Mapping the Zauberberg
Louis Suarez

Bachelor of Architecture

Advised by:
Matthew Huber
Francesca Torello

Studio Coordinated By Heather Bizon and Sarah Rafson

Themes: Narrative | Culture | Ecology

Mapping the Zauberberg is a project about diagramming a perceived sense of time. By perceived-time, I mean how long a given duration of time appears to last, regardless of its actual duration. Since the coronavirus pandemic, many people have experienced new(er) phenomena (e.g., Zoom fatigue, self-isolation, etc.). These have caused people to report feelings of “days blurring together” and “losing one’s sense of time,” (even “no longer seeing in three dimensions,” but this is another matter). The experience of pandemic life is different for everyone, but we can nearly be certain that we spend a lot of time in our rooms.

In this particular room (my room), stands a bookshelf, and on that bookshelf sits Thomas Mann’s 1924 novel The Magic Mountain. This thesis is about perceived-time and it is about The Magic Mountain. The Magic Mountain is a decidedly rich book with no single interpretation. This project does not aim to substitute or replace Mann’s magnum opus, but to consider perceived-time (which is a pertinent theme in the novel) through diagraming the novel’s structure and the characters’ experience within.

The Magic Mountain is set in a tuberculosis sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland in the early twentieth century, in the years prior to World War I. In this Bildungsroman, the protagonist, young Hans Castrop ascends to the International Sanatorium Berghof to visit his Tubercular cousin, Joachim Ziemssen, for three weeks. However, when diagnosed with a moist spot in his lung (and motivated by his infatuation with the careless Clavdia Chauchat), Hans Castrop becomes a full time patient. And there he stays for seven years, contemplating and philosophizing thoughts he never would have down in the flatlands, until the Great War breaks the Mountain’s spell and releases Hans Castorp back into the world.

Time is an important theme in The Magic Mountain. The characters frequently discuss and philosophize time, noting how the peculiar mountain atmosphere distorts one’s perception of time. Consider the following quotation:

“What people call boredom is actually an abnormal compression of time of time caused by monotony-uninterrupted uniformity can shrink large spaces of time until the heart falters, terrified to death (p. 102).”


“‘I’ve always found it odd, still do, how time seems to go slowly in a strange pace at first.’(p. 108).”

The novel’s structure and pacing are indicative of this temporal compression. The Magic Mountain. The novel is divided into four roughly equal sections lasting three weeks, six months, just over two years, and approximately four years. By peeling this undistorted timeline apart and rescaling the branches based on story’s pacing for each section we can better visualize time’s compression and acceleration. This happens both over the course of the entire novel, and within individual scenes and subchapters. Take Hans Castrop’s first three weeks for example: the first day moves by considerably slowly, but as weeks pass, so does the pace increase.

Another perceptual feature of time in The Magic Mountain is its circularity. Consider the following remarks by the narrator in Chapter 6:

“Since we measure time by a circular motion closed in on itself, we could just as easily say that its motion and change are rest and stagnation一for the then is constantly repeated in the now, the there in the here (p. 339).”

Rather than representing the timelines as linear as we have done so far, the timeline could just as easily be drawn curled in on itself in a spiral. By combining the notion of circularity with compression, we can generate a new timeline that more acutely translates Hans Castorp’s time experience, where each turn in the spiral represents a day of the week and the distance between turns is scaled according to the story’s pacing.

Now that we have a timeline that accounts for both time’s compression and expansion and it’s circular uniformity, how does one go about representing how such circularity is experienced? To do this, I set about diagramming what is referred to in the novel as “the rest cure.” This is when, for four times every day, sanatorium patients lie out on their private balconies, as it was thought at the time that mountain air helped cure tuberculosis. Here, Hans Castrop experiences the cycles of time through the changes in seasons, often described in the novel by the quality of light and color of the sky. And not just sky color but also weather (e.g., rain, snow) and flora (e.g., meadows, mountain flowers).

Take for example, October:

“But several days later, somewhere between the beginning and the middle of the month, things turned around again, and a belated summer burst upon them with absolutely astonishing splendor. Not without good reason, then, had Hans Castorp heard people praise October in these regions. For a good two and a half weeks a splendid sky reigned above the mountains and valley, each day outdoing the last for sheer blue purity (p. 223).”

But the following month…

“Clouds pushed in from the northeast across Piz Michel and Tinzenhorn, and the valley turned dark. Heavy rains followed. Then it wasn’t just rain, but a whitish-gray mixture of snow and rain, finally just snow that came down in squalsl that filled the whole valley (p. 264)… Then the sky turned clear. A bright, pure frost reigned, winter’s splendor settled over mid-November and the panorama beyond the balcony was magnificent一snow-powdered forests, ravines filled with soft white, a glistening sunlit valley under a radiant blue sky (pp. 266-267).”

And some months later…

“Hans Castorp found the slopes full of flowers, the same ones that had just been ending their bloom when Joachim had gathered a few to put in his room as a friendly greeting一yarrow and blue bells. It was a sign that the year was coming full circle (p. 363).”

So far we have looked at how one anchors one’s sense of time with year’s passage, but what happens when this is no longer possible? During Hans Castorps second winter up here, he bought a pair of skis to seek the solitude of the mountains. During one such outing, his path represented here with varying thickness to show the changes in narrative pace, Hans Castorp was caught in a snowstorm and began to wander in circles through the white nothingness. When it became clear he could not make it back to the Berghof until the storm blew over, Hans Castrops decided to rest by a solitary shed. It was at this moment, when Hans Castrop had no sense of space in the snowy wasteland, that the narrative pace slowed to terrifying depths, and he began to dream. He dreamt of an Arcadian landscape by the sea and a Grecian temple, but within the paradise there was also horror: witches devouring a baby. Ripped from his dream, though still asleep, Hans Castrop thought this thought:

"For the sake of goodness and love, man shall grant death no dominion over his thoughts (p. 487)."

And when he awoke:

“Gentle dusk was falling. No wind, no snow. The whole mountain face opposite, including its ridge of rough firs, was visible now, lay peaceful before him. Shadows now reached halfway up it; but the upper portion was bathed in softest pink. What was happening, what was the world up to? Was it morning? Had he laid there in the snow all night without freezing to death, despite what the books said?… He managed to pull out his watch. It was ticking… It wasn’t five yet一not by a long shot. Not for another twelve, thirteen minutes… Could it be that he had laid there in the snow for only ten minute or a little longer, had fantasized all those daredevil thoughts, those images of happiness and horor, while the hexagonal monster movel on as quickly as it had come? Well, then, he had been remarkably lucky in terms of getting home… An hour later… his dream was already beginning to fade. And by bedtime he was no longer exactly sure what his thoughts had been (pp. 488-489).”

I hope this project accomplishes two goals: first, that it raises interest in The Magic Mountain and the reading of literature in general; and second, that it demonstrates how drawing and diagramming can serve as exploratory tools in elucidating, making clear, certain aspects of the human condition, and contribute to a well-considered life.