Notes on the Magic Mountain: “Mynheer Peeperkorn”

Image is from Pixabay

A more than usual appreciation of – linked to his need for – alcoholic drinks. He appears to chew the liquid before it goes down, he spends so long savouring it.

His head must be blurry from all he drinks – at least one full bottle of wine with every meal, sometimes two or two and a half, and always a drop of gin. Perhaps for this reason, he talks incoherently.

But he talks marvellously, inspiring wonder with his hands as he speaks. Hypnotic these hand gestures, thumb and forefinger in a circle and palm outspread, so that whatever nonsense he speaks his audience, watching those hands, cannot doubt they have heard something wonderful, true, perfect, the very best. Close your eyes as he talks – if you can! – and you’ll hear he’s said precisely nothing.

I am speaking, I am speaking – so even to say nothing is to say something, even the mere act of speech signals one’s own existence, and can even, spoken loudly and confidently enough, seem to assert one’s own importance. Hans Castorp calls him a “blurred personality”: you can’t deny he’s there, but what is he exactly? He must be something, but there is nothing to grasp.

Blurriness within, blurriness without: it is as if he projects his own inner drunken muddle outwards, and in this way intoxicates his audience.

(I’ve been reading Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, translated by H.T. Lowe-Porter.)

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