Thomas Mann on love

And then she kissed him on the mouth. It was one of those Russian kisses, the sort that are exchanged in that vast, soulful land at high Christian feasts, as a token and seal of love. But even as we record this kiss exchanged between a notoriously “subtle” young man and a charming, slinking, and still equally young woman, we cannot help finding in it a reminder of Dr. Krokowski’s elaborate, if not always unobjectionable way of speaking about love in a gently irresolute sense, so that one was never quite sure whether he meant its sanctified or more passionate and fleshly forms. Are we doing the same thing here, or were Hans Castorp and Clavdia Chauchat doing the same with their Russian kiss? But what would be our readers’ reaction if we simply refused to get to the bottom of that question? In our opinion, it is analytically correct, although—to use Hans Castorp’s phrase—“terribly gauche” and downright life-denying, to make a “tidy” distinction between sanctity and passion in matters of love. What’s this about “tidy”? What’s this about gentle irresolution and ambiguity? Isn’t it grand, isn’t it good, that language has only one word for everything we associate with love – from utter sanctity to the most fleshly lust? The result is perfect clarity in ambiguity, for love cannot be disembodied even in its most sanctified forms, nor is it without sanctity even at its most fleshly. Love is always simply itself, both as a subtle affirmation of life and as the highest passion; love is our sympathy with organic life, the touchingly lustful embrace of what is destined to decay – caritas is assuredly found in the most admirable and most depraved passions. Irresolute? But in God’s good name, leave the meaning of love unresolved! Unresolved – that is life and humanity, and it would betray a dreary lack of subtlety to worry about it.
Thomas Mann in The Magic Mountain, translated by John Edwin Woods, (New York: A.A. Knopf, 2005), p. 713. Originally published as Der Zauberberg. Roman., (Berlin: S. Fischer, 1924).

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"And then she kissed him on the mouth."
Thomas Mann Posted on behalf of on Tuesday, August 31st, 2010 under Quotations.

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