There is no chance that Ludovico Settembrini and Leo Naphta, the intellectuals portrayed in The Magic Mountain, will ever agree with each other. If one of them says something, you can guarantee that the other will say the opposite.
It reminds me of what Hegel says about the absurd notion that truth is found in opposing “thesis” and “antithesis”: it’s like two children arguing, each determined only to contradict the other.
Is it possible that anyone could consistently hold either of these extreme positions? Agree fully with either Settembrini or Naphta? It seems they can’t even agree with themselves: in their desperation to contradict each other, they fall into self-contradiction.
Confusion arises. And at the height of the confusion, the name “Hegel” is mentioned. Appropriate to reference the great thinker, at the very moment that all oppositions blur and every logical distinction dissolves away.
This conversation could go on forever, it has no limit. Argue long enough and a soupy chaos is created. And still the conversation continues. So was it all for nothing? Perhaps chaos was the point, all logical preconceptions now laid low, and out of the resulting turmoil something new can emerge.
(I’ve been reading Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, translated by H.T. Lowe-Porter.)
One of my most favorite books of all time.
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