former Japanese model, Yukie Nakama.  Throughout the series, other Japanese models appear as well, usually as school colleagues.

3D at each school contains the worst students, future delinquents, kids with no apparent future, troublemakers in general.(The one exception is Sawada, Shirokin High School’s top student, who gives a stirring and insightful valedictory speech at graduation.)  Thus, Kumiko or Yankumi(her students name for her) has her hands full right from the start.  Her specialty is mathematics and the first day we see her writing equations on the blackboard that require complex numbers as solutions.  However, her mathematics skills are never appreciated by her students.  And this is important.  Formal education with a small e:  mathematics, languages, history, science, music, art, physical education, etc. is minimized throughout the series.  Indeed, excellent students are often shown to be arrogant, domineering, and even engaging in criminal activity just for sport.  The emphasis here will be on universal moral Education(education with a capital E) and that is where Kumiko demonstrates her strength.  The main reason for the particular emphasis is that formal education does not apply to everyone;  not everybody is skillful in the above-mentioned disciplines.  However, universal moral Education is just that:  It is universal, so it applies to everyone.  That is the point Yankumi will try to make with her troubled students.

Kumiko’s first step is to observe her students carefully to find out which one of them is the leader.  Then, she tries to gain that student’s confidence and support.  This is often a difficult task, but essential,  because that student will convey her principles to the group.  Her goal is to show that school is more than formal education, but that there are experiences that school provides that impact all their lives.  Above all, there are friendships that are made in school which will last a lifetime.  This principle is repeated emphatically whenever any student separates himself from his schoolmates.  Friendship means you are never alone and Yankumi emphasizes that there is nothing she wouldn’t do to save her precious students.  Her students begin to see through her actions that she means what she says and often fights off opponents to help them and is unwavering in her support of them at school.  She teaches her students about other experiences that can be shared by them regardless of society’s condescension.  Fighting is meaningless, she says, unless it is to defend another person or is carried out to achieve a noble goal.  When Kumai, the worst student in his class, fights to protect a girl, he is rewarded by gaining a girlfriend and eventual wife.  Later, other students from Akadou Academy share Kumai’s profound feelings for the awesome birth of his daughter.  Students learn to appreciate the great sacrifices their parents have made and not to take their parents for granted.  The parents, though, are sometimes overindulgent, or sometimes overly strict and unwilling to listen to their children.  In each case, the student learns to appreciate a moral lesson from life.  And, Kumiko reminds her students that they have a choice to make something of their lives and that there are beautiful human experiences which can be shared by all.

A River Idyll And A Voice Dialogue

Along the banks of the river crawled a lizard.  It was olive green with a long tail.  Its eyes moved back and forth as if looking for something…

The river itself was an imposing force that demanded attention.  Its swift currents and mischievous eddies showed the stream was not to be taken lightly.

A keen eye could discern a scrap of raft near the beach, which was hanging on a willow.  The beach displayed an array of shiny pebbles, glittering in the sun.

Sometimes reeds would sway in a light breeze and blackberry bushes protruded from the quiet grass.

The ripples moved in expanding circles and a trout glided along the beckoning water.

 

A voice dialogue is a way to connect with the different parts of self, some of which are often ignored.  By revealing these voices, one can sometimes sense which ones are out of alignment, thus locating possible causes of emotional stress.  In the dialogue that follows, only one voice is identified.  What parts might the other four represent?

I.  “Well, here we are again.  Although it’s cool this morning, the weather is becoming splendid.”

V.  “A nice day to put your feet up and do nothing.”

III.  “You would say that.  With that attitude nothing would get accomplished.”

I.  “But a great deal was accomplished.  We read another twenty or so pages of the novel.”

V.  “Pretty boring if you ask me.”

III.  “But we didn’t ask you.  Perhaps, you should go to sleep, Sluggish, and let us do the work.”

V.  “I have as much right to be here as you do.  It was my suggestion that we listen to music when we took that ride last night.”

IV.  “We probably should have gotten out and walked to the river.”

I.  “But Sluggish is right.  The rest was needed.”

IV.  “But we will take a walk today.”

I.  “That’s our intention.”

II.  “Then perhaps we can learn more about operetta from the book we were reading.”

V.  “Oh, you and your books.”

I.  “I don’t want any arguments now.  Let’s settle down and go for that walk.”

L.Frank Baum, Education And Aunt Jane’s Nieces

L.Frank Baum, the famous writer of many children’s books, had an undisguised distaste and wariness for formal education.  He satirized formal education in the character of the Highly Magnified Wogglebug, who, through a mix-up in a science experiment, became human size(“highly magnified”) with an air of superiority.  The Wogglebug thinks crude puns proof of a higher intelligence and mimics the attitudes of the professors whom he watched.  He establishes the Wogglebug College where “scholars” are given magic pills to swallow that are full of information for the next exam.  But the Wogglebug and his arrogance is out of place in Baum’s world where people usually don’t brag about their accomplishments but demonstrate them through action.  Baum is more concerned with the Latin root of education,”educare”, “to draw out”, rather than the formal curriculum that originated with the ancient Greeks.

Baum placed great emphasis on moral and social education as opposed to formal education.  It is significant that in Aunt Jane’s Nieces there is almost no mention of college or formal education.  To Baum, character development is the only meaningful kind of education.  He makes this clear through the personage of Uncle John in Aunt Jane’s Nieces on Vacation(The girls have proposed starting their own newspaper in Millville, which causes Arthur Weldon, Louise’s fiancee, to condemn the venture as madness.):  “I’m educating my girls to be energetic and self-reliant.  I want to bring out and develop every spark of latent ability there is in them.  Whether the Millville Tribune succeeds or fails is not important;  it will… tax their best resources of intellect and business ability…”  For Baum, intellect is sharpened through challenging experiences instead of studying books.  Baum was a doer and this spirit permeates all ten of the Aunt Jane’s Nieces volumes.

Baum believed that only through hard work, persistence and true friendship could an individual’s mental life unfold.   Using Uncle John as a kindly mentor, he subjects the nieces to difficult obstacles they need to overcome.  The nieces are exposed to violence, dissipation, rampant corruption, condescension and abduction, but they always persevere.  Despite being competitors for an estate, they learn to appreciate each others strengths and help each other to deal with their weaknesses.  The last volume in the series, Aunt Jane’s Nieces in the Red Cross, subject them to their toughest test:  the agonies of war.  This dark book, stark in its description of war casualties, shows the nieces as caring, active participants as they heal the wounded and deal with the psychological trauma of war.  But they have been well-trained by their teacher, Life, and are able to bring joy and comfort when needed, and so are educated in the highest sense of the term.   

Cello Player

                                                          CELLO PLAYER

A diffuse glow appears on the orchestra pit.

The music begins softly;  a faint, lilting melody rises…

Light slowly illuminates a tall girl playing the cello.

 

She plays the cello in total harmony.

Her body rhythm flows smoothly through brown hair and slim arms,

blending beautifully with the cello and escaping through the strings.

 

While she plays, my heart swings along her bow.

Sighing, the strings gently free the melody.

 

Hearing notes dance and leap,

tonal patterns bursting into stars,

her brown eyes ignite the music into a cosmic cry…

 

The chords slowly drift into empty space.

Her cello idles lazily at her shoulder.

She reduces the room to stillness.

 

So, too, I am reminded of my own rhythm.

In time, my strings will grow slack.

And I, too, must approach silence.

 

 

 

Some Flowers For A January Morning

After all the rain we’ve had in Southern California, it’s nice to see a clear sky.  On days like this my mind turns to flowers and their natural beauty.  Flowers with their wonderful symmetries and forms never fail to inspire me.  Here are some photos of flowers from Southern Oregon and Southern California:

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Some Thoughts About Scrapbooks, The New Year And Writing

My baby scrapbook, published by Richard G. Krueger, Inc. and designed by Ditzy in 1946. It was a gift from my godparents Aunt Jackie and Uncle Ralph.

My baby scrapbook, published by Richard G. Krueger, Inc. and designed by Ditzy in 1946. It was a gift from my godparents Aunt Jackie and Uncle Ralph.  At that time my name was “Rodger” Weiss, but was soon changed to Robert Weiss.

“Life may be a stage, but I wish I didn’t have a reserved seat!”–Uncle John from Aunt Jane’s Nieces by L. Frank Baum

Usually in the month of January I peruse my many scrapbooks.  I begin by looking at my baby scrapbook with its satin sheen cover and remarks about me by my mother, Twyla.  It takes me back to my childhood days of the 1950s, when people left their doors open, kids had vacant lots and piles of sand to play in, and lemonade stands were plentiful with lemonade one cent a cup.

However, time goes on and memories begin to fade as new memories take their place.  The almost unbearable slowness of  early childhood is exchanged for the almost unbearable speed of late adulthood.  And New Year follows New Year.  I think of lines by Robert Clairmont from Forever X:

When wrinkles cut your brow

And love goes gaily by,

Sing:  Young, old, tiny, tall,

Whatever happens, happens to all

When we leave this Odd Old Ball.

Indeed, this earth truly is an “odd old ball”.  Events follow events, triggering other events.

Like any mathematical curve, life has points that mark a change of direction.  Some of these points are obvious:  marriage, the birth of children, the loss of a beloved family member.  However, other points are not so obvious and I must admit that I envy Truman Burbank for he is able to “rewind” his life from the time he escaped his set up world to his birth.  Thus, he can see how certain events changed his thinking and further actions.  I am not so fortunate.  And when I look through old scrapbooks only pieces of experiences remain, so I have to reflect and guess at events that might have caused my life to shift dramatically.  Such critical points mark the essence of theater, novels and other writings where an author can juggle them and insert them where s/he wills.  Perhaps, that sense of power and completeness is what attracts us to literature.  The writer plays God just as Christoff does with Truman.  However, the individual must depend on his/her own wavering memories to try to understand the meaning of his/her life.