In July of this year, when I revived the custom of asking my readers what they wanted to hear about on the fifth Wednesday of that month, I got plenty of suggestions, ranging from the future of industrial society to the metaphysics of sex. Still, of all the requested I fielded, I have to admit that the one that pleased me most was that I should write something about the novels of Hermann Hesse. There’s some history to that request, of course, and we might as well begin there.
Imagine for a moment that in an alternate timeline, J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy The Lord of the Rings became just as wildly popular in the 1960s as it did in our timeline. The paperback copies with garish cover art, the pervasive presence of phrases and imagery in popular culture, all of it—from the mid-1960s until the very early 1980s, the two timelines ran in exact parallel. Imagine, though, that thereafter, in that alternate timeline, Tolkien’s work vanished from sight.
The disappearance wasn’t forced. Nobody condemned the trilogy, there were no fulminations against it from pulpits or television screens. There was just spreading silence, as the people who’d read it and raved about it stopped talking about hobbits and Middle-earth and dumped their copies of the trilogy at the nearest used book store. Imagine no movies, no fan culture, no eighteen-year-olds running around pretending to be elves or what have you, and when anybody under sixty or so heard the name of J.R.R. Tolkien, the response was, “Who?”
That’s what happened to Hermann Hesse. His novels were immensely popular in the 1960s and 1970s. When I went to college for the first time in 1980, all his novels were for sale in the university bookstore. Anybody who had the least claim to be au courant in literature read Hesse, and it seemed as though half the people I knew on campus had copies of Siddhartha or Steppenwolf in their backpacks. There was, as I recall, a sense that Hesse was somewhat more serious than Tolkien, though Tolkien fans pushed back hard if someone suggested that to them.
Over the course of the 1980s, however, as the pseudoconservatives that took Ronald Reagan for their figurehead remade America in their image, and a lot of faux-radical Baby Boomers quietly cashed in their ideals and got with the program, Hesse got dropped like a hot rock. He didn’t get the half-fond and half-rueful laugh you heard from so many former hippies just before they said, “Yeah, I was into that back in the day.” He didn’t even get the backhand tribute Tolkien did, in the form of a torrent of cheap mereticious knockoffs of his novels that borrowed all the props and settings and abandoned all the ideas and insights that made them mean something. Hesse was more dangerous and less marketable than that, and so his work was consigned to oblivion.
That might seem odd at first glance. Hesse’s novels are quiet, meditative, strange. They take place mostly in the heads of their central characters, and those characters are worlds away from Tolkien’s heroic hobbits and Dunedain. The main character of Peter Camenzind, Hesse’s first novel, is a young man from an isolated Swiss village whose talent earns him entry into the literary world, but who eventually abandons it to return to the village where he was born. The main character of Steppenwolf, his most challenging novel, is a middle-aged intellectual who has a nervous breakdown and comes out the other side. The main character of The Glass Bead Game, his last and greatest novel, is an inhabitant of 25th-century Europe who becomes one of the supreme masters of an art form that hasn’t yet been invented in our time.
Yet it’s exactly that focus on the inner life of the individual, that refusal to retreat into theatrics, that makes Hesse so challenging. His characters are always trying to figure out how to become themselves—how to find their way out of the wilderness of masks their families and their culture have built up around them, so they can meet themselves face to face. Those words are easy to misunderstand, because so many writers frame that in the cheap familiar stereotype of rebellion against family and culture. Hesse’s characters don’t rebel, but they also don’t submit. They grow, change, and finally either awaken to themselves or fail decisively to do so. Those who’ve contended with the same issues recognize the trajectory instantly and intimately; those who haven’t—well, back in the day, Hesse inspired quite a few of those to take the leap.
That’s what made his writings so dangerous. In a time of universal deceit, despite the slogan, it’s not telling the truth that’s the truly revolutionary act: it’s recognizing that you don’t know what the truth is yet, and going in search of it. That search, the quest for a life that’s authentic for the one individual who seeks it and for no one else, is central to all Hesse’s work.
Hesse is the most autobiographical of novelists, and all his main characters are facets of himself. One consequence is that the same themes, central to his psyche, surface again and again in his stories. One of them is death by drowning. Another is a passionate and contentious friendship between two young men who are as different as possible. Another is the creative process in literature, music, or art. Another, pervasive theme is the conflict between the individual and the demands of society. There are others. If you read his work, you’ll get used to them, and marvel at the way he displays a different facet of each theme whenever it appears.
I’ll go through his novels in order. Like every other Hesse fan, I have my favorites, and I’ll indicate them, but there’s much to be learned from every one of his tales.
Peter Camenzind: Hesse’s first novel, published in 1904 when he was twenty-seven, this is the first-person biography of a young Swiss man from a little mountain village. Identified as a gifted child, he is sent to boarding school, strikes up a friendship with another young man, has his first clumsy experiences with life, love, and literature, takes the first steps toward a literary career, and then walks away from it to return to the village where he was born. It’s a first, somewhat slight statement of Hesse’s great themes, but it’s rescued from insignificance by an extraordinarily vivid sense of place and the narrator’s strong and distinctive voice.
Beneath the Wheel: The flip side of Peter Camenzind, this is another story of a gifted child, but it’s told in the third person, and young Hans Giebenrath doesn’t find a life for himself. Nervous and shy, he cracks under the pressures of a fiercely competitive boarding school, and his friendship with another student, free-spirited Hermann Heilner, pushes him into a nervous breakdown. Sent home, he realizes what future his home town has in store for him, and drowns himself. Much of the story is inspired by Hesse’s own bitter experiences—he also dropped out of a prestigious school and circled the drain in his home town, but made his escape by getting a job at a bookstore elsewhere, and finding time and space to write. Han Giebenrath wasn’t so lucky.
Gertrude: Hesse returns to first-person narrative in this narrative about the rise of a talented composer and his tangled relationships with two singers, the brilliant but self-destructive Heinrich Muoth and the quiet and self-assured Gertrude. Left crippled after a toboggan accident, Kuhn directs all his efforts toward music; a series of encounters leads to an unlikely friendship with Muoth, who is everything Kuhn is not; both of them fall in love with Gertrude; Kuhn is too shy and too inhibited by his injury to pursue the attraction, so Muoth marries her, and tragedy follows. Among its other strengths, Gertrude is a first-rate portrayal of the development of a creative talent; it had a significant role in shaping the career of Brecken Kendall, the composer who features in my novels The Shoggoth Concerto and The Nyogtha Variations.
Rosshalde: This novel takes us back to the third person and to even more pointed autobiography than usual, echoing the disintegration of Hesse’s first marriage. Johann Veraguth is a successful painter in a failed marriage; he and his wife live in separate worlds on the same rural estate, Rosshalde, and compete for the attention of their son Pierre. Conversations with his friend Otto Burkhardt, and a sudden tragedy at Rosshalde, force Veraguth to face the failure of his life, and send him on a journey to India and a new life beyond. The Journey to the East, a theme not only in Hesse’s work but all through the twentieth-century West, makes an early appearance here.
Knulp: The most popular of his early tales, Knulp tells the story of an amiable vagabond who wanders from place to place, staying with friends, getting by on very little, moving from one town to another and one woman to another. It’s a story about freedom—not an allegory or anything else so hamfisted, but an exploration of what it would mean for an ordinary person to be free of the ties of ordinary society. It’s a short novel composed of three stories linked only by Knulp’s personality and the questions his existence poses to himself and the rest of the world, but it’s anything but slight; in it, some of the core issues of Hesse’s mature fiction surface.
Between the five novels ending with Knulp and the six novels that follow it lies the chasm of the First World War. Not many people, especially in America, realize any more just how wrenching an event that was, how completely it shattered the comfortable certainties of an age. There are uncomfortable parallels with the present, for in 1914, as recently, vast numbers of people who insisted that they were in favor of peace and tolerance and understanding pivoted on the smallest local coin and started screaming abuse at their enemies. Hesse was one of the few who escaped that fate, but he was vilified by former friends for failing to fall into line.
He spent the war in Switzerland, where he worked more than full time helping to make life bearable for German prisoners of war. He also had the nervous breakdown he’d been writing about for so many years already, underwent psychotherapy with a student of Carl Jung, and became a friend of Jung’s and a thoughtful student of Jung’s theories and of Eastern philosophy. When he sat down at his typewriter again, the difference was impossible to miss. He had been a capable writer; he became one of the greatest writers of his era.
Demian: This is the first of his mature novels and one of his very best. Once again we’re back in the first person with another account of boyhood and youth, in territory not all that dissimilar to Peter Camenzind, but shot through with extraordinary imagery and insight. Emil Sinclair is young, troubled, dissatisfied; in the course of his youth he makes a friend, Max Demian, who is everything he is not—but then, step by clumsy, painful step, Sinclair sets out to transform himself, to become what he could be. The image that pervades the book is that of the baby bird pecking its way out of the egg. That’s what Sinclair does, in a world trembling on the brink of war, and of course that’s what Hesse was doing as well as he wrote this tale.
Hesse published Demian anonymously in 1919, and it became an instant bestseller. Reviewers assumed as a matter of course that the book had been written by a young man fresh out of the military, not a mature and bookish author of 42. (He ‘fessed up after the work received a prize intended for the best new author of the year.) It became one of the favorite book of the rising generation of postwar Germany. There are few better measures of the tragedy of that generation than the gap between the quest for authentic personal identity central to Demian and the manufactured pseudoracial unity of Nazism that so many of that book’s readers later embraced.
Siddhartha: Published in 1922, this was written at the peak of Hesse’s interest in Asian philosophies, and became his most famous novel. It’s not my favorite of his works, not by a long shot, but it’s very capably done. Siddhartha, the main character, is a young Hindu living in the time of the Buddha; he has, inevitably, a close friend who is his perfect opposite, but this time the friend is the troubled one who aspires ineffectually to be what Siddhartha so effortlessly is. Seeking enlightenment, they leave their homes and parents, practice austerities with a band of wandering mendicants, and after several years encounter the Buddha; the friend becomes a Buddhist monk, but Siddhartha finds no peace there. He discards his ascetic life to pursue sex and wealth, but eventually those leave him bored and disgusted. Finally, going beyond both the life of the spirit and the life of the flesh, he finds his own path.
Steppenwolf: The most challenging of his books in many ways, this is the story of a middle-aged man’s nervous breakdown and recovery. That probably sounds dull; Steppenwolf is anything but. Harry Haller is sensitive, intellectual, thoughtful, and cultured, living in a Germany sliding back toward militarism and war; he’s also a loner, miserable in his self-imposed isolation, and something of a jerk. In his own mind he’s two beings, one the cultured intellectual Henry Haller, the other a Steppenwolf, literally “a wolf of the steppes.” In reality he’s an entire galaxy of possibilities he hasn’t even begun to explore, a Magic Theater whose performances are only open to madmen, and a chance encounter with a prostitute when he’s on the brink of suicide sends him on a dizzying journey into himself and out the other side, into new life.
It used to be popular among critics to insist that Steppenwolf is “a searing critique of bourgeois values.” It’s nothing of the kind. It’s a brilliant, heartfelt, and compassionate exploration of the pretenses and posturings of intellectuals who came out of the middle class and think that they’ve left it behind—that is to say, most literary critics, and most other members of the intelligentsia as well. Harry Haller’s redemption comes when he stops trying to run away from himself into a world of Good People enjoying Good Culture, and lets Hermine, his blowzy muse, anima, and guide through the Inferno, teach him to dance to jazz tunes—a habit that had the same cachet in late 1920s Germany that going to a NASCAR race has in today’s America. In the words of a current catchphrase, he gets down off the Cross and uses the wood to build a bridge, but the bridge is there to help him get over himself.
Narcissus and Goldmund: The critics—well, those who can stand Hesse at all—adore this novel; me, I’ll take Steppenwolf or Demian over it any day, but it’s still very good. We’re on familiar ground here, with two young men who are fast friends even though they couldn’t be more different. The setting is medieval Germany, full of wars and plagues, but our two friends start out safe from that in a monastery. Narcissus is the first iteration of a figure who will rise to dominate Hesse’s last three novels, the contemplative intellectual perfectly fitted to his role in life, whose perfection becomes the final challenge he has to overcome. In this version, he loves the monastic life, he’s well suited to it, and rises with effortless discipline to become the abbot.
His friend Goldmund is cut from wholly different cloth. He’s Kuhn without the crippling injury and shyness, Veraguth without the failed marriage: a born sculptor, he’s also afire with a longing for life, and that takes him out of the monastery on a nearly lifelong plunge into the hurly-burly of the German Middle Ages. While Narcissus spends his days in the perfect rhythms of the monastery, Goldmund encounters love, death, war, art, and life, and when he finally comes back to the monastery to die, his words and his life shake Narcissus to his core.
The Journey to the East: This one may just be the strangest of Hesse’s novels, and that’s saying something. It’s another first person narrative, but the nameless narrator isn’t recounting his boyhood—or is he? He joined a mysterious League committed to a Journey to the East that strayed weirdly across space and time, and then—after a complex series of events in which the perfect servant Leo played an uncertain role—drifted away from the League and the journey and found his way back to the ordinary world. His story belongs to everyone who looks back on life’s least ordinary moments and wonders what happened. In a certain sense the story resolves and in a certain sense, like life, it never does. It’s the novel of his that I go back to most often.
The Glass Bead Game: Hesse’s last, longest, and greatest novel, stupidly retitled Magister Ludi in some American editions, this is the only science fiction novel ever to win its author a Nobel Prize for literature, and it’s so far beyond most of the science fiction written since Hesse’s time that it’s easy to see why. We’re somewhere around the twenty-fifth century. Europe, ravaged by cataclysmic wars in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, transformed into a backwater in terms of world politics, has settled into a renewed stability, with technology more or less on a par with 1920—trains, broadcast media, the very occasional automobile. To prevent the debasement of intellectual standards that led to the age of wars—”Not the faculty but His Excellency the General can properly determine the sum of two and two,” to quote something from the book’s backstory that may seem uncomfortably familiar just now—the nations of Europe have entrusted their intellectual life to orders of celibate scholars living in monastic conditions, and those scholars have created in turn the final synthesis of human knowledge, the Glass Bead Game.
The Game is a sequence of ordered concepts that span the landscape of culture. “A Game, for example,” says the book, “might start from a given astronomical configuration, or from the actual theme of a Bach fugue, or from a sentence out of Leibniz or the Upanishads, and from this theme, depending on the intentions and the talents of the player, it could either further explore and elaborate the initial motif or else enrich its expressiveness by allusions to kindred concepts.” In one sense, the Game is fiction itself, for The Glass Bead Game is itself a splendid example of the kind of game it describes; in another sense, it’s a metaphor for culture, and the role of artistic creativity in a culture already rich with literature and art; in yet another sense, it’s an attempt to imagine in advance the future of European culture in the light of Oswald Spengler’s suggestion that the creative days of the western world are over, and what remains is the work of synthesis.
Hesse places his tale in a double frame. There is the life story of Johann Knecht, a gifted youth—yes, we’ve met him before—who rises out of obscurity to become one of the masters of the Glass Bead Game, and then turns his back on everything he has made of himself and leaves the cloistered world in which he has been so splendidly successful. Surrounding this is the narrative written by the teller of that story, a bumbling, officious biographer of the century after Knecht’s time, who has no clue about the vast ambiguities that surround the man whose story he is trying to tell. It’s not a light read—quite the contrary, it’s a dense, intricate, challenging work. It was only on the third reading that I finally began to get a clear sense of what Hesse was up to, and each reading after that has deepened my appreciation for it.
Those are Hermann Hesse’s novels—the work of a brilliant, thoughtful author whose works went from explosive popularity to complete obscurity once the generation that lionized him realized exactly what he was calling them to do. As that generation finishes its trajectory through time, it’s occurred to me rather more than once that Hesse’s work, like the distant glint of glass beads in a dark place, might again provide some orientation toward the things that matter. Still, it’s early days yet, and we’ll just have to wait and see.
Thank you for this overview of Hesse. I read them starting at Demian. It’s good to read another fan’s reactions.
I discovered Hesse in my mid-teens and I’m pleased to say I never lost interest in his work. Hesse led me to Jung, who led me to Nietzsche, and so on, out into what we used to call the New Age. If we’re ever to find our way out of this current nightmare, the culmination of several thousand years of human culture, we’ll need Hesse’s essential insight, that the crisis is at bottom a spiritual one.
Thanks for reminding me of Hesse and how his books moved me. I reserved The Glass Bead Game at the local library.
“Narziss und Goldmund” came out as a German film earlier this year. You can find trailers on YouTube. It seems to be as faithful to the book as a film can be.
Have you read The Player of Games by Iain M Banks? I first read it 20+ years ago, but now it feels like both spiritual sequel and riposte to The Glass Bead Game.
The search for Capital T truth will always be for madmen only, apparently. Yet perhaps even a few is enough. Sad that that spirit seems to have vanished or been banished but where there is desperation, there is a chance for an awakening. Not to be confused with awokening!
This topic is astonishingly (or rather, as I think on it, not-so-astonishingly) relevant to me just now. During a meditation just the other day, I was dancing at the edge of some of these very issues. The short version is captured in this exchange:
Me: I want to be more than I am.
Her: You must first fully become what you are.
My current question is, of course, “How do I go about doing that?” Perhaps diving into Hesse would offer some guidance as to a way forward.
Well, in the spirit of paying attention to synchronicity… since I’ve seen The Glass Bead Game come up multiple times in the last week (it was quoted at length in the last OBOD gwers I studied), I’ve texted my wife to see if she can check me out a copy from the library at the university where she works. Many thanks for this post, JMG! I’m off to discover Hesse…
What an excellent summary of his books, and you have inspired me to seek out a nicely seasoned old paperback with a healthy splodge of patina.
Interesting. I read all of the post-WWI novels in the 60s and 70s and have read none of the pre-WWI novels. Fact is, I never heard of any of them until now. My first, and my favorite, was Steppenwolf. I read and re-read it – I forget how many times. Odd, because Hesse said he wrote it for a middle-aged audience. I didn’t care much for the decadent inferno section near the end, which you compare with, with, with, something that starts with “N.” The other post-WWI novels up to The Glass Bead Game were such that I read each of them once and moved on. I thought Narcissus and Goldmund reminded me of Goethe’s two Wilhelm Meister novels, which I’d read in high school; I wondered at the time if I were imagining the homosexual undercurrents I sensed in them. Probably not. I have, at this point, read The Glass Bead Game three times, most recently once within the last year. I still don’t really “get it” in the sense you seem to have understood it. The nearest literary approach to the Game itself that I’ve encountered was Goedel-Escher-Bach which was a must-read book for many people back around 1980. It also seems to have faded into oblivion.
As a touchstone to how our public schools have been dumbed down. My class was assigned to read both Demian and Siddhartha in our 8th grade english class in a public junior high school in suburban Portland in the 1970’s. I can’t imagine the same thing today.
Hello JMG, I first discovered Hesse while in the USAF in Berlin in the mid 60’s. He always kept me enthralled and confused. Like his characters I guess, I’m still wandering around on the steppes, trying to figure out how to play the game, but I did cross the river and settle into my hut.
Thanks for this wonderful quick review. I enjoy peeking in here to see what you’re up to.
John, do you think Hesse was an esotericist?
I read most of the later books in the 90’s, when I was about 25, or about the time I failed out of college for the second time, and I was otherwise wandering around the West trying to make sense of my life in an America I did not understand.
I honestly don’t know what I took away from Hesse, but I did end up getting a Bachelors in English and Writing after two years of straight A’s, my third time around 1998-2000. Most of my professors were encouraging me to pursue a doctorate and become a professor, but I got a job tearing siding off houses; I went to the Boundary Waters Wilderness, solo from ice out to ice in, 2002. Then I learned how to build a house, I became an unofficial master gardener, and I wrote a screenplay about the life of Dolcino, two memoirs and most of a novel, none of which I tried to publish or sell. I started a nonprofit to try to convince municipalities to build a food forest/farm/restaurant on municipal land like golf courses, and then never asked for any money or spread the word.
Now at 47, not really writing any more, gardening less,15 years since I last went solo in the wilderness, remodeling residential homes enough to get by but not much more, watching empire America disintegrate around me, I’m certain all I want to do is garden, write, build meaningful and useful things and walk in the wilderness. I’m considering leaving the city for the rural place I was born.
I used to think of myself as a “shaman at the edge of the village everyone leaves alone when times are good, but who everyone wants to consult when times are bad.” Times are pretty bad and seem to be getting worse, but no one is checking in or asking what I think – which might be not such a bad thing. I am surely more loner than shaman, struggling with faith in my own judgement.
I would like to reinvent myself, rejuvenate my passion for existence, renew my search for meaning. Any recommendations/insights? Real accountability is hard to come by. Thank you.
I realized the other evening that if there was such a thing as a test for stupidity, which yielded a “Stupidity Quotient”, and I had taken the test, it would have cancelled out my slightly above average IQ. Luckily, I had a few good friends to help me through life! This is a belated thanks to them. Let me start over again, these few years left. Rather than try to figure out how the universe works, or make beautiful things, I’ll try something less ambitious. While passing it forward.
Naturally my question is: where do you recommend diving in for a first time Hesse reader? The Glass Bead Game sounds the most intriguing, and I quite enjoy dense, intellectual sci-fi (Gene Wolfe as an example) but would it best be appreciated after having become more familiar with the author?
i cite a small part of the article:
“….And this is where a more nuanced Foucault—not the Foucault for Dummies version lurking in the corner of a white fragility training workshop—might come to our aid. In what follows, I will try to show by way of an extended analogical argument, that much of Foucault’s analysis of sexuality, especially the worryingly coercive role that confession played in the production of knowledge—that is, the multiple discourses around sex proliferating in the early days of the human sciences—can be applied to our contemporary treatment of racism.”
I know this issue is not related to Hermann Hesses work, and will maybe give a bad vibe. But i hope this is excuse because it is related to, lets say, spiritual issues sometimes discusses here:
the problems and pecularities of the mindset of todays “progressives” and, as You call them “good people”.
I strongly suggest to give the article a chance as a source of inspiration for thougths about those issues.
in relation to Hesses works, though i just read Steppenwolf und Siddhartha: it is elating to read something very different these days than gloom and doom about infection and politics !
Thanks for this, and in particular the description of ‘The Glass Bead Game’. It’s made me want to read it for a third time. I’ve seen it differently on both previous occasions, once as a university student intent on mastering Go, once as a middle aged businessman caught up in commercial and family life.
My life has taken a strange turn these last few years – I suspect I’ll see something quite different this time round.
I remember reading The Glass Bead Game in college, was deeply touched by it. Found the ending a bit abrupt, but not I can view it as “stuff happens,” didn’t know it was a motif of his.
Interesting to see that I am not the only one to encounter references to the Glass Bead Game, showing themselves in surprising surroundings, I might add. It appears to me that a more thoughtful, reflective, and (hopefully) quiet environment may be dawning. There are several Hesse books down in the basement, resting beside other seldom read but not to be discarded old friends.
As I see it, attention to Hesse, T. S. Elliot, Dylan Thomas, James Joyce, the Victorians, and Kurt Vonnegut dwindled under the heavy weight of increasingly collective and disapproving tendencies in the late 20th century. The trend toward socialism had no room for the search for the individual so treasured in the 1960s.
But the cosmic clock keeps ticking away while its pendulum moves aside the unneeded, then moves them back into the light at the next arc.
That was an excellent and thorough review of Hesse’s books. Thank you for the nice helping of food for ponder.
Hi JMG & commentariat,
I am currently a little more than half-way through my re-read of the Glass Bead Game (GBG). I’ve also been writing on a project where some aspects of the GBG became relevant, and I was able to weave those in to a series of essays on Information Theory, Cybernetics & Music. I’ll put some links in below, for those who want to check it out.
While doing some research on another topic for my project, I had some insights about the GBG and it’s potential. I wish I had the GBG with me now, as the opening quote in the book I thought was prescient. It seemed to convey the idea that through our imaginings and efforts something that does not exist now could nonetheless be created. It seemed to hint that the GBG may very well be in our future (if we imagine it and make it so).
Anyway, I was listening to a recorded lecture / interview with American composer Pauline Oliveros and noted the following things down a few weeks ago, in anticipation of this post:
1) The current situation with Higher Education is dismal. If in the aftermath of the fallout of the current state of the Universities there is a possibility for them to be reorganized and divorce themselves, as the Castalians have, from politics, it might bring about a new kind of monastic university. A monasticism that like Castalia is not concerned with the students being celibate, but unlike Castalia would admit both sexes. Training in meditation would be key to the system. The meditation skill would also give the scholars and intellectuals a bit of distance from being so overly involved with the various subject matters they are learning about. This “distance” meditation could give scholars would help in that they might not go down some of the crazy routes some studies have led -critcal theory landing us in SJW nightmares for one.
Another positive aspect of meditation would be a way to explore the subject matter as a skill set for “looking into” various topics. For instance research into music, poetry or astronomy on the outer plane could also coincide with research on the inner plane / in the nner library. Symbols could be meditated on. Sound could be listened to with the tools of Subtle Listening, as taught by composer Kim Cascone, and Deep Listening, as taught by Pauline Oliveros and now those carrying on her work.
2) So, regarding Oliveros. At the Red Bull Academy session she gave all of the following: a lecture, a concert, and a meditation (I’m not sure what order) and then the next day another lecture / Q&A. It seems like a useful pattern for something along the lines of the GBG to be developed… incorporating the meditations between lectures, concerts and other types of ways we would be interacting with cultural material. The work of synthesis.
3.) So a scholarly multi-disciplinary school (multi-dimensional school) would teach: meditation, subtle listening / deep listening, It would also teach (If I were to make the curriculum!) things such as the Art of Memory, Logic & Rhetoric, etc as well as some other mental & magical tools. Magic maybe can never just be taught to those who don’t feel called by vocation to the Mysteries (knowing there can and are degrees of the call.) but there are things within magic and the “Lesser” Mysteries that could also be taught (to those who wanted to learn). Dreaming arts (which is an aspect of Deep Listening that Pauline’s partner Ione brought into their activities, and also through her Ministry of Maat) Pauline also taught “Modes of Awareness” in her music workshops. All of these things, seem to be the kind of tools one would use in the development of the GBG (though there are many many others).
I have more ideas, but this opening move will do for now.
Here are the essays I mentioned, wherein I go on to make connections to the Glass Bead Game, Music, and Information Theory and Cybernetics, a work of synthesis that is very much itself like the synthesis explored in the game:
Games of Dice and Games of Glass:
Information Theory: When Data becomes Dada:
Stockhausen, Information Theory and Cycles:
The System of LICHT:
Tomriverwriter, you’re welcome and thank you.
Bill, true — a spiritual crisis, and ultimately rooted (as spiritual crises are) in individual identity.
Robert, delighted to hear it.
AA, interesting. I hope my movie-watching readers consider it.
Yorkshire, no, I haven’t. I’ll see if the local library has it.
Dennis, “woke” is in the past tense, which is why it’s the opposite of “awake.” The wokester movement is a great example of the kind of folly one gets from people who are convinced they already know the truth.
David, in a sense, he might provide some help, but not in the form of guidance. He doesn’t guide, he encourages by example.
Averagejoe, I’m one of those odd people who likes to read something in the edition I originally read — same cover, same typography and layout — so my copies of Hesse’s novels would qualify.
Phutatorius, Narcissus and Goldmund should remind you of Goethe; like most young German intellectuals of the early 20th century, Hesse went through a Goethe phase, followed by a Nietzsche phase, and there are a lot of Goethean references in that novel in particular. As for Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher Bach, you’re right that it also vanished around the same time Hesse did; I hadn’t really thought of it as a Glass Bead Game, but you’re right that it’s a fair approach. Still, as I see it, any well-written novel is a Glass Bead Game — that was one of Hesse’s points.
Clay, yes, that’s a great example. To my mind Demian in particular would be a fine book to give to a class of interested fourteen-year-olds!
Slorisb, a nice concatenation of metaphors!
Ethan, that’s a complex question. He put a lot of time into studying Eastern religions and Jungian psychology, and I’m pretty sure he practiced meditation, but I don’t know of any evidence that he took it further than that. Still, he could have. In the alternate timeline of my Weird of Hali roleplaying game, he and Jung founded a cult of the Great Old Ones called the Ordo Peregrini Orientem, the Order of Journeyers to the East, which player characters can join if they can find a lodge!
William, that sounds like a very Hesse way to spend one’s life! As for recommendations or insights, though, I have none; the quest to encounter yourself is not one that anyone else can really help with.
Mark, that would be the most politically explosive test I can imagine!
Kwo, I tend to recommend that people start with Demian and then a couple of others, chosen at random or on the basis of which back cover blurb sounds most interesting, before tackling The Glass Bead Game. It helps to know what he’s summing up in his final novel!
Petit Bourgeois, thanks for this. I’ve filed it to read when I have some spare time.
Andy, it certainly shows different aspects every time I read it!
Godozo, it was too abrupt for my taste, too, but yes, it’s a motif of his — there’s scarcely a motif in his fiction that he doesn’t bring into his final novel.
Carol, I hope you’re right! Eliot is another fave of mine, for what it’s worth; quite some time ago I drafted a script for “The Waste Land” as a performance piece for four actors. Who knows, maybe someday it might actually have a shot at being performed.
Justin, I’m delighted to see you picking up Hesse’s challenge. For what it’s worth, I think he’s quite right that rescuing culture from the impending collapse of the academic industry would be best entrusted to quasimonastic orders. Maybe it can happen…
I listened to Steppenwolf on audiobook while pulling weeds. Peter Weller (aka Robocop) did the performance, which is why I bought it. It became almost immediately apparent I was looking in a very uncomfortable mirror.
I’ve been reading a lot of your stuff lately, and I can’t remember if it’s the Glass Bead Game or the Cosmic Doctrine where you recommended reading a paragraph a day? Is there a specific approach you recommend to reading The Glass Bead Game?
(formerly posted under “Luke” and think I’m gonna transition my name in your blogosphere to “youngelephant”)
@Phutatorius: re: Godel, Escher, Bach… funny you mention that. The first time I read the GBG, I was dating a girl who was a bit of a political intellectual. I mentioned how I had wanted to read Godel, Escher, Bach and the GBG. She said something about how only a certain type of person (can’t remember the exact words from twenty years ago!) read the GBG, so I went ahead and read it as my next book. Anyway, I never read Godel, Escher, Bach. At the time the math intimidated me, but I think I can handle it better now. A good reminder to read it. And I think, as a work of synthesis, there is a definite connection to some of the themes in the GBG.
Hesse’s German language also sets him aside from other sensitive thoughtful writers: it is warm, rich, colorful and mesmerizing
@ William Hunter Duncan, JMG
Re the quest for self
I’ve spent much of my life in search of the mathematics which explains everything, so that I might use the resulting map to navigate this murky existence more effectively. Alas, no such thing has been found and now, many years later, I’m wading into Kabbalah, the Western mystical tradition, and Freemasonry as my quest for self continues. How does one fully become what one already is so that one might become more? Certainly, a field manual would be helpful! It might result in less blind and clueless stumbling about, if nothing else. I don’t know if Hesse is any help or not (I’ve read Siddhartha and part of The Glass Bead Game), but he might offer examples of what to do and how to do it, so he’s likely worth spending time on, even if this is stuff I should already have down at this point. I’m so far behind….
@Phutatorius: Godel Escher Bach, subtitled an Eternal Golden Braid, is also an Exhibition of Glass Beads? That makes a certain amount of sense…
Hmmm. I’ll see what they have over at Needful Things. On the other, are we sure reading isn’t going to make us stupider? 😉
My grandfather, starting at age 20, was (multiply decorated) combat intelligence in WWII, and so because it was his job to scout farther ahead and then come back, he frequently was also given the task of taking back German prisoners from the front. He learned to speak some German and became quite protective of them, saying he was often taking back boys who seemed to have no idea how they’d even gotten there, or where they were. I saw a documentary saying that the Nazis did experiment with drugs on the soldiers, to make them super soldiers capable of going without rest or sleep, and that frequently backfired into paranoia and hallucinations that made them use up all their ammunitio shooting at ghosts, leaving them conquerable by morning. So, it’s likely, they really didn’t know where they were.
His worst story, I thought, was put down in a magazine for a Remembrance Day issue; the other two interviewees talked about sadness at loss of a friend, or camaraderie in the trenches. Standard, boosterism with a touch of sadness to make it go down, kinda stuff.
My grandfather said: once, he went to deliver some intelligence to men installed in a trench, pinned between enemy lines. When he got there, they’d broken one line overnight a couple days back, when the Germans inexplicably rushed them from their trench position, and they were able to mow them all down. One was left, approaching with hands up, so they let him. When he got close, he suddenly threw a grenade, and killed an 18 year old boy. So the Allies set the German marching back and forth in the field. Each time he stumbled, they shot at his feet. No stopping, no food, no water. By the time my grandfather arrived, he didn’t bother taking him; he was gibbering and drooling, he’d soiled himself several times over. He wasn’t going to last much longer, and it would be better that way.
And that was it, he stopped there.
I wonder if he was one of the people who read Hesse in the 60’s and got it, admittedly, too late.
And here is something else for all you jazz aficionados out there: The Clifford Jordan Quartet and their 1974 album Glass Bead Games.
For collectors, you might be able to find it on the second hand market, and it was re-released in 2013 by Mosaic Records as part of The Complete Clifford Jordan Strata-East Sessions.
It’s a very fine album, perfect to put on when you’re drinking coffee and spilling ink. Can you dig, man?
Disappearance is geographically relative! His literary reputation in Germany remains ambiguous/divided but he remains widely read, and the robust subject of secondary literature, His popularity in Latin America appears undimmed. He was also a gifted, lyric poet as well, and a painter. His house in Montagnola in Switzerland is a lovely museum replete with the typewriter and paintings! I read him as a teenager and was electrified by that sense of learning through inner experience and skepticism over proffered certainties yet too there are the traditions of truth bearers – people who have shown, rather than said, truthfulness for which the best archetype is music – for Hesse, Bach and Mozart.
“In a time of universal deceit, despite the slogan, it’s not telling the truth that’s the truly revolutionary act: it’s recognizing that you don’t know what the truth is yet, and going in search of it. ”
I shall file that one away for contemplation I think, very good.
Thank you for this. I read The Glass Bead Game about 5 years ago after you praised it on The Archdruid Report. This was before I’d read Spengler or Schopenhauer (the two other main authors you’ve inspired me to stretch my brain with), and I hadn’t (and still haven’t) read any other Hesse, and at that point I hadn’t been reading much fiction at all for a while. So I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself in for!
I’m glad to hear it took you several readings to appreciate as well. I could tell it was brilliant in a number of ways, but it was too much at the time. I stuck through to the end though, including the three appended “previous life biographies” of the main character.
I shall come back to this post when I feel like choosing something easier of Hesse’s to give him another go.
I haven’t read Hesse, but my first thought after reading your description of the Glass Bead Game was “it sounds a lot like a discursive meditation” – you begin with a topic and you unfold it and see where it takes you.
Aloysius, that’s one of its great virtues.
Youngelephant, I’ve made that recommendation with several books, the Cos.Doc. among them. The Glass Bead Game doesn’t require that slow a process, but it’s not something most people can gobble up like a hungry Steppenwolf! If you haven’t read any of Hesse’s other novels, I’d encourage you to start with a couple of those to get used to his style and themes, and then read GBG at a leisurely pace, a few pages each evening, say. Give yourself time to think about what he has to say.
Veli, I wish my German was up to that level! I’ve heard the same thing from others — “one of the best German prose stylists of all time” is a phrase I’ve heard more than once, which of course is saying something.
David, we’re all far behind. That’s why we’re still inhabiting this plane, you know.
Pixelated, ouch. Brutal — but once you violate the rules of war by pretending to surrender and then attacking, those rules are not going to protect you, either.
Justin, synchronistically enough, I found that on a stray internet search last night. What I heard of it was good enough that I’m going to get a copy of the CD.
Nicholas, I’m delighted to hear this — since I’ve only ever lived in the United States my perspective is necessarily limited.
Morfran, by all means!
Ecosophian, good. I see you’ve been paying attention.
In an interesting development, Ivo Barroso’s Brazilian translation of Steppenwolf is coming back in print by Record, in November, 19ᵗʰ:
@JMG: Yeah, I discovered it at work last year (the library has a copy) and promptly listened. I had made a mental note to self to post it here when the topic of Hesse came up because I thought it was a good jazz record.
I read and enjoyed Steppenwolf and The Glass Bead Game as a student in the early 70s. But in my experience, Hesse was much more talked about (and read about) than actually read. He was lumped in at the time with Leary, Castaneda, Tolkien, Erik Von Daniken, John Michell, stories of flying saucers, and any number of other writers and themes, in some kind of virtual counter-culture library. But very few people had actually read even Steppenwolf, and most of them thought I was talking about the rock group.
Now that’s interesting, isn’t it? Has there been another period in the history of popular music, other than about 1967-75, when magic, fantasy, mystical literature, flying saucers, space aliens, demon worship, satanism and lots of similar things has been so prominent? I would love to know why.
Thank you so much for this post! (I was the one who first asked for a post on Hesse’s novels, so I was very glad to read this.)
I read a few (three, to be precise) Hesse novels back in the day. It’s been a while, though, and I’ve kept telling myself I should go back and either reread them or read another one. I don’t think I’d ever heard of _The Journey to the East_, and now I’m interested. I think I’ll revisit either _Demian_ or _Steppenwolf_ first, though.
As it happens, I abandoned Hesse years ago for reasons that had nothing to do with Hesse: I learned a couple of foreign languages (not German), and I essentially stopped reading any works of literature that I wasn’t able to read in the original. Does that make me a Harry Haller-like snob? Probably. 😛 But maybe my no-translation “policy” can be relaxed. 😉
I think I’ll try a Czech translation. I moved to Prague a couple of years ago, you see, and so Czech is the language I’m most actively working on. I’ve read a few Czech books, and the main effect has been that I’ve started making a nuisance of myself telling everyone who’d listen that Czech literature cannot hold a candle to Russian literature. 😛 Yeah… That, too, probably makes me sound like Harry Haller… (No, I’m not Russian. I learned Russian pretty much for the sole purpose of reading Russian literature in the original.) So… Since I’d like to read Hesse, but can’t read him in the original, and since I have no choice but to read in Czech (if I want to increase my vocabulary size, that is), but am struggling to find anything written in Czech that I actually want to read… The solution’s obvious, right? 😉
“[…] an attempt to imagine in advance the future of European culture in the light of Oswald Spengler’s suggestion that the creative days of the western world are over, and what remains is the work of synthesis.”
A seed is the tree’s work of synthesis.
A culture is the synthesis of a civilization.
The time for synthesis is arguably over:
for every new tree a seed ceases to be.
Thank you for sharing this. I’m afraid I don’t have much to say here, as I haven’t yet read any of Hesse’s works. I suppose that is something that had better change soon, once I finish with Davy.
O read Siddhartha as a teenager and recall liking it. The Glass Bead game got a very high recommendation from somewhere, so I read it about a dozen years ago. The only reason I finished the book was dogged determination, thinking surely at some point either something would happen or the novel would make some sense. The ending was abrupt and unsatisfying.
Surely I am silly, and perhaps thick, but I felt that the book was a complete waste of time. I also disliked the miasma of sexual deadness that may perhaps have been common to his time.
In a reply to one of my comments awhile ago you incidentally dropped a hint at Hesse for which I am very grateful, since this lead me to take my first dive into his novels. After reading Steppenwolf and Das Glasperlenspiel I think I understand at least partly why nobody talks about Hesse anymore. In his stories he’s much too close to reality and inner truth for most to bear (it’s not by accident that you get a similar reaction if you mention C.G. Jung to anybody. Those who can associate something with the name give you a blank stare and then maybe mumble some stupidity like “but wasn’t he an antisemite?”). If you read those novels with some level of attention, inevitably you feel the main characters pain and worries as your own, because in some way they are your own. These two novels hav been a challenge for me even though I think I still had some subconscious layers of inner self defense active. And since you mention Lord of the Rings – I think Tolkien was lucky to pack the plot into a fantasy setting which makes it fun to read but also saved his work from being abandoned. I know very few who looked beyond the fantasy adventure, which is surely great. Still, if you do look beyond – what do you find there? Unfortunately they made those idiotic movies which I believe will ensure that Lord of the Ring will be forgotten in due time. Few watch the movie and there’s nothing to remember or even think about in it and even fewer read the books since they already watched the movie. It’s a pity.
Anyhow, Steppenwolf and Das Glasperlenspiel gave me a slight push on my spiritual journey and definitely things are moving again – slowly, but that’s fine. Another thread here – the discussion on Buddhism during the last open post – had a quite remarkable effect, too, and I’m still struggling to make sense of this. After reading your first response I could literally hear the penny drop. I have no idea how exactly that send me reading the Edda and offering bottles of dark ale, but there I am…
Re impatience and synchronicities
So, after my last comment, I’m running an errand on my way home. As I’m heading across town, going the 25 mph of the posted speed limit, a car blows past me going at least 40. A minute later, I’m sitting right behind him at a traffic light. The light turns green, he guns it and races ahead. Next traffic light, I’m sitting behind him again. This happens one more time—three occurrences in all—before I reach where I’m going.
I believe a point was being made.
Thanks for this. The only novel of Hesse I’ve read is Steppenwolf. I was physically nauseous while reading the last fifty pages. It’s the only book I’ve ever read where I’ve had such a prolonged physiological reaction (although Schopenhauer and Nietzsche both have a way of writing that feels sometimes like getting poked in the chest with an accusatory finger).
I have a book of Hesse’s short stories which are like Brothers Grimm fairytales written by a mystic. They are painfully beautiful stories and probably a really good introduction to Hesse for those not quite ready to bite off one of the novels.
@JMG. I’ve always thought, after reading his other vignettes as well, was that he had learned that the rules of the battlefield were applied inescapably by both sides, and yet were not the ones that people would admit they had followed when they came to tell their tales of how the Good People Won.
Thanks for your review of Hesse’s works. I was not aware of those early Hesse titles and will have to remedy that. Off to hunt them down! I picture librarians around the country who will be perplexed at the number of requests for any copies of Hesse’s books on the shelves!
I’ve read three of Hesse’s novels, Siddhartha, Narcissus and Goldmund, and The Glass Bead Game. It seemed to me that Hesse was trying to work out a dichotomy, in the case of Siddhartha and The Glass Bead Game, embodied in one character, and in the case of Narcissus and Goldmund, in two characters. In two of these novels it is the sensual vs. the spiritual, and in The Glass Bead Game it is retreat from the world vs. involvement in the world. All three novels involve this latter as a theme as well. I found it interesting how Hesse seemed to work through and “worry” this theme, which seems to go back, in one form or another, to the early centuries of the first millennium two millennia ago. I read Hesse at the same time as I was reading Castaneda (I’ve read his first few novels [sic] a few times since), Vonnegut, Rilke, and Baudelaire, as well as Frederick Douglass, Eldridge Cleaver, and Bobby Seale. Then hippies became yuppies while some of us truly dropped out to begin the long journey home and so in a sense, perhaps, grappling with Hesse’s dichotomy each in our own way.
Oh gosh thank you for this! I see the value in the general line of Hesse’s work and why people here are recommending it. I may have had a gander at Siddartha when I was tiny, but when it turned out not to be a historical novel about Buddha, but some contemporary, I lost interest. My loss.
Off topic: I’ve been out or overwhelmed for the past ten days, so unable to respond to your question about sutras to break through barriers, such as those on Mt. Fuji right now, but the Fudo Myo-O sutra came to mind. Nice short and powerful, it was taught to me by the Fuji Faith follower, Tadatsune-san, who joined me in performing the most important rite in that faith (aside from climbing Mt. Fuji) on our own last June. He recommended it for when you feel in danger from evil spirits. I found this page on it: https://fudosama.blogspot.com/2004/12/mantra-of-fudoo-myoo-oo.html which also has the worst depiction of Fudo Myo-O I’ve ever seen, looking like the Predator of recent Hollywood fame. But it also has the original Sanskrit, which is nice. Put a bit of force into the “un” in the last line.
I repeat it as I walk and then when I get to the place I want to break through, there is a subsequent verse I don’t know the name of, but I’ll give my transliteration of possibly flawed Japanese here:
On! Abokyabe irashano maakabo darumani handoma jin bara-hara baritaya Un! [On the “Un!” cut the air before you with two fingers.]
In this case the barrier is physical, and as I was thinking about this issue, I fell asleep and found myself on the south of Mt. Fuji walking the Middle Way to the east (counterclockwise), only to have a tengu-like priest call me back from it. Bad time for trying anything illegal.
My real concern is an unholy use of a holy mountain, so once this typhoon gets past us and I have a little time, I’ll go give the Heart and Lotus sutras, just as far as they will let me go.
Addendum to my last message here is a short Youtube audio of the Fudo Myo-O mantra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHpVCRzIfQk
Thanks for doing this essay JMG! Literature was easily my favorite class in high school and in college. Experiencing life through the characters in the stories we read, and discussing them were always eye opening, adding a lot of depth and experience to what we encounter in our life. I graduated in 1999, and from the breadth of the comments and your essay, I missed out on a lot of opportunities in school had I been born earlier. Thanks for sharing what many have likely missed out on.
Hesse’s stories do sound incredibly insightful, and would be very helpful in our modern world’s discourse to help us consider individually who we are, and how to challenge ourselves to live closer to our full potential. They’re likely some of what the doctor ordered to help America to learn more about our tamanous.
I’m really impressed by the number of times you’ve read each of those stories/novels. Last night, I was attending my son’s piano class. He’s been working on some Scott Joplin songs, one of them, the Pine Apple Rag Time, for six months, and a number of other songs for months and years. His teacher noticed my son did well on the mentioned song and wondered how long he’d practiced it. After answering, the teacher then commented on how long, how many times it takes to practice a song before being able to perform it well. Understanding the layers of stories is similar, and really, anything in life requires consistent practice to be able to perform it well. I imagine performing life well takes a number of practices. So too does it take a lot of practice at getting all the pieces of life developed to be able to move on to that next level.
William Hunter, David by the Lake, and JMG if you wanted to chime in
I haven’t achieved what I feel my life is capable of, or even gotten close really. When I was younger, I dreamt of living similar to what William mentioned of doing earlier, out in the forest, closely connected with nature. I also wanted a family, and hoped to share that appreciation for the natural world and a connection with the seasons with them. For a number of years I lived in Ely, Minnesota, right on the Boundary Waters. I live not too far from there now, in the heart of the Iron Range actually, after being in China for awhile. The reason I left was to grow a family. That took priority on my list of goals. One thing I’ve learned, partly with the help of reading this blog, has been to recognize we make our choices based on what we need at the time to grow. Having a family has helped ground me in the realities of compromise, and working towards what we need to meet basic needs. While I still always dream of living in the woods, the reality is, my wife couldn’t handle that at this moment in her life, and my kids have both grown in more urban environments. The best thing I can do is adapt to the environment I’ve built for myself. It’s not ideal. But there are definitely goals to work towards as well.
Recently I’ve started reading the Weird of Hali. In book two right now, Jenny Parish is providing a wonderful example of the small steps that can be made to develop a spiritual following. The training of the will posts over on the Dreamwidth page are fitting in nicely. I think David, your experience behind the car and the stoplights is a great metaphor for expectations. And again, David, recognize you’ve been making those small steps, from the practice of gardening, to your routine of sour dough, to experimenting with different skills such as the yarn spinning. We have to be satisfied with what we have done, and as we hone the experiences we’ve had, we can use them to help develop to our potential.
Thank you so much for this synopsis of Hesse’s books. Your concise overview will surely increase my enjoyment of his novels and help me to immerse myself in his worlds.
Anonymous, glad to hear it.
1Wanderer, the Seventies were a very strange time! I’m not at all sure what happened to cause them to be so weird, but I admit I miss the ambience — of course that was the decade that shaped my thought and sensibility more than any other, since I was 7 when it started and 18 when it ended, but it really did feel at the time as though the world was brushing against something more interesting than the monotony that closed in later on.
Irena, okay, I was mistaken — I’d guessed that you were Russian, because of your style of argumentation. Would it be fair for me to ask what your native language is?
Kullervo, obviously I disagree. My take — based, as you’ll doubtless notice, on Oswald Spengler — is that the creative centuries of the Western high culture ended some time ago, and the work before us is to work with the products of those centuries. All the seeds were planted long ago. Our job now is to tend the crop so that, centuries further on, others can gather the harvest.
Wesley, if you go from Davy to Demian you may just notice some common ground. Pangborn was highly literate and I’m quite sure he was familiar with Hesse’s work.
Onething, The Glass Bead Game is not an easy book to read! I found it impenetrable when I first tried it — it was much later, when I had a clearer idea of Hesse’s style and a lot more background information, that I revisited it and enjoyed it immensely.
Nachtgurke, I’m sure that’s a large part of why Hesse has dropped into obscurity. He’s exhilarating to read if you can handle the call to awakening, and thus terrifying if you can’t.With regard to Tolkien, I probably need to write a post about his work one of these days, and talk about the very mixed impact he’s had on our era. As for the Eddas and dark ale, delighted to hear it!
David, I believe it was indeed.
Simon, Hesse can be very challenging, and that’s one of his most challenging sections. I felt exhilarated the first time I read that — the stuff that socked me in the gut was early on, when Harry Haller is ever so gently and quietly clrcling the drain.
Pixelated, of course. War has its own inescapable logic, and you follow that logic or you lose.
Joy Marie, I certainly hope so.
Someone, that’s the core of what Hesse is doing. Each of his novels is an experiment or, if you like, an exploration into the same set of themes having to do with identity, meaning, and life in the world, and the conflict between the life of the mind and the life of the flesh is an inescapable part of that. As for Castaneda, no [sic] needed; the first three books of the don Juan series are among the best pieces of visionary fiction I know of. It’s a pity the later ones couldn’t live up to the same standard.
Patricia, oog — you’re right, that’s a dreadful image of Fudo! Thank you for the mantras — good robust stuff.
Prizm, thanks for this. One of the reasons I so often have to disappoint people by saying “No, I haven’t read that, and I don’t expect to get to it” is precisely that any really worthwhile book needs multiple readings, and I’ve amassed quite a collection of worthwhile books over the years.
Kimberly, you’re most welcome.
Steppenwolf spoke to me very strongly when I was an oversocialised teenager, I’d pored over it many times. I wonder what it looks like now, when I’m middle aged as intended. I’d only heard of Siddhartha, besides Steppenwolf, so thank you very much for the overview.
As most here probably are aware, the average movie takes 90 minutes to watch, and to be completely honest, I’ve found few which spoke to me enough to bother watching a second time. Reading is comprehended on a completely differently skill set, which all of us develop differently. I am far from a fast reader, having to sound out each word in my head as I read. It takes me hours to get through shorter books. I’ve appreciated your Weird of Hali series since I have been getting through about one each week and a half at about an hour or two a night. The amount of ideas you’ve skimmed and concepts you’ve juggled have been a result of a skill set which have undoubtedly taken a long time to develop, most likely multiple lifetimes. I’m grateful for the chance I’ve been dealt having come across your website to glean from the information and wisdom you’ve processed. Not to say that it is an end all either. You do make a person work for themselves too. As my grandmother always said, and you’ve alluded to many times, the choice is up to ourselves.
This may be best for off list comment, I’m not sure, and I’d have to OK it with my grandfather first, but my grandmother, who passed on a couple of years ago, acquired a huge collection of books, many of them classics. If there are any you’re in need of, I’d be glad to see if it’s available to add to your collection.
@ David, by the Lake & Prizm
Slow and steady wins the race, I remind myself when I am gardening, building things or canoeing. I grew up next to a lake and my heart skips and my breath stops every time I see one. I recently took my nine year old nephew Masyn and his friend Mitre canoeing for their first time on Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis, in the same canoe I took to the Quetico-Superior in 2002. I never had kids but there are many kids in my family and family is so much more important than I realized.
I don’t know much about math, and I know less about the Kabbalah and even less (or maybe a bit more) about Freemasonry, though once I was managing a Halloween store on Hennepin avenue and I walked into the next door Freemason building that looks like a red castle (because the freemasons were parking in our parking spots) and declared my name and that I demanded to speak to the assembly, repeatedly, and I was banned for life from ever entering the building (though I think probably no one there would remember).
Indeed, being a German, Hesse was present till the 80´s and since then nill. I never read one book of him, but your summaries and reflections make me curious, to start with one.
Especially that his attitude was quite reflective, while our global devouring civilisation and so we are rather deflective.
What a wonderful review of an important writer who has had so much influence, but is now neglected. I too was upset when reading Steppenwolf and had to run out of the movie theatre when I tried to watch the video version. The Glass Bead game is most wonderful but difficult to understand. I will now read that again because of this discussion. By the way that is available as a free downloadable pdf. The recurrent storyline of a young person looking for and finding his way/meaning in the world is an important coming of age experience that all young people should have available. This is how civilizations are reborn and is particularly relevant now as we replicate the WWI like destruction of our world. We need Herman Hesse more than ever.
JMG: “Irena, okay, I was mistaken — I’d guessed that you were Russian, because of your style of argumentation. Would it be fair for me to ask what your native language is?”
Ha! So I “sound” Russian? Fascinating. I think I’ll take that as a compliment. 🙂
My native language is Serbian (I was born and grew up in Serbia, though I’ve spent my entire adult life elsewhere). As it happens, I’ve never actually been to Russia (unless you count one brief layover at the Moscow airport many years ago). Perhaps Serbian “style” is similar to Russian(?), or perhaps it’s the influence of all that Russian literature that I’ve plowed my through.
BTW, what’s the deal with Hesse and the critics? You (and also some of the readers) mentioned that many critics had a very negative view of Hesse. Why? Not that it particularly matters (who exactly pays attention to critics?), but now I’m curious.
@Justin Patrick Moore
I usually don’t like commenters providing links to their own blogs. As with all rules, those cases where one must make an exception are the most interesting, as they provide data points which outline the useful boundaries of our rule. Such it is with your comment.
One seldom hears mention of Shannon, even among educated (i.e., having a CS degree, and thus some theory) computer people, so I made an exception and went to your blog.
After reading the article on Shannon’s work and seeing its mention of GBG, I had a sort of epiphany of the glass-bead game itself as a metaphor for the coming era of the computer. In my imagination the beads become software units, strung together like beads on a necklace, to express some human insight, esthetic, desire, or purpose.
And like that game, the computer is the invention that irrevocably alters all other disciplines, even the non-technical ones, along with our lives, economies, societies, individual perceptions, even what can and can’t be perceived.
I had read GBG when JMG tipped it in the Archdruid Report a few years ago, like it well enough to finish it (it’s time to return). The part I liked most was the little stories at the end of the book, representing (as I found out today) some earlier lives of the GBG hero. All of these characters search for that elusive something that is the mystery of life.
I had a music-major friend in college who tried to turn me on to Stockhausen, but at that time I couldn’t discern the signal within the noise. I’ll go to that post of yours next.
First, thanks for suggesting the topic to JMG (and thanks to our host for choosing it).
I too studied Russian purely to be able to read their literature (in the beginning only Dostoyevsky, still a favorite after 50 years; Pushkin was a pleasant surprise), so I have an idea of where you are coming from.
I sympathize with your problem with the dearth of good literature originating in Czech. I live in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, and have the same problem finding serious books from Dutch writers.
Regarding your not reading new things so much as re-reading your library, that too strikes a chord. Nassim Taleb (a pugnacious celebrity intellectual) puts it: if you have two serious books, one which you’ve read and the other which you haven’t, you will likely gain more from re-reading the first than you will from reading the second.
Oh, and thanks for your work.
@David by the lake The answer to How questions is “yes.” The question is based in an assumption that there is something missing, broken, or faulty that if fixed in a specific series of steps will yield to success.
I appreciate the summation. I don’t know why I’m still shocked by what disappears from culture as if it never existed, but here I am wondering why I never heard people talk about Hesse until now. I have Siddhartha on my shelves and it looks like I read it in college but I don’t think I *read* it and got anything from it. Glad I have another chance at it.
Here is the quote I mentioned earlier from the beginning of the The Glass Bead Game, that seemed to suggest to me, that this was a project Hesse wanted to see people take up.
“Although in a certain sense and for light-minded persons non-existent things can be more easily and irresponsibly represented in words than existing things, for the serious and conscientious historian it is just the reverse. Nothing is harder, yet nothing is more necessary, than to speak of certain things whose existence is neither demonstrable nor probable. The very fact that serious and conscientious men treat them as existing things brings them a step closer to existence and to the possibility of being born.”
Searched “SQ” and boy were the questions self-serving and stupid. All from the blindered perspective of that other “SQ”, the “IYI” “Intellectual-yet-idiot” of Taleb. You know: the apparatchiks and college intellectuals whose 40 years of self-ascribed “intelligence” has gotten America into the present state of total collapse. Excuse me if I credit them with a different sort of genius given the eventual results:
**“Ever wonder why some crazy Genuis hasn’t blown up the world? I used to wonder about it all the time. … It turns out there’s a force working hard to keep the world from going KABLOOEY. Who are these people? Wait for it: Idiots.
“Idiot Geniuses” are completely obsessed with “improving” the world. Maybe it’s encoded in their DNA. [But] I have Idiot genes, which means that for an equally unaccountable reason, I’m obsessed with saving the world: from them.” **
Or their present IQ: “When Data becomes Dada”, the definition of a Fool: one who knows everything and understands nothing.
Such are the times.
On Jung, Tolkien, Hesse:
I remember entering the cinema for the first session on the first day that the Fellowship of the Rings movie was launched – and leaving profoundly disappointed, in spite of all the painstakingly “authentic” swords and spoken Sindarin. The book contains so much that the film makers apparently didn’t even perceive was there.
In fact, I once read an illuminating scholarly analysis of the Jungian shadow in the Lord of the Rings (Gollum as Frodo’s shadow, the miller’s son as Sam’s). Another analysis that marked me was about Frodo’s habit of clairvoyant dreaming, especially at the onset and the end of the quest. As JMG once remarked, Tolkien did seem to know quite a bit about the unorthodox teachings of his day; this is clearest in his unfinished novel “The Notion Club Papers”.
Reading Steppenwolf, I felt repulsion, a bit like Simon S. wrote above. I liked the Glasperlenspiel, but was certainly much too young to really understand it – in my understanding (as a university student), there was nothing at all wrong with Joseph Knecht’s life as a master, and I couldn’t understand why he left it. I will try to get it for a second read.
JMG said Jung’s novels are all rather autobiographical. Well, on the other hand, he wrote what he called “an autobiographical fairy tale”: “The Childhood of the Mage” (Die Kindheit des Zauberers), which was beautifully illustrated by a friend of his. It might be an entry drug to Hesse if you know German – there seems to be no translation, unfortunately.
I read ‘Siddhartha’ in the 7th grade, age 12. You’re right, I can’t imagine a 7th grade teaching that book now, but then a lot of schools have discarded anything really challenging – or pretty much anything by dead, white men – in favor of contemporary books that further the woke ideology, regardless of whether the book is actually good or not.
While in middle school (around ages 11-13 for our non-US friends here) in an average, middle-of-the-road school district, we read ‘1984’, ‘Brave New World’, ‘Darkness at Noon’, portions of ‘The Canterbury Tales’ as well as a goodly dose of Shakespeare (the biggies: ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Hamlet’ of course) and I remember short stories by Ambrose Bierce. I dimly recall ‘The Gulag Archipelago’, but maybe that was high school. There are probably other important books I’ve since forgotten. I don’t see anything comparable currently on the syllabus at our local high school, but they do seem to be working hard to teach the kids to be activists of one kind or other, it’s even popped up in the school’s mission statement. Too bad they’re not equipping them to think clearly and deeply about the ideas behind all that activism. I seem to recall a bit from Macbeth about idiots and sound and fury signifying nothing, but the kids would never know that, they’re not reading Shakespeare. Too dead, too white.
Now, if someone here could please explain Kafka to me, I’d be so appreciative. I’ve read lots, both in English and in German, and I get the general outline of his plots, but all the other stuff, the darker, weirder stuff (probably the important stuff), I just don’t understand.
Hi JMG and comentariat:
I never read Hesse, but I will definitively give him a try. Any suggestion where to start?
Since I love SF, I will probably start by The Glass Bead Game.
Related, but probably offtopic, so don’t replay to this if you consider appropiate.
I’m father and husband of gifted women. We had some issues with our daughter that lead to ‘discover’ that she is gifted, and then, that my wife, her mother, too. It seems that there is some genetics at play, but that is not what I want to ask.
The issue is that handle gifted people is hard, difficult, and usually problemati, specially for them. But it is also rewarding once one ‘finds the path’. That means that reading Hesse I may learn a thing or two too on this issue (probably more).
But my question here, is how do you see gifted people from your point of view? And their relation with the planes? Is there any relation with the mental plane?
I’m totally off here, and I think many many sessions of meditation have to be devoted to that issues… too much for a noob like me, so any guidance on this front will be welcomed…
Thanks for your enlightening blogs (and MM too!!).
@risk free rate of return (& all)
Thanks for taking the time to read my essays. I appreciate it. (& thanks to JMG for this wonderful comment- coffee-house-common-room and allowing those of us who wish to, to occasionally link to our own writings and work).
Shannon is quite an interesting character, and I think information Theory, as well as Norbert Wiener’s cybernetics, odd as the latter me seem, can have a place in a future ecotechnic society. I certainly hope to see radio, in its various forms, continue, as it does in Hesse’s book & also I think among the Castalian’s of the future there may be a place for some analog computers, probably among the mathematicians of that age. Information Theory has much to offer beyond computing, and cybernetics I like because of what it has taught me about thinking in systems.
For what it is worth, a German musician who has been bringing back the use of test equipment and tape techniques into electronic music by the name of Hainbach, recently had a two and a half hour talk on his youtube channel with another musician and a computer professor on the subject of analog computers here for those who want to look into it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgyzeyatS-0
I hope along with some radio tech, some basic electronic music and recording tech survives, to be used by radiophoneticians for producing radio dramas and art. Electronic music can be made in studios associated with radio stations for transmission over radio networks in a new lower-tech media ecology, circa up to 1950s tech.
I don’t know how long the kind of computers we have now will survive, but I think some variation on a lower tech model could survive to be used by those with a specialized interest in them, but they wouldn’t be household, rather owned by some kind of quasimonastic order.
(I may as yet incorporate some more things about Lord Kelvin’s Harmonic Analyzer into the project I’m working on. It was a topic I became very interested in.)
As for Stockhausen, I understand I’m not going to convert the masses to becoming fans of his music. I happen to enjoy it immensely. It is rich in symbolism, mysticism, magic, and more. His two favorite books were the Glass Bead Game by Hesse and Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann. Those books offer one of many lenses for approaching the vast body of work he left behind.
Speaking of software, and another composer I mentioned, Pauline Oliveros, she wrote a book called Software for People. Very much of its time, it came out at the end of the seventies. In any case the writings can be thought of as programs musicians can apply in their lives. That’s the main kind of software we may have in the long term but I think there might be a lot of synthesis going on in those softwares.
“The Glass Bead Game: Hesse’s last, longest, and greatest novel, stupidly retitled Magister Ludi in some American editions, this is the only science fiction novel ever to win its author a Nobel Prize for literature”
Since the Nobel Prize for literature is awarded to an author and not a particular book one could argue that Doris Lessing’s Shikasta is another SF novel with this distinction. I did read Das Glasperlenspiel quite a while back and liked it but I probably missed much of the deeper meanings. Shikasta I devoured and it earned a place on my bookshelf for quite a while. But I may retrieve Das Glasperlenspiel from my storage (not sure if I borrowed or owned it) to read it again.
I have been reading “Aus Indien” about his travel to Asia in 1911. It contains what was published under that title in 1913 originally plus his travel notes and other subsequent articles. I was surprised that he never visited India proper but spent most of his time in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia (Sumatra). He only spent two weeks on the Indian subcontinent in Sri Lanka and was suffering from diarrhea most of the time there.
The book and travel notes do not contain any insights in or curiosity about eastern philosophy. He spent a lot of time catching and collecting butterflies but talked to few natives. He was a bit embarrassed that the natives he talked to usually spoke much better English than he. His interest in eastern philosophy cannot have been a motivation for his travel. That must have intensified later. In a book review of Hermann Keyserling’s “Das Reisetagbuch eines Philosophen” (travel diary of a philosopher) from 1920 he writes the following (my translation).
As a whole this book is the most important that has been published in Germany in years. To state the most important right away Keyserling is not the first European but the first European scholar and philosopher who has really understood India.
That which some artists and especially many so called occultists have known about India for quite a while, what they sought and trained there, which for us is the core of the spiritual India, that to my astonishment has never been considered and studied without prejudice by any of the large number of professors who travelled through India. They did not even see it at all. They did not see it because it was taboo (verboten) to them. Because those things Indian that were really important concerned occultism, magic, mysticism. They concerned the soul and were not sufficiently deadened and neutralised to be allowed to be acknowledged or even to be noticed by European and especially German professors. They were noticed, studied, searched for and imitated only by occultists, visionaries, sect founders, theosophers or sensation seeking globetrotters. Keyserling has discovered this India also for science. As the first among European scholars he has seen the straightforward which has been known for a while, and he simply stated that the Indian way to knowledge is not a science but a psychic technique. It concerns a change in consciousness and those trained the Indian way do not gain their insights by study and calculation but see the truths with the inner eye, hear them with the inner ear. They perceive truth directly and do not think their way to it.
Keyserling who lacks the suppressions and blinders of academia agrees with occultists in that he acknowledges and recommends yoga. … This will have a tremendous effect because yoga is just what Europe has the wildest hunger for.
I don’t think that anyone has mentioned the poems near the end of GBG. They are placed after the end of the main narrative and before the three lives. The first two times I read GBG I probably dutifully read the poems (with some impatience) but without paying them much attention. I know I read the three lives, because they stuck in my memory for a long time. Anyhow, on my third time through GBG I made it a point to re-read each poem at least once and to dwell on each poem for a little while. The poems are closely related to the themes explored in the main narrative. In fact, I wonder if it might be a good reading strategy to read the poems first, before embarking on the main narrative – as a sort of introduction to what lies ahead.
JMG, do you think the contrast in current popularity between Tolkien and Hesse is a question of problem versus predicament?
As described previously on the old blog, we of the post-Reagan world don’t do predicaments. Our art must be soluble, and the easiest solution to Tolkien style good versus evil is to crush evil. Mission accomplished. The world presented by Hesse seems, if it is anything like Jung, about confronting the evil within for which there does not appear to be an elegant solution, but rather the process of a lifetime of struggle.
Extrapolating broadly, does a lot of contemporary art fail, not only because it is a bit rubbish, but because shock tactics, and even nihilism, are still gunning for a solution? By stapling a piece of faeces to the art gallery wall or two hours of violent, depressing film, are you basically saying the ugliness in itself is the solution, rather than a predicament to be gradually overcome by some hard-won process — at least that would be the challenge laid down by competent art? On the other hand, it may just simply be rubbish.
@ Prizm, Denis, William Hunter, JMG
Re “how” questions, the fixing of things, and satisfaction with small steps
It is a deeply-embedded framing (one might even say “a habit of will”) of mine to measure from optimum: 100% on the test as the standard, with varying degrees of failure below that. So a score of 95 is a failure of 5%, and so forth. Unless I’m at that optimum, there is always room to do better. (This begs the question, of course, of defining the optimum to begin with…)
Now I am being confronted by this Carrot of Truth**, which is all about non-comparison. I am directed to focus exclusively on this soul and its development. Everything else is relentlessly and ruthlessly cut away. And as those other things fall away, I find myself tumbling in a void, without comparison and without reference–not even comparison with what I wish myself to be–directed and redirected back to what I am. It is challenging territory and uncomfortable, working without a metric. If there’s no measurement, what does one do? In what direction does one move? What improvements does one make? If all I can do is experience myself, how does that accomplish anything? And if a new framing is to be put in place, what does it look like? And what might I have accomplished already if only I’d had the right framing in place to begin with? These are just some of the questions I wrestle with.
There are times when I “get it” and times when I very much do not. The oscillation between the two is quite frustrating. But the message I keep getting is that my impatience is misplaced, as illustrated by synchronicity I mentioned above. I’m trying very hard to understand.
** Which was given to me in a meditation some time ago by Whomever She May Be:
“You have a carrot. If that carrot is sufficient for your needs, then what does it matter if your carrot is longer or shorter, brighter or more dull, straighter or more gnarled than another’s?”
And because I can be slow on the uptake, a later variant as further explanation:
“You have a path. If that path teaches you what you need to learn, then what does it matter if your path is grander or quieter, more expansive or more focused, more direct or more winding than another’s?”
Beekeeper in Vermont about Kafka:
I read Kafka first in high school in a ex-communist country deep into collapse. I cannot explain it to you but I think that he captured precisely a certain type of decay where the central control lasts long after people have forgotten almost all their humanity.
The government is not necessarily evil, just populated by bureaucrats that are defined by their jobs (robopaths to use Orlov’s term). People have lost almost all social cohesion except the will to make everyone else conform (maybe a bit like the wokesters). Even the individuals feel like they are carried by a river with little control over their lives and futures (learned helplessness?).
I know it’s hard to describe it but I can tell you that when I read Kafka, it hit me hard. I felt angry on every page (why don’t they fight back?) but at the same time a was terrified that I might do the same thing in that situation (which I did for a long time after).
I know the words above don’t capture Kafka and I don’t know how to recreate the atmosphere I was immersed in.
One possibility is that US might feel like that in the future (maybe a decade) so try and reread Kafka then.
@Beekeeper in Vermont – to understand Kafka, you need only have had to wrestle with the bureaucracy – ANY bureaucracy – just once, to no avail. Except for the story about the man who turns into a giant cockroach, which is pure s/f but I’m sure can have a dozen symbolic meanings attached to it, including a loss of status.
Or have been through some of the more Byzantine state & local criminal justice systems. (The Trial)
Case in point: Florida, which refers to ex-cons who have served their sentences as “felons” anyway. And has charged them for the cost of their incarceration and trial and won’t restore their rights until they have paid it all off, complete, of course, with the accrued interest. “I owe my soul to the Company Store,” only more so. (Of course, most of them were dirt-poor to begin with.)
At any rate, his message is crystal clear: some poor sucker gets in in the neck in a complex, confusing, and unsolvable fashion. Which may be an accurate description of life in Eastern Europe when he was writing.
@JMG I always thought they did lose. I thought they should have just shot him, if they couldn’t bear to let him live with what he’d done. The Nazis control more of the world now than they ever were going to through Hitler. Just last thread, even the magically inclined are still talking of Purebloods and Muggles. People too sullied by the human world to experience magic, and people who gained perfection by the grace of their parents’ choices alone. But it seemed to me the best wizards were usually Mudbloods. That’s why Deer Clan was punished for not intermarrying with other clans.
Oh no… I might have agreed with more of that Lutheran sermon than I thought…
Synthase, now that you’re middle-aged, you’re in a good place to understand what Hesse was up to in Steppenwolf. By all means give it another try!
Prizm, I find movies generally pretty dull: lots of “excitement” but very little content. I’m delighted that you’re finding my tentacle novels well over on the other side of that spectrum! Thank you for your offer, but at this point my wife and I have more books than we have room for; if your grandfather is okay with it, you might consider donating them to Kimberly Steele’s library project.
Hubertus, nicely summarized! My understanding is that his books are even better in German than they are in English, so you’re in for a treat.
Mots, by all accounts the movie was dreadful. I have a hard time seeing how any of Hesse’s later novels could be turned into films without being gutted. Fortunately we’ve got the books, and you’re right, they’re even more relevant now than before.
Irena, well, I was right that you came from a Slavic culture with a strong Eastern Orthodox tradition, so that’s close. 😉 In Seattle, where I grew up, there’s a large Russian emigré community — mostly people whose grandparents fled to Vladivostok during the Revolution and the civil war that followed, and took the first ship to somewhere else once the Communists won — so I got used to the debating style. I haven’t had that chance with Serbians — I’ve never been to Alaska, which for some reason has the largest share of the Serbian-American community. As for the critics, it’s been a long time since I read anyone mentioning Hesse at all; they just pretend that he never existed.
Return, Taleb’s a smart guy. I find that it takes a minimum of three readings to really benefit from an ordinarily good book, and the better the book is, the more readings it needs.
Denis, America today has a culture of omission — our collective identities depend on what we don’t talk about and won’t let ourselves notice. That’s become an overwhelming factor in recent years, but it goes back — as I’ve argued before — to the early 1980s, when most of a generation cashed in their ideals and climbed aboard the Reagan bandwagon. That was when Hesse dropped off the cultural radar screen, too, and I don’t think that’s accidental!
Justin, a case can be made!
Jasper, I think you understate the depth of what’s going on here. People didn’t just up and get stupid. American public life has become a desperate flight from reality, for understandable reasons; I talked about those reasons in slightly metaphorical terms back in the old blog, and I think those terms are still highly relevant today.
Matthias, the movies — “Peter Jackson u bagronk sha pushdug Hollywood-glob bubhosh skai” was a common reaction among Tolkien fans at the time — completed the process of gutting Tolkien’s work and propping up a stuffed lifeless imitation in its place, but that process began long before. As for the autobiograpical fairy tale, it’s not in either of the two collections of his fairy tales I have — I’ll have to see if I can find a copy and work my way through it.
Beamspot, I don’t recommend starting with The Glass Bead Game — it’s far and away his most difficult book! I’d recommend Demian to begin with. As for gifted people, an immense amount depends on what you mean by that very, very vague word. Perhaps you can clarify a bit.
Uwelo, as far as I know it wasn’t until the First World War that Hesse became interested in Eastern philosophy. As for Keyserling, fascinating — his writings were hugely influential all through the European occult scene between the wars. I may see if that book of his is available in translation.
Phutatorius, I could definitely see reading the poems first!
Thecrowandsheep, yes, and that’s one of the great weak points in Tolkien. His mature theory of art demanded what he calls a ‘eucatastrophe,’ a grand solution to all the problems raised by the core plot. The Hobbit didn’t have that, and was a better book for it; the trilogy, for all its power, misleads. It’s appropriate, though not in a sense Tolkien could have recognized, that the villainous side of the trilogy is lumped together as “the Shadow” — it’s a shadow in the Jungian sense, projected by those who can’t face it in themselves. We see a lot of that nowadays!
Pixelated, they lost in human terms, and in cultural terms. That’s outside the realm of war. Mars doesn’t care about any of those things; he simply decides who wins the battles and who conquers the other side’s country.
I read Siddhartha in college. I still have the novel, somewhere, I think. I may as well start by re-reading what I have. Then I’ll try a few of the others.
By gifted I mean they both have a high IQ. High Capacities are another word. I’m translating from spanish, though
The fact is that both are really smart, sensitive, sensible, well beyond other people. Like if they were older than the age they have.
That causes lot of issues, specially in the social plane. They are usually interested in things that are different of the main interests of the rest of the class.
So, my daughter, as well as my wife at her age, is ‘rare’ and thus socially marginalized. No friends. Different interests and level. Teachers don’t understand their character. Quite often they loose interests in what is taught, too shallow and simple.
It is a challenge, that quite often causes many psychogical issues that often cause problems to them, unhappiness, dropoffs, often confused as ‘low performers’, and in a procustean society, targets of hate.
But they are really interesting and fascinating, marvelous people with an incredible insight in many things.
Once I become aware of this issue, I found others, like my boss, changed many things inside me.
But to my wife was a really life changing.
I hope I clarified a littlle bit the issue.
Thank you very much, JMG, for bringing this great recount of Hesse’s novels!!!
I read Siddharta as a teenager and loved it. Then I found Demian during my first year of university and it was really terrifying. I am not sure I fully understood it (as that copy was in English, which I was not quite good at, back then) but yeah, that Call to Adventure (I mean, Awakening) hit closer to home that one time. I know everybody pretends to have read Steppenwolf, but by the time I found it, I had already been vaccinated against it and it failed to hold my interest for long.
In retrospective, my own life has been much like Siddharta’s. Talented kid, went out into the World. Gained success for a time and then collapsed into a better place, more by accident than out of any wisdom of my part. These days, I am dutifully trying and failing and transmitting the insights I have gathered over the decades to the next generation…
I wonder if a childhood friend will show up one of this days.
Many thanks for this Hesse overview. I was one of the partisans for this topic, and I have much to reflect upon. If anything, your overview reminds of the scene from The Odyssey, where Odysseus enters the cyclops’ cave, and he marvels at the stupendous weapons standing against the cave wall, far more massive than even he could ever dream of hefting, let alone wield. Indeed. What can I possibly add?
I also agitated for you to write on Will (“dysfunctional Will”), which you are now doing on your other blog. That has me fully engrossed, as does your series from last year on discursive meditation.
In a way, the themes of self-exploration and liberation as presented by Hesse, and the topic of Will, are both prominent and intertwined in my own life. My situation involves a failed marriage (we are now separated), strained relationship with my older (17) daughter, my medical practice, and by extension career, circling the drain, and fruitless attempts to find a new career at age 62. My inner life is dominated by a shame-based self-image, implicitly shaped by a thoughtlessly cruel upbringing. I sense it is this remote past with its tacit influences which hobbles my Will, emotions, and relationships, and which draws me so forcefully to Hesse.
The lease on my clinic expires at the end of the year. I don’t see how my revenue, down 60% since Covid, will justify my business partner renewing the lease. I’m excreting bricks over this. I’ll have to have to have a heart-to-heart talk with him, and say, “Look, we can’t do this…”. Threats to survival have a wonderful way of concentrating the mind. My attempts to find work as a power distribution engineer, for which I’m qualified on paper, or as an electrician apprentice, have gone nowhere. “Looking for a job” is very much a task of pushing on a string, assuming you can even find a string. And don’t get me started on the topic of those worthless job shops which hourly email me 1000’s of bulk unfiltered, unsorted job ads from everywhere, to say nothing of phone calls that seem initially to be from employers, but turn out to be from predatory lenders trying to rope you into educational debt with diploma mills. I am now focusing on entering some other livelihood, where I’m not captive to an insanely dysfunctional medical system, AND where I don’t have to persuade someone to hire me.
So, with that, how does this relate to anything about Hesse, or Will? Last week, I took in my heirloom clock to be repaired after 25 years of not its running. I chatted with the elderly repairman, as he opened the clock, and evaluated the works. After a few minutes, he assured me the clock was easily, perfectly restorable, so I hired him to fix it. During our chat, I contemplated his profession, thinking how pleasant it must be to repair mechanical watches and clocks. Then BAM! Something hit me: Sewing machines! Maybe I could repair sewing machines for a living! So I bought an old sewing machine from a thrift store, and I arranged a visit with our sewing machine repairman, who is 81 years old, and the only repairman in town, to look at it, and chat with him about his profession. I happen to know him well, as my wife has me transport our machines to him, and I discuss the repairs with him. I learned he was self-taught, and he thinks that that is the only way to go. I then located a sewing machine repair correspondence course, signed up for it, and I bought the accompanying set of textbooks, manuals, and tool-kit. Last, but not least, I was instructed to buy myself a variety of sewing machines to study/practice on, and I now have most of them (more are in transit, and I still need to locate a couple more specialized ones). Now that I am on this path, guess what? My Will is functioning well and propelling me forward! I haven’t felt this good in well over 20 years. And stuff is happening! The other day, I went to have my eyes checked, the optometric technician and I were chatting, and I mentioned my plans to become a sewing machine repairman. She asked “When!?!? I’m sick and tired of shipping my machines to Seattle and waiting for months to get them back. Leave A STACK of your business cards here (at the eye clinic!) as soon as you are open.” I went from there to an antique store to get a sewing machine, and the store owner casually asked what I planned to do with it. When I told her, she said, “People always come by here asking where to get their old sewing machines fixed. I have to tell them I have no idea. Give me a stack of your business cards when you are ready.”. I am obsessed now with sewing machines, how to use them, how they work, how to fix them. I can’t sleep. I came up with my business name, and ad campaign. I bought a used SUV with cargo space immediately. I’ve started on my work room, and a work bench is nearly set up. And for some reason I can’t put my finger on, I couldn’t resist a vague, long pent-up urge to buy a brand new metal lathe. It’s professional grade, with NO electronics let alone computerization, relatively inexpensive at $1400, and I noticed it’s made in China… That lathe is now in a crate in the back of my SUV. It weighs 300 lbs, and I have to get it into my basement apartment somehow…
I do notice now that if I choose to do something, I’m choosing to not do something else… It sure feels good to have a functioning Will coming back on line.
JMG, I haven’t forgotten your admonition to “Collapse now and avoid the rush”, nor have I forgotten your suggestion that repairmen are poised to do well in the not-too-distant future, nor your reminder of how the dollar is 80% overvalued, and when it goes, all those cheap imports won’t be so cheap anymore, assuming they’re available at all.
I’m interested in whatever thoughts of your’s this comment elicits, JMG.
Your blog makes a difference. Thanks.
PS.. I gotta go…
Well, Archdruid, you’ve given me a lot to think about. I’m not entirely sure what you mean by Russian debating style. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t exist (something tells me that it does), but I’m just not sure what it is… And if I have it, you know what, I’m not convinced it comes from my Serbian childhood and adolescence, rather than simply from my having read so much Russian stuff. Interestingly, when I started learning Russian, and in the process, about Russian culture and history, I was quite surprised by how different from Serbia Russia turned out to. I’d expected it to be much more similar. For one thing, Russia turned out to be far more Christian. (Serbia is also Orthodox Christian, but I’d say its Christianity is a very tribal kind of Christianity. Me, I grew up in a fully secular household.) Interestingly, when I started learning Hebrew (alas, I never got much good at it), I was equally surprised by how familiar it seemed! Very Yugoslav, both in the good and in the bad sense.
Anyhow… I bought a Kindle version of the Czech translation of _Steppenwolf_, and I got through the equivalent of about 15 pages of it this evening. Ah, that was so much better than the stuff I’d been force feeding to myself in an attempt to improve my Czech. So there you have it. You not only got me to re-pick up Hesse after all these years, but you may just have salvaged my Czech studies (look, it’s really quite important; I live in the Czech Republic). I bet it didn’t occur to you your writing might have such an effect (the Czech part, that is). I guess what I’m trying to say is: thanks. 🙂
One can find an English version of Hesse’s “Die Kindheit des Zauberers” here:*
The fascinating introduction by Theodor Ziolkowski sheds a lot of light on Hesse’s very early exposure (in his childhood) to Indian thought and culture through his maternal grandfather, “an expert on Indian culture and languages.” Young Hermann seems to have regarded his grandfather as something of a wizard, and to have hungered for a magic of his own that could enable him “to disappear or change his shape.”
* It’s on academia.edu, but one can log onto that site through google or facebook, or even sign up for a free account of one’s own. I recommend it. It’s a treasure-house of recent scholarly writing on almost any subject under the dun.
@ Beekeeper in Vermont
My take on Kafka is that he writes horror stories where other human beings play the role of the monster i.e. the irrational, powerful force that cannot be reckoned with. In good fiction, we can normally empathise with the antagonist and their motives on some level. But not in Kafka. The antagonists in Kafka are humans but they can’t be reasoned with or understood.
It’s no surprise that bureaucracy features a lot in Kafka. In my working life, there is a direct and unmistakable correlation between the rigidity of a bureaucratic structure and its propensity to lead to Kafkaesque outcomes. I only once worked for a government bureaucracy and that was a complete madhouse. I still shudder when I think of what went on there. It was pure Kafka. There were human-like creatures in there but they didn’t behave like humans. They couldn’t be reasoned with or swayed by appeal to any nobler goal or even basic self interest. They just followed rules that led to absurd outcomes.
Beamspot, thanks for this. The capacities each person has in their present life, they earned through hard work in previous lives. Thus Mozart was able to play and compose music from an early age because he had many lives as a musician behind him. Intelligence works the same way — if you spend several lifetimes developing your ability to learn and think, that’s going to be reflected in future lives. I wonder, though — some of the things you’ve mentioned are characteristic, not just of high intelligence, but of Aspergers syndrome, which is a neurological condition I have. You might consider discussing with your wife and daughter if they want to get tested for that; if they have it, there are plenty of books on how to work with it and have a good life.
CR, always a possibility. You might try one of his other books and see what you think.
Lunarapprentice, excellent! That’s usually how it works these days. Everyone I know who’s doing really well is self-employed, and occupies some odd niche that nobody else happened to think of. Repairing sewing machines is an honest trade, it’s a trade that’s in demand — as you’ve seen — and the skills that you’re learning now will likely apply to a range of other small appliances. Down the road, as your business grows, consider taking on an apprentice. As for that lathe, I bet you can learn to make the parts that factories aren’t making any more…
Irena, I’m not sure I could describe the Russian debating style, but every Russian I’ve ever known has a certain style in arguing — and of course they’re all highly argumentative, which makes that hard to miss! I’m delighted to hear that you’re enjoying the Czech version of Steppenwolf — you’re most welcome.
Robert, many thanks for this! Duly downloaded.
Hi again JMG.
You said “As for that lathe, I bet you can learn to make the parts that factories aren’t making any more…”, Well, the first part(s) I’ll want to make will be spool pins. They are usually simple, and surprisingly specific for each machine. I had ordered a spool pin for a machine I’m already working on, and it’s plastic, and cost 4 bucks plus 4 shipping. Pfftt. So there’s things I can do. Many machines, especially since the early 80’s or so, have plastic gears. Those are not durable. I would love to make replacement gears in metal. That is not economic for a repairman to do now, but I’m sure that will change. Gear cutting is not readily done on a lathe, as you need complex, specialized attachments, setting them up is complicated, and the cost of those attachments rivals the cost of a small milling machine which would more organically cut gears. Still, I haven’t even unloaded my lathe yet…
I gotta go.
I did go and order myself copies of Narcissus and Goldmund and The Glass Bead Game before the prices on Thriftbooks spike 😉 The first b/c it seems quite relevant to my predicament and the second b/c I had to turn the copy I was reading back to the library before I could finish it. Hopefully, I can get some pointers, at least.
Because tentacles 🐙 are always relevant—
Happy World Octopus 🐙 Day!
I knew I’d get some help from this group.
Thanks for all the input about Kafka. Yes, I have noticed that a faceless bureaucracy features prominently in his stories and yes, Patricia, I have dealt with dunderhead bureaucrats plenty of times so that’s really the easy part of Kafka. The harder part, at least for me, are Kafka’s clearly disturbing characters and themes that veer into what seems to be serious psychological instability. I’m sure there’s something important there, but I’m just missing it. I haven’t read much Hesse recently, but I don’t recall struggling with his characters nearly as much.
I studied Russian in college and our professor told us many times that Russians loved to argue and that the Russian language was richly stocked with profanities. When I was helping a group of adult Russian immigrants with conversational English some years ago, I was awed by their sheer stamina in arguing. About pretty much anything. However, they did not share the profanities with me, so I can’t personally confirm that part of my professor’s statement.
I am curious about what led to your dim view of Tolkien’s use of eucatastrophe. If I understand correctly, he saw it as necessary on account of deep religious reasons: basically, human effort always had to fall short in the end. If the good guys are going to win, it’s because they had some kind of help – i.e. the thing with Gollum in the Crack of Doom, or the Voyage of Earendil at the end of the Silmarillion.
Your own philosophy (again, correct me if I’m understanding it wrong) has a lot in common in the sense of making a big deal out of human limits, and allowing the occasional unexplained spiritual force to keep the hero alive and/or advance the plot (I am thinking of the dream sequence in Deesee in Star’s Reach as just one example). And there is also that beneficial surprise plot twist at the end of Star’s Reach.
So do you simply think that Tolkien is doing it to excess? Or is there something else going on? He certainly isn’t guilty of making his endings entirely happy, since both the Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion end on a note of sadness as, notwithstanding the heroes’ victory, a lot of magic is passing out of the world and will not return.
lunar apprentice – You and I have much in common. Age, small lathe ownership, interest in sewing machines. (My first wife and I divorced 28 years ago, though, and I’ve been happily married for almost 27.) The way to get your lathe into the basement is to take it apart, strip off everything you can, then re-assemble it on-site. You’ll only want to do that once. Expect to spend at least another $1000 on accessories for your lathe, such as dial indicators, cutting tools, maybe a lathe-milling attachment, tool bits, drill bits, raw material stocks, lubricants, instructional books, etc. You can find (too) many entertaining and instructional videos on YouTube.
My experience with my mother’s old sewing machine is that the “repair” it needed was thorough cleaning and re-lubrication. Make sure you know which lube’s go where! Mis-matched lubricants can react with harmful results (precipitation of crystals, I think).
Learn to live on very little. Your sewing customers will have little to pay with.
Beamspot, speaking as someone who is merely gifted, but the child of an actual genius, and the parent of kids whose IQs are high enough to be not measurable in childhood, intelligence of that sort tends to run in families. It is one very good reason to have several children, or failing that, to make sure your child socializes with other people at least as intelligent as she is.
The primary pitfalls of the highly intelligent are three. First, to believe that they are superior to others because of their intelligence, and thus should by rights rule society. Second, to rely on intelligence rather than effort for success, and when that fails, to quit. Third, what is commonly referred to as imposter syndrome: a false belief that one is simply lucky and will be found out as a fraud.
The preventative for all of these is the same as any child needs in development. Challenge them, teach them to work, and teach them that others have a right to their own mistakes. The failure modes most often occur when a parent or teacher makes too much of a child’s intelligence, cannot themselves keep pace with the child and idolizes their abilities, or when the child is never truly challenged by anything in their lives. For my oldest son, the first time in his life he was challenged by anything, at all, was when he started ballet, at twelve. Unsurprisingly, this became his passion: he has real talent, but not nearly so much as he has in mathematics. Having to work to succeed made ballet intriguing in a way in which mathematics never had been.
So my advice is to find for your child friends on her level intellectually, likely not her age peers, but her intellectual peers, and you must supervise this as the intellectually gifted are not inherently good or wise, merely smart. Find challenges for her: they may be sports or music or livestock handling or art, if academics proves too easy, where she has to learn how to work to succeed. Teach her that all people have the right to choose for themselves how they want to live, even when she can see so clearly that they are making bad choices. This last is the hardest, because the impulse to do what is good for others comes from a good heart, but can become the desire to force people to do what is good, and when taken to the extreme and given political power, turns to absolute evil.
You will find a great deal of good information about parenting gifted children on the internet these days, and some not so good. If you will remember that intelligence is merely a talent, just as any other, you cannot go far wrong.
I have been meditating on the ninth section of the Dao De Jing (”fullness and complacency contrary to the dao”) lately. I came to think of it as you described the recurring theme of turning away from splendid stagnation and venturing out into the world to overcome oneself. 功遂身退天知道
Thank you very much for your reply. I’ve read now other commenters here, with the same question regarding where to start.
Regarding your comment on Aspergers, we are pretty aware of it’s existence. Two moms and the child of one of them have Asperger, in different degrees. We know them from many years now, so we are pretty aware of what is Asperger, and definitively it is not what my wife and daughter have.
Regarding my wife, we already know that mirror neurons work inside her… usually on overdrive. That cuause her many issues, that are usually handled by practicing martial arts two times per week. We are also working in this issue, since it has some points that look like a form of ‘clarivoyance’ (I’m not versed enough on occultism to say anything more in this regard, but anyway that is a question for another day). Complex, but sure they have empathy.
My daughter is different, but we already know her mirror neurons do work.
Anyway… you are not wrong by far on this issue. Explaining that will be somewhat long, though, so feel free to delete whatever you may think. It may be interesting for some of you, though.
Since we live in a procustean society (and over here it seems it is goint to worse), only some gifted people is accepted, those that fit the bill, adapt to the society and serve it well.
But this is not the norm. Usually less than 10% of gifted people fit into this category. That is about 0.1% of population…
For the remaining, they usually ‘dissapear’ and quite commonly other kind of problems arise. So they tend to go to the psychologist.
But since this is verboten in our society, there is NOT a single word about those that are well above the mean average of IQ in the whole psychology studies, unless one takes an specialiced master.
So, children (and not so young) tend to go to the psychologist with some personal problems (many, in fact), and they are usually misdiagnosed. In fact, our daughter was not diagnosed at all at the first psychologist, it was a teacher well aware of the issues who give use more certainty about that (I’ve already had the suspicion, but I was far from sure). Then finally we decided to go to a psychologist specialized in ‘High Capacity and Gifted children’.
This was traumatic and cause my wife a nervous breakdown… similitudes with what you explain of the novels of Hermann Hesse ring loudly here…
Following the advice of the second psychologist, we became members of an association of families with gifted children, something that gave us lots of reliefe (well, not only to us). We learnt many things there.
Quite often, this children are misdiagnosed. Most commonly, usually, quite often, with Hiperactivity and Lack or Deficit of Attention (there is an irony here: once they find something that they like, they can pay hughe amounts of attention, for hours, days, weeks, to what they are doing… but they have to find something interesting).
After this misgiagnose, there is a second usual, regular misdiagnostic: Asperger Syndrome.
It is mostly wrong, and lack of knowledge from the psychologist, since usually they doesn’t know enough both in Asperger and in Gifted children.
Anyway, we know of two children with what is called ‘double excepcionality’: they are both really smart with IQ >140 and Asperger.
And, although I’m not a psychologist, they look like a lot to you, dear Archdruid.
I had been following you since 2013, read all The Archdruid Report, as well as the Well of Galabes and Ecosophia, and seen some videos of you. And you ring a bell loudly with tose two guys… but not with my girls.
So, I think there is definitively a point in your observation, and I agree that this is something that has to be into account.
I could write much more about that and their problems, but this is not the place and/or moment.
But I guess, all that I have written now applies too to Herr Hesse, and probably I will find some reflections of our experience on his novels. I will give them a try for sure, and probaly guess them to my wife.
I think all this goes really deep in many levels, and I found many jungian references that apply to the problematic associated to gifted people too…
Thanks again for your insights.
Greetings JMG! Thank you for this summary of Hesse’s works. I have several of his books on my shelf but so far have only read one of them (Steppenwolf). I have to tell you about a strange synchronicity which occurred in relation to him. Three years ago I got an offer out of the blue to go and stay in somebody’s home in a quaint old town in southern Germany (Tubingen). Packing hastily, I threw a couple of books in my suitcase, one of which was Anthony Peake’s “Daemon” – a book about our higher selves which had been recommended to me.
While in Germany I found myself sitting in a beautiful old square and drinking a coffee while reading my book. The chapter I was reading was about Hesse, whom I’d only read about in relation to The Glass Bead Game back on the ADR. When I got up to go I decided to go and have a look in a bookshop I had seen just over the way, and on the wall was a plaque saying that this was the very bookshop Hesse used to work in!
I then rode back home on my borrowed bicycle, and I was locking it up in the bike parking area I noticed the manufacturing brand: Steppenwolf!
Of course, I took this as s sign that I must read all of his works …
(Incidentally, a few days later I read the chapter on Goethe … and lo and behold, it turns out the man himself used to live right next to said cafe as well.)
p.s. I have begun to blog again on topics that may reverberate with your readers. If anyone is interested I’m at http://www.beyondthewasteland.co.uk
I haven’t seen any Hesse movie. Goldmund’s part of the story might be the easiest of all of Hesse’s work to show on a screen, but I suspect Narcissus’ point of view would be hard to show faithfully. If a film maker ever transforms Harry Haller or Joseph Knecht into a wide-eyed, blue-eyed, innocent 18-year-old, then you will know Hesse has been gutted!
Robert Mathiessen, thanks for posting the link to Hesse’s autobiographical works with the excellent introduction!
Completely off topic but everyone needs more tentacles:
International Cephalopod Awareness Days – Oct 8th – 12th
Hug something with more than 2 arms today!
JMG looks like you were five to eight years late in Retrotopia. Looking like we may be nearing the beginning of the LEO (low earth orbit) Kessler Syndrome. The launch people are beginning to see problems with launch windows and SpaceX is continuing to add massively.
This discussion has led to some reflections for me.
It’s obvious that the themes Hesse explored throughout his work appeal to some, are admired by others, and cause still others to run screaming for the hills. This makes me think that only those who are more advanced in their spiritual development have the capacity to engage with these themes.
I consider myself to be/have an “adolescent” soul. I thus find myself both drawn to and repelled by the ideas in Hesse’s books. I want badly to be a grownup, but slide into childishness quite often. I feel as if I’m supposed to want to do this work, and frequently do actually move in such a direction, but then go haring off somewhere else.
I wonder if a reason Hesse has faded out of public consciousness is because of the increased number of “younger” souls in the world now. His themes can’t be turned into Great Illustrated Classics for the kiddies.
Interesting article about Odin
Thank you for this overview of Hesse. I read Siddhartha and The Glass Bead Game as a young teenager. The latter made me wish I lived in Castalia, spending all my time studying and contemplating math and music! Thank you again for reminding me that I need to revisit them now that I’m slightly more mature, and that I should look into Hesse’s other works.
For those interested in Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher, Bach, MIT offers a short, free online course with lectures, applets, and other resources.
Gödel, Escher, Bach: A Mental Space Odyssey
I’ve enjoyed the Hesse novels that I’ve read, and based on your descriptions, I plan to re-read some of those and read some others for the first time. Thanks for this guide!
“Oh, I’ve finally decided my future lies beyond the yellow brick road…” I’ve always found that to be one of the most beautiful melodic lines in pop music. There’s a pretty good chance Bernie Taupin, who wrote those lyrics, was reading Hesse at the time.
The challenge Hesse faced in writing about characters who awaken to themselves is to tell the story without seeming to be delineating a map for the reader: these choices and these actions and these realizations. Such a map, if followed, would be ineffective at best. So some distancing, some message of “this character, reader, is not you,” is required, but without so much distancing that the story doesn’t retain relevance. With The Glass Bead Game Hesse finally and ingeniously perfected this balance: the core of the protagonist’s path is to master an art form that doesn’t exist in the reader’s world. (If Knecht’s pursuit had instead been chess or go, or, say, surfing, how many yearning readers might have dutifully acquired the equipment and set to it?) Instead, to even read the novel, the reader is required to visualize their own (however minimal) version of what the Game is. How it works, perhaps, but more importantly what it means to these characters. Which, applied to real life, is itself the Game, or at least the opening moves of it.
Another reflexive point, though this one is a bit troublesome, about Steppenwolf and yellow brick roads where the dogs of society howl: Are Hesse’s novels not now themselves part of the Good Culture enjoyed by Good People? Of course they’re not currently fashionable culture, but they’re nowhere near the realm of NASCAR either. Might a present day Hermine not teach a present day Haller the joys of the latest Danielle Steele or Dean Koontz bestseller?
(Back in the days when Tweets were lettered manifestos on buttons worn at conventions, one of mine was, “Who’s telling me to question authority?” I guess that’s one way I haven’t changed since then.)
Lunar Apprentice, best wishes with your new direction. Your background in engineering will serve you well. I am sorry to hear about the upheaval in your personal life.
You asked me about changing careers to electrical engineering a few years ago at Sukkoth. The challenge for someone at the age where we are now is that entry level engineers need strong CAD skills to get that first job. Also, most entry level jobs involve long CAD sessions at the computer, and that gets rough as life goes on.
Bellingham Technical College offers an AutoCAD (possibly the world’s least user friendly program, but an industry standard nonetheless) I and II sequence that looks pretty good. I almost took it recently, because as the economy shrinks I may have to take over some of the drafting. The lockdown intervened.
You have found a passion and a direction, and good luck to you. You may still want to take up CAD (OnShape is way easier to get started with than AutoCAD.) Another way to make parts is by the additive method of 3D printing. Gears are not that hard, because of the number of canned scripts available. The materials are improving, so the reliability of printed parts is increasing. The design in CAD is exported to a 3D printer. Check out the Makerspace for equipment that can be used for a nominal fee.
And, as a long time self-employed engineer and microscopically small business owner, I recommend cultivating your homesteading skills. I call gardening my self-employment insurance.
Lunarapprentice, good to hear. Get that lathe unloaded!
David, glad to hear it.
Your Octopusship, thanks for this! 😉
Beekeeper, what I was taught is that in ordinary conversational Russian, every third word is a profanity, and of course — like all Slavic languages — Russia has an unusually colorful and intricate selection of profanities. I learned a very, very few of them surreptitiously in my high school Russian classes — enough, for example, to suggest that someone copulates with donkeys, and to specify the gender of the donkeys in question.
Wesley, the thing that makes Tolkien’s eucatastrophe in LOTR deadly is the way it combines with his projection of the Shadow to create the political monomyth that’s dominated the leftward end of Western culture ever since. Here’s Sauron in his absolute motiveless malignity; he’s the source of all the evils that drive the plot; get rid of him by some suitably improbable means, and (to borrow a useful bit of snark from the parody Bored of the Rings) all those awful orcs turn into white mice and a pumpkin. Since the 1960s, the left has been trying to act that out — all we have to do is X, and our current stand-in for Sauron will pop like a bubble and his orcs will flee before us. It’s been a fruitful source of disasters all along.
On a literary plane, it’s also as unconvincing as frack; even in the depths of my Tolkien fandom I found the last chapters of The Return of the King lame. (I thought that the army that marched to the Black Gate should have been wiped out in a Battle of Maldon-esque last stand, as of course they would have been, and Frodo should have perished with Gollum at Mount Doom; I imagined Gandalf, Merry, and Pippin staying behind in Minas Tirith, and Sam, despite the odds, making his way back out of Mordor; I imagined Faramir and Eowyn and their heirs as joint rulers of Gondor and Rohan, both nations weakened but intact; I imagined Merry and Pippin remaining in the south and Sam, having become his own person and not just Frodo’s servant, making his way home to find the Shire battered but also intact.)
Leverkuhn — nice alias, btw! — that seems very apropos.
Beamspot, I’m going to point you to the comment by BoysMom above. I, on the other hand, do have Aspergers syndrome, and so I’m probably the last person you should ask about how to handle complex interpersonal issues of the sort you’ve raised here.
Jason, positively Jungian! Glad to hear about the blog.
Matthias, oog. That’s horrifying to contemplate.
David, Great Cthulhu needs love too! 😉
Coop Janitor, no surprises there. Wave goodbye to the Space Age…
MizBean, I was a serious fan of the Great Illustrated Classics series in my insufficiently misspent youth — it was through reading those that I found out about The Count of Monte Cristo and Two Years Before the Mast, among others! I admit to a wholly pointless desire to see Demian in that format. Still, your broader point stands.
Your Kittenship, thanks for this.
Joshua, you’re most welcome. Thanks for this; I should probably reread Hofstadter one of these days.
Walt, it’s a fine song! And it’s also a fine button…
@David by the Lake; the stop lights are bad enough, but I also get the distinct impression most of the time I’m not even driving the car, I’m like a kid standing on the seat going “wheeeee! vroooom vrroom! I’n a big giwl!” while I wiggle the steering wheel around and someone else is hitting the gas or putting it in park. I found Gertrude and Demian at my creepy old bookstore. But also, three books about a small town on the opposite side of the country that my divinations started taunting me about moving to after my husband got it in his head to go there in two years (why? why on earth would we have so many books about that town here?!). I can’t tell if I’m being taunted with an elaborate metaphor about not being brave enough to go east, or being brave enough to resist a <a href = "https://nudityandnerdery.tumblr.com/post/184048272572/on-the-spectrum-of-fae-traps-meant-to-lure-in-the" raspberry zinger and stay here. I googled “Journey to the east meaning?” and all I got was pages and pages of hits on a book by none other than Hesse. Multiple platform treasure hunt reality games are tiring.
@JMG. Does Mars always get his conquest with hearts on the ground, or does he only care about getting the territory, and if you figure out how, you can keep the hearts and put ’em back where they’re supposed to go?
Thank you very much for your advice.
I had been lucky when we discovered the issue, and back then we received a similar advice, and we took it at heart.
It works wonders, and I repeat them to all new families that arrive at the association
I still remember the first day our daughter went at one of the events this association organizes. It was like a revelation to her.
We continue to inscribe her to workshops because she feels better when surrounded by similar people. She has good friends there, for the first time.
Regarding challenging and academy… Well, there we have our own struggle, but we coincide totally with your point of view.
Having gifted children is too a challenge. Knowing it makes things clear, but not easy. Lucky of me that internet is still with us.
Thank you very much!
How do you see the interaction between this quest for the self that Hesse explores and the role of society as a whole? The former would be, by most assessments, an intensely individual act; yet, we as individuals (and the stories of Hesse’s as you’ve described them) exist within a social construct. Moreover, it would seem to me that said social construct would act as more a hinderance than a help, but at the same time society is necessary as context (and perhaps a thrust-block?) with which the quest for the authentic self operates. Rather like the paired opposites of the law of polarity, the two cannot be separated and there is a perpetual tension between them that the seeker must navigate. What is success and what is failure in this context?
@ all the fellow attendees of this impromptu People Whose Lives Resemble A Hesse Character’s Association meeting:
Hi, I’m Walt, and my life resembles a Hesse character’s.
The usual (it seems, in this company). Started on a “gifted” trajectory toward what seemed to be all but pre-destined to be an illustrious technical career, wasn’t particularly fond of where it appeared to be headed to, and have veered in many different directions since then, several times leaving hard-earned accomplishments behind. I’ve published a research paper in Science, several computer games and other software, and fiction in JMG’s anthologies. My “career” over the same period also includes industrial day labor, janitorial, and direct care (housekeeper/cook/companion/caregiver) for developmentally disabled adults and seniors in group homes.
One of the turns, inwardly the most important and dramatic, came very early, in my early teens. (I’ll describe that in another reply to come, addressing BoysMom and Beamspot.) Sometime later I dropped out of a prestigious school, and as a direct result, within days, improbably met the love of my life whom I’m still with nearly forty years later. Heck, our oldest mutual friends (as I mentioned recently) have even joked about how much both of us (individually and together) seemed to them to resemble fictional characters. Of course they’re all now well ensconced in the “real world” of suburbia, academia, business, medicine, and technology… which in the past few years has been starting to seem more than a little fictional to me in turn.
Like you, I haven’t been called to live with zero footprint in the wilderness. I do go out into the cattails and reach out to local gods who haven’t had names in this region for 350 years, for what that’s worth. If I need to reinvent myself any further than I already have, it won’t be because I’m unsatisfied with who I am now. It will be because that endeavor, or something else I want or need to do, requires it. (Actually I think I know what the need will be, and it will be very hard, but a lot of things I’ve learned and done already will be useful preparation.)
I agree with Prizm about small steps. In addition, don’t discount the importance of the steps you’ve already taken.
In later years, in honor of its greatest Magister, the Glass Bead Game was renamed Knecht-the-Dots.
Made the wife cry to remember things we used to discuss as young people, compared to what life has become. I still read these books and others. The older I get the more significant they seem to become.
Hi John Michael,
Thank you for the introduction to this author. Believe it or not, I had not heard of this author before in any meaningful sense of that particular word. Education is sadly lacking these days, oh well. You inspired me to obtain a copy of the book Demian, and when it eventually arrives at the bottom of the planet, I’ll get a chance to read it. In the spirit of this week’s essay, and dare I cheekily suggest it, I’ll then make my own mind up about the veracity of your claim. 🙂
Speaking of books, a long while ago you introduced me to Robert E Howard’s awesome collection of short stories on the hapless, but tough as nails Sailor Steve Costigan. Such a thoroughly enjoyable series of tales from a prolific author, who just got better as the years went on. Had to laugh, but your politics these days reminds of one of those short stories. Hehe!
@JMG: Are you as much a fan of Thomas Mann as you are of Herman Hesse?
Pixelated, all Mars cares about is who wins the battles and ends up in possession of the territory. Hearts are not of interest to him either way, just guts.
David, one of the great points Hesse makes is that there’s no easy or straightforward answer to such questions. Human beings live in two irreconcilable worlds at once, the world of society and the world of individual identity, and working out how to hold them in a functional balance is one of the great challenges of this stage in the evolution of the soul.
Walt, funny. True, but funny. (As for the pun — oog.)
Ruben, maybe it’s time for the two of you to discuss such things again. It’s not age but habit that seems to put that out of reach.
Chris, I’ll take the Steve Costigan comment as a compliment!
Phutatorius, not as much, no, but I certainly enjoy Mann.
@Beamspot and BoysMom, in my experience the biggest pitfall of the highly IQ-intelligent is thinking other people are far more different from you than they actually are. Which also means thinking you are far more different from them than you actually are. (In a way, the three pitfalls BoysMom listed are all specific instances of this.)
Of course there are some differences. But the more one tries to deal with the differences as themselves being the problem, the more one focuses on the differences, which makes them seem more important, and eventually (if the vicious cycle continues too long) all-important.
Here’s an example: a student who “needs more challenge” because the course material is “too simple” which causes her to be “bored” and “misbehave.” Actually, all the students are bored; the high IQ student is more likely to find more creative and noticeable ways to misbehave. Try to teach them to challenge themselves so as to not be bored when faced with boring-seeming content. They can try to predict, in their minds, what the teacher will say next, or take lines from the lesson and turn them into little rhymes or rap beats, and so forth. This doesn’t have to be instead of arranging for special more challenging classes; it’s valuable learning in either case, and can be applied to many other situations throughout life. They might even be able to grow up able to do without their digital devices from time to time.
Don’t ever tell them they’re “too smart” for any interest, activity, or friend. You can have a high IQ and still enjoy childish cartoons, or get into fights, or join the military. (I’ve read that the only career one might be rejected for being too smart is police officer. Not certain that’s true.) “Too smart to make mistakes” is another similar trap.
Don’t neglect basic common stuff. I went into grade school not having any idea of the rules of any team sport. It turns out, they don’t teach you that in school. They just put you out in the field in Phys. Ed. and expect you to play. In first grade I wasn’t much worse at hitting a baseball than anyone else, but when I did it I had no idea what to do next. Which is ridiculous, laughable. Like not knowing your ABCs. Pretty soon it was too late; all I could associate sports with was failure and mockery.
Don’t give useless or meaningless advice for social coping; “I don’t know what you should do. Do you have any ideas?” is a better answer than “Just explain to [the person] that you don’t like it when they [do the thing] and they’ll stop.” (No they won’t.) Or “just make more friends.” (Because school kids just stand around in the schoolyard waiting to be befriended, like daisies in a field waiting to be picked, rather than being connected by an intricate shifting web of alliances and factions from day one of kindergarten.)
Don’t tell them they’re wasting their abilities if they want to pursue art instead of science, literature instead of math, a trade instead of a college degree.
As you can probably tell, my parents did all those things I’m advising you not to.The vicious cycle of distancing from others kicked in big-time. I was an unhappy and (even my own mother says so) unpleasant child.
In my case, there was a twist. I was born with a developmentally disabled twin brother. For the first thirteen years of my life, everyone including the two of us built up the belief that we were complete opposites. I was gifted, he was, well, the word we used then isn’t polite today. I was going to save the world with science or at least get rich, while he would always be dependent. But at the same time, he was good-natured nearly to the point of sainthood, while I was naughty and troublesome. This all fed the vicious cycle.
Then one day, it occurred to me that just maybe, he and I were actually pretty much the same. In the circumstances, the realization was shattering. I sat in bed “sick” for 36 hours (not quite gibbering in a corner, but close) and rethought literally everything I knew, not in peaceful meditation but in a storm of emotion, like building a new house during a hurricane. (At least you know it’ll be strong when it’s done.) That was many years ago, but it’s still where my perspective on IQ and lots of other things came from.
@JMG, re eucatastrophe,
That makes a lot of sense, then. So if I’m reading you correctly, it’s not so much the human failure / divine aid end of things that bothers you in Lord of the Rings, but the way that a single, highly improbable victory makes the forces of Evil vanish like smoke. No wonder anybody who lets that sort of thinking seep into their politics is setting themselves up for failure!
@Coop Janitor, JMG, re Kessler Syndrome
I read that article at CNN, and I just don’t think it justifies the alarmist, “The Space Age Is About To End!” conclusion. As someone with a physics background, the thing that stands out to me the most is the lack of any serious discussion of negative feedback loops. Basically, what you need to do is acknowledge that, yes, there are more satellites than ever before and yes, there will now be more collisions, but the smaller a satellite is, the faster its orbit decays (the Starlink satellites will all be gone within five years after their ion thrusters shut down). Collisions make more debris but the new debris particles decay even faster – i.e. within a few months. It may get too dangerous up there for big, manned spacecraft like the ISS, but the risk/reward calculation for small, unmanned satellites is very different. The Space Age is not going to end in one big monotonic cataclysm.
The break downs of Hesse’s characters throughout all the stories left an impression upon me that didn’t really hit home until thinking about the comments about Russians, whom my wife is one of, and our relationship. It’s rare a day that doesn’t go by when I don’t ask her why she likes to turn everything into an argument. I thought that after reading some books about Russian history I had developed a pretty good understanding of what Russian psyche consisted of. I blamed the arguing on the environment of my wife’s family. Little did I know it’s quite common amongst Russian’s in general but that would explain a lot.
Since we are married, and often a marriage is depicted as the uniting of two as one, this could easily be one way of symbolizing the characters in Hesse’s novels. There are often main characters who are opposites, protagonist and antagonist, and who help present a conflict. This was an easy way to represent internal conflict I gathered, which other novels represented by one character. We have this similar truth in our own life. Most of us, as Walt (thanks for the great laugh by the way!) and David pointed out, suffer from our internal conflicts which are almost like two separate individuals fighting over what to do within the one body. We could easily break this down as a conflict between the body and the mind, but that is too simplistic. The conflict is deeper. It is a conflict of the body and the mind, a conflict of the individual and the society, a conflict of the past and the future. A point that is often made throughout this blog and the other, has been to look for what connects those two seeming paradoxes. The answer… that is our quest.
JMG, just a side note, but last night I was reading the part in Weird of Hali: Kingsport about Erik Satie. I’d never heard of him before and didn’t give a lot of attention to it. This evening, we were listening to classical music and my son heard a song he really wanted to know who composed it. I ran over to the stream and lo and behold, found the name Erik Satie. The world is full of great connections, but this spiritual world is blowing my mind away! Weird of Hali is opening up some doors for me that had been remaining closed. I am very grateful for what you’ve done.
RE: 100% optimum
I can only assume when you mention wanting and only being able to settle for 100% optimum, ultimately you are implying reach that in life. But how does one define what 100% optimum life is? With everything in life, when you give 100% to one, it means 0% for the other. So if one focuses on their career, it’ll be great but your family, friends, and other pursuits will suffer. That’ll likely result in the world around you suffering too, as the world doesn’t depend on your career. It is a huge abstraction, resulting in a roadblock. I am glad you’re aware of it. Changing course is going to be difficult. That’s where the Tao Te Ching idea of water and how it flows around things instead of stopping on a stumbling block is a great idea to ponder.
I’ve had Hesse sitting on my shelves for a few years now, but never could get myself to read more than a few chapters. He’s way outside my comfort zone of crappy sci-fi and pulp fantasy, but I’ve been pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I think I’ll give him another try.
One thing occurs to me. None of the Hesse characters have children. (Correct?) It would be difficult to lead the life of Harry Haller if you had a kid or three in tow.
Hi John Michael,
Thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt, as I was only referring to physical and mental resilience (which was a core theme of the stories) but may not have implicitly said so. That was an error on my part and I appreciate you clarifying it. It is after all unwise from my perspective anyway, to be disrespectful due to blow back issues. A lot of people seem to have forgotten that little memo. Can’t recall that I’ve ever indulged in that sport and I see no need to start now.
Interestingly I get the impression from your reviews of the authors works that the characters are tapping into their free will, or at least the aspects of it that they can, thus the characters journeys going all over the shop and sometimes into failure. From my perspective, that particular journey is hardly encouraged these days. It needn’t be that way, but I dunno.
I tried reading the glass bead game last year, and gave up early on. I will definitely try his early stuff when I can, probably his fairy tales.
Another writer who was briefly popular then completely forgotten, who I enjoy, is Olaf stapledon. Have you read him, and if so why do you think he was rejected by the mainstream?
I binge read Demian since your first posted. I think the impending war in Demian that Max detects through a corruption of the souls of the masses is similar to the current political climate. I think the left has acted so madly lately because of a lack of contact with their souls. Right when I read that part of the book I thought that the upcoming election which is almost certainly going to be like a circus of monkeys throwing feces at each other might act similarly to the war in Demian (I think WWI). Maybe it won’t be as big of an event, or maybe it will. This Geburah energy wave we’ve been riding must need to switch gears into either Chesed or Netzach energy at some point, and the election seems like a good catalyst. I think this must all be related to the collective shift in consciousness you’ve mentioned before, but I know you don’t want to say anything about that yet 🙁 Btw when can, or will you?
Thank you, dear John Michael Greer, for this overview of Hesse’s works. Your posts always surprise me, and you have inspired me to give the GBG another try. My last try was some decades ago. I have found with Jane Austen’s P&P and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s GG, to take just two examples, that rereading them a few (or more) decades out of high school can prove a hilariously different experience. I trust this will be the case with Hesse’s GBG. Oh, dear, what is this making acronyms-out-of-novel-titles habit… have you cast a spell? Just kidding. Kind regards, ML
I’ve just finished steppenwolf.
I found it quite deep, i think i will even copy some quotes on my magic journal to meditate.
I love when hermine says that
” we are on a quest back home, guided only by our nostalgy”
But the last chapters were way to “carnavalesque” to my taste and, in a sense, contradict the very idea of the book.
I think, that there is nothing wrong with being grave and thougthfull, belligerant, reserved or resolute per se, so long as we remember that, as the book brilliantly portrays, the quality and enjoyability of this dress we call personality allways depends on us.
Oh and I have to imagine the drop off in popularity of Hesse has to do with a collective distancing from soul. I can’t imagine a leftist, or scientific materialist enjoying Demian.
There’s just been a rather strange film made of Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men. I think it’s available for streaming. He’s not completely forgotten.
Siddahrta does have a child, but he does not get involved in his rearing at all until the Mother (not Siddharta’s wife, but a lover of his youth with whom he had a one night stand many years later) gets sick and dies. That part of the middle aged protagonist’s journey is that while he begins to see a bit of success in his self-unfoldment, he totally fails at transmitting his values and newfound insight to a teenager that misses his mom to death and hates his father’s gut for no having been there when needed.
Wesley, that and the way that so much of the industry of derivative schlock fantasy that sprang up to cash in on Tolkien’s popularity turned that gimmick into a nervous tic. If I ever write my own Tolkienesque epic fantasy — I have it in outline at this point; it’s an epistolary novel, and the former Dark Lord is one of the correspondents — I’m going to have immense fun with that.
Prizm, I’m delighted to hear it! Satie is an old fave of mine. For your listening pleasure, the three “Sonneries de la Rose+Croix,” which he wrote for the Sar Peladan’s Rosicrucian order and which inspired my take on what his score for Le Roi en Jaune would have sounded like, are here, here, and here.
Varun, it’s going to be a stretch. It was for me — crappy sci-fi and pulp fantasy were my standard reading back in the day, and my first few Hesse novels took some serious work. Still, give it a try!
Irena, not quite correct. Johann Veraguth in Rosshalde has children. If Harry Haller does — it’s not specified — they’re adults, which is one of the reasons he can pursue his strange path.
Question about the coming spiritual awakening….it occurred to me the other day that the Great Awakenings in America in the past seemed like a movement towards a vision preached by a person (Brethren and Mormon) but kept with the current culture. Then there are the people who grouped together and moved away from current culture (Amish and Mennonites), rejecting it. What form would the next spiritual awakening take? Maybe I am simplifying to “toward” and “reject” too much.
Trolling the internet I see the Temple U is digitizing SF books from 1960-1980 and posted them on Hathi Trust which is free to access during the pandemic. Just in case there is something you’ve been looking for that might be there.
Most-delightful Archdruid, thank you so much for this reflection on Hesse. An assignment you had suggested a while back led me to re-read “Steppenwolf”. I remember it being very odd and cryptic when I read it in my youth; re-reading it two years ago and now in my middle-sixties, I was surprised how accessible it was. You characterize it as “The most challenging of his books in many ways” but I think it’s only challenging if you don’t have a lot of life experience. I feel Hesse wrote that book for someone in middle age at least, or as the book says when describing the signboard carried by the odd little man: “Entrance Not For Everybody.”
I can see I need to start re-reading “The Glass Bead Game”, which I really liked in my youth but couldn’t pretend to deeply understand at that time. My copy has been sitting on my bookshelves waiting for all these years. Yes, mine is a paperback with the cover as you showed “With The Wrong Title.” $1.50, according to the spine; what a bargain!
The book of Hesse I most enjoyed, and revisit every ten years or so, doesn’t fit in your categorization for this essay as it is not a novel. It is: “My Belief – Essays on Life And Art.” Highly recommended to all, but perhaps only after having read a few of Hesse’s novels first.
With much gratitude for all that you do!
On Steppenwolf: I am surprised to hear people calling it “difficult” and “deep.” For me, when I read it as a 20-something, it was simply describing me better than any other book I’d encountered up to then. I felt that in Harry Haller I’d found a kindred spirit. (Later on I found a similar affinity with some of Knut Hamsun’s protagonists – another major writer who has completely faded from public memory!) I was either already in the USAF or just about to enter it when I first read Steppenwolf: I absolutely hated military life and was very much relieved to get out honorably as Sergeant “Phutatorius” at the end of my four-year enlistment because, given my attitude, I felt that that experience could have ended much worse.. However, I agree with the person who faulted the final chapters as “too carnivalesque.” That was precisely what I felt. It was almost like two books in one: not for everyone.
I tried to re-read Steppenwolf a few years ago and didn’t get very far – the effect of nearly half a century having passed. .
@JMG” An epistolary Tolkeinesque novel? I can just see it – as long as “Pamela” or even “Clarissa.” JMG does Samuel Richardson!
JMG: “Irena, not quite correct. Johann Veraguth in Rosshalde has children. If Harry Haller does — it’s not specified — they’re adults, which is one of the reasons he can pursue his strange path.”
Okay, so it was *almost* correct. 😉
I don’t think Harry Heller has any children, though. That pamphlet says he knew neither family life nor societal ambition. So… Presumably, he was never married, and if he ever fathered any children, he didn’t raise them.
Harry Haller is old enough that he could easily have adult children. I had no trouble with Steppenwolf, despite being in my late 20’s when I read it – maybe there’s more there, but my interpretation was that Haller had gone too far down the path of individualization – and not being an exceptional man in Nietzsche’s mold, it wasn’t going so well, so he needed to re-engage with real life and normal people and be less of an individual. Of course perhaps that’s just my projection ;). There’s no doubt in my mind that NASCAR, tailgating and dancing to jazz are all healthy activities after reading Steppenwolf, even though I would have looked down my nose at those when I was 20.
I gave Siddhartha a try about ten years ago, got about half way into it and lost the thread. Some of it is that the main charicter annoyed me, likely by way of having some traits that grated on me for being too similar to some of my quirks, which were particularly pronounced at the time. Another issue I had is that I was on the tail end of a buddhist interested phase, and my circle at the time was going through a fad of interest in Eastern Philosophy, and I was getting rather tired of the setting, so to speak. A decade later I don’t feel particularly called to give Siddhartha another go anything too soon; but I am now about half way between youth and traditional midlife crisis, and can feel something like the characteristic pulls of each in turn; that being so Steppenwolf is starting to seem pretty interesting, when I was younger I rejected interest in it because the stepp wolf identity of the main character seemed too edge lordish and reminded me of some friends I knew whose brooding wolf persona I took rather lightly. Reading the description now, the idea of exploring a serious person with too ridgid a self conception of himself for his only good and his relationship to scandalous friends sees very very relatable, if the book store in town has a copy (likely) I might muster the courage to give it a go this winter.
I tried the Glass Bead game about five years ago, and lost interest before I got to a hook.
Considering JRR and the movies, I think of the movies as a tribute rather than even a retelling in a proper sense. In any case over time I find the attitudes of the hobbits in LOTR to be the most enduring virtue of the book, the Chaotic Stupid evil, with one blatiantly obvious weakness now strikes me as a decided weak point, but the growth of Merry and Pippen in particular I still think is very ace.
Hi John Michael,
As a fictional character I found the Dark Lord in Tolkien’s work to be rather dull and uninspiring. Like encountering a monomaniac who is utterly boring in three dimensions. And given that the might of Numenor and the waning Elves way back in the old days bested the beast, well he ain’t that tough. And yes, the battle before the Black Gate was a farce, the good guys should have been swept from the field as the odds were not in their favour – a bit like Arthur’s mob. Aragorn could have been an Arthur figure to inspire Gondor and Rohan in their later dark years. And maybe they could have risen again and restored a minor part of their heritage with the lessons learned from the past.
Anyway, count me in for a copy. 🙂
Bored of the Rings was funny as.
Chris, most of the characters in Hesse have to learn how to exercise their freedom and their will, but they do it. That’s another reason why his novels are so unpopular these days.
J.L.Mc12, it’s been a very long time since I read Stapledon, and I didn’t think much of him at the time. I may give him another look at some point.
Youngelephant, the war in Demian was indeed the First World War, and yes, we’re moving through a somewhat similar period just now — your description of poo-flinging primates seems apropos.
Millicently, you’re welcome. Definitely give it another try; I found Jane Austen impenetrable on the first try, delectable on the second (after a decade and a half).
Guillem, the last chapters need to be read slowly and with a great deal of attention. Hesse is being very sly there. Maybe on your next reading!
Youngelephant, bingo. To enjoy Demian you have to be willing to see the conventional wisdom as something to outgrow, and both the groups you name live and die by peer pressure.
Denis, the Amish and Mennonites organized in Europe and then came here. Our homegrown religious movements always begin with somebody who has a vision — just as Native American religious movements always begin that way. It’s in the land. Thanks for the heads up about the SF novels, but when I went to the HathiTrust site it said they aren’t available due to copyright restrictions…
Bryan, thanks for mentioning that! That’s not a collection of his essays I’ve read, and clearly I should fix that.
Phutatorius, interesting. I find it very relevant, including the final chapters, as a middle-aged guy. As for the novel — yeah, it’s a fun project. The epistolary structure allows me to tell two stories at once — the Dark Lord’s whole trajectory through time, told by himself, and the story of the (ahem) heroic quest to end his reign forever, told by the old woman who was the Frodo Baggins-equivalent back when she was young, pretty, and clueless. I’ll want to write some other things before I try it, as I don’t want to be pigeonholed as the guy who stands fantasy clichés on their head.
Irena, as one of the other readers pointed out, Siddhartha also had a son…
Justin, no, it’s not just projection — that’s an important theme. Keep in mind that Nietzsche wasn’t an exceptional man in his own mold, either; that’s why he crashed and burned so colorfully.
Ray, as I noted in my post, Siddhartha is far from my favorite Hesse novel. As for Steppenwolf, that’s exactly the point — Haller is playing at being an edgelord and waving around a faux wolf persona, he’s doing it as a middle-aged man rather than an eighteen-year-old but it’s just as sad.
Chris, that would also have been a great way to write it!
JMG, I have a question. Trump has a long history of stiffing his contractors. Is his recent downturn in fortune—Covid, Republicans fleeing the sinking ship—raspberry jam?
(I myself am not so sure his ship is sinking, but professional Republicans seem to think so.)
BoysMom wrote, “For my oldest son, the first time in his life he was challenged by anything, at all, was when he started ballet, at twelve. Unsurprisingly, this became his passion: he has real talent, but not nearly so much as he has in mathematics. Having to work to succeed made ballet intriguing in a way in which mathematics never had been.”
Good Lord, that sounds like my life! After years of taking standardized tests for the sheer pleasure of the challenge, and scoring off the charts in math, I took my first dance class at age seventeen and was absolutely abysmal at it. When the teacher would methodically break down a movement, explaining that you begin by swinging your left leg out on the diagonal, I would so earnestly try to follow her directions, but instead my right arm would go flying over my head for unknown reasons. I was pretty convinced that a gremlin had snuck in and mis-wired my body while I was enjoying word problems (probably not that far from the truth.) That class was all it took; I was totally hooked on dance!
Dance has no right answers, no easy formulas, just aesthetic debates and endless discipline. As a male, I actually got to have a career as a dancer even though I started at seventeen. Of course, I was not dancing many ballet gigs — they had to be pretty desperate to need me in their corps — but jumping from modern to folk to jazz to butoh gigs was amazingly challenging. The risk of injury or botching a lift kept me fully engaged in a way that math and science never could. Let others play with the three body problem — I’m too busy trying to calculate eight bodies, under-rehearsed, on a raked stage with a malfunctioning bank of lights, in choreography using Beijing-opera stick work. The potential for blood was incalculable!
In my dotage, my passion has shifted from dancing to swimming, a whole new realm of uncoordinated incompetence for me to embrace. Hesse explored from many different angles how easy it is to settle on having a life rather than living life. Your son realized quite young that having to work to succeed is magically enlivening… and disappointing… and confusing… and real. Encourage him to keep choosing to challenge himself when society offers him the pleasure of settling.
Hello again. This one make me happy because i read the first half or so of the glass bed game when I was quite young, and I kind of unconsciously took it as a possible template for my life. (My presents were musically trained mathematician and physicist). My comment about Marxism last (?) week Is my first here, but I actually followed the arthritis territory (the archdruid report, that auto-correct typo is very funny, I’ll leave it there) from it’s very beginning, but it being a more impetuous time of my life, the one time i commented, it kind of escalated out of the bounds of pleasanness.
Out of this topic, [deleted because off topic].
Hmmm.I don’t know.Doubtless, there is indeed good points as well as rich symbolism mixed in there but im refering more to the plot: It promised a deep, lasting connection( even if the killing we’re to be performed) between the protagonist and Henriette, and this is left unsolved, denied, for no good reason.Instead, we end with a focus in the saxophonist, wich is a bit of a know-it-all, all gracefull, all superior, but without a significant link to the protagonist.This man ends up stealing the story!
The inicial idea of two individuals, which succesfully helped break each other disfunctional personality, which transformed them(Henriette and the protagonist) was way more enticing.
@risk free rate of return
Hello, fellow Russian literature fan. 🙂
Yes, Pushkin is lovely! He doesn’t seem to be that well known in the West, probably because his best work is in verse, and that just doesn’t translate all that well… As for Dostoyevsky: _The Brothers Karamazov_ remains one of my all-time favorite books, but his other novels didn’t leave much of an impression on me (not “bad,” just nothing special). Ah, but I keep telling myself I should reread the Karamazovs one of these days. It must have been about a decade since I last read that book, though I have since returned to selected passages every now and then.
Now, the really big surprise for me was a writer by the name of Gaito Gazdanov. I don’t think he’s typically Russian; his novels felt rather French to me (his style is somewhat Proustian), although he wrote exclusively in Russian. He did spend pretty much his entire adult life in France, which may be why. I’ve read a number of his novels, the first one being _The Specter of Alexander Wolf_ (_Призрак Александра Вольфа_), which doesn’t seem like a bad place to start, for anyone who’s interested. 🙂
As for Czech: I’ve decided it’s time to stop lamenting the paucity of high-quality literature written in Czech. Oh, I’m sure there’s *something* (I just haven’t found it yet). But if you think about it, there are only a few languages out there in which a large number of high-quality works of literature have been produced, and there’s no point in making drama over the fact that Czech does not happen to be one of those languages. So… Germans have been called to the rescue (in Czech translation). Seems like a reasonable compromise if the goal is to avoid, on the one hand, being permanently stuck at B2 level Czech, and on the other hand, reading thousands of pages of stuff I have very little interest in.
Gosh darnit on the copyright of those books. I thought the article said that they were accessible on HathiTrust despite the copyright but maybe they changed the rules since they opened the site to the common people.
Bummed that didn’t work out. I was surprised they made such an effort to digitize something so recent.
I keep thinking of the Amish and Mennonites as freezing their culture in the 1840’s. They hit a point when the technology “improvements” just caused them to shut themselves away in a sense. The state government here were jailing them regularly for not sending their children to public schools as late as the 1980’s.
What could possibly come out of the land to move people towards something more spiritual? This is 2020 though so anything is game. I’m still laughing over the president taking a medicine called Regeneron. I mean, that can’t the name of a real thing that exists. It sounds like something out of Scifi.
You mentioned Tolkien, and someone mentioned the movies, of which I saw all three. And yes, the last charge at the very end should have resulted in a Battle of Maldon last stand … except that, in the movie at least, the Eagles swooped in at the last minute to save the day, so blatantly, I kept visualizing them with USAF markings all over them. And indeed, wrote a filk I should probably dig out, about how the Eagles picked up the One Ring and carried it off to their five-sided fortress over the western sea. For what that’s worth.
Your Kittenship, I figured he was avoiding the raspberry jam by donating his entire salary, as of course he does — the classic way to deal with bad karma is to pay up deliberately, in advance.
Carlos, I’m glad to hear you were inspired by the GBG! As for your other questions, they were off topic for this post. Please bring them up again on an open post if you like.
Guillem, duly noted. You could always write something that ends the way you want it, you know — an astonishing number of novels happen that way!
Denis, anything is indeed game. I have no idea what may come whispering up out of the stone and soil of the American land next, but it’ll doubtless leave everyone baffled.
Patricia M, too funny. In Bored of the Rings, the eagle who comes to rescue Frito and Spam (sic) has the words Deus Ex Machina Airlines painted hastily on its sides, which seems entirely appropriate to me!
Good point.That will probably make good training for wannabe writers.
By the way, a question about endings.
Could it be that there was a time in wich, just as today all mediatic books and movies tend to end improbably well,( usually solving all the protagonist stupid mistakes in a sudden string of luck), there ended improbably bad?
With sudden tragedy destroying the achievements of the protagonists?
The eagle, Gwaihir, comes in the book, too, leaving the frustrated reader yelling at Elrond “So why didn’t you just give the damn ring to the eagle in the first place, you jerk?” Granted the flame is inside Mount Doom, but the eagle could have flown into the cavern, handed Gollum the ring, then given Gollum a good hard shove as he danced on the edge of the cliff. Methinks Tolkien wrote himself into a corner there inside Mount Doom and the eagle 🦅 was the only thing he could think of.
A Far Side version of unDruidly language:
Thanks for the post
I read Siddhartha when I was about 15 and it was fascinating for me, I did not knew the principles of Buddhism and the history/myths around Siddharta Gautama so I thought it was all an invention of Hesse; but at the end, with the years, the story lost some of his charm for me.
About the Lord of the Rings I have not read the text, only two films, and the first I saw I thought: “it is the most luddite film I have ever seen”, cause all the bad guys (orcs and other nasty creatures) are born in some kind of underground industrial plants, with some kind of cranes, wheels, black smoke, fires, chimneys, etc…and the good guys are those rural warriors alergic to any tool apart from the sword. Even at the end of one film, some giants arboreal creatures destroyed the orc producing plant with his arms and legs and with purifying water.
It seems to me that Tolkien has some points of view in common with the German Conservative Revolution people, like Spengler, Mann, Jürgen, Hofmannsthal, of the same years, but much less creative.
On the other hand for me a big chunk of The Lord of the Rings came from the Der Ring des Nibelungen, for example the corrupting nature of gold ( the spell of the ring), and many other things.
@Denis, most new drug names sound more like elf names to me. “Greetings, Ringbearer. I am Valsartan, son of Celexa and Lisinopril!” It seems I’m not the only one who thinks so: Quiz: Prescription Drug or Tolkien Elf?
Regeneron is the name of the drug company that made one of the drugs Trump took, not the name of that drug (or any drug). Trump misstated otherwise (“The Regeneron, I view it as a cure…”). Maybe they’ll end up giving that name to the drug after all to take advantage of the publicity. But STEM corporations choosing SF-sounding names is nothing new.
(We’d rather not) hear, hear! Until AFTER THANKSGIVING!
@ JMG – As someone born two years into the ‘Regan Revolution,’ I sometimes get bitter about the opportunities lost to my generation because of it. I can only imagine the bitterness you must sometimes feel as someone who lived through it.
Since you bring up alternate history, and I remember seeing you posit an alternate history where Regan does not come to power, I’m curious what you think:
1 – You suggested the events to change from our time line would be avoiding the Iran Hostage Crisis, but also that Three Mile Island experiences a full meltdown. I’m curious why you think that would have helped Carter get re-elected?
2 – If we had taken the more difficult path, how would an environmentally sustainable future have impacted the long descent? If we both agree that civilizations have ‘life spans’, then the death of Western civilization must happen at some point. If not misuse and abuse of the planet and her resources, what might have caused the downfall of the West in an alternate timeline where Carter wins re-election, John Anderson wins in ’84, and the US chooses the alternate tech path?
Warm thanks for the tip to Gazdanov; I confess that I had never heard of him. I will have a look, however. (The comparison with Proust is intriguing; I love Proust, but he seems as far from the Russians as one can get.) Looking at Gazdanov’s wiki page, he seems to have the Russian-writer’s personal life, of vast scope (think FMD, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn).
Interesting remark you make about his having lived mostly in France, and the effect of this on his Russian style. After college I was a volunteer for a while, working with Russian families who had emigrated to the US, helping them to understand how to get around (gotta have a car!). I noticed that, while many of the older people never learned any English, they adopted the English intonation while speaking Russian.
Regarding Dostoyevsky: I recently did a re-reading of the 4 great novels, and found Karamazovs surprisingly unsatisfying. Of course, I still cry at the scene where Alyosha witnesses the wedding at Cana, and where he gives a sermon to the boys at the end. But Ivan’s and Dmitry’s trajectories just tail off with nothing. It is as if FMD was already sick (he died the following year) and had to close the novel prematurely. This feeling is bolstererd by the lack of any loose ends in the other novels.
Consider, for example, how prophetic Devils (aka The Possessed) was, given that the Bolshevik Revolution was still 50 years away. Or Shigalov’s plan, which seems like what the shadowy powers of the modern world are working on now.
If you’re not familiar with him, I suggest Mikhail Bakhtin’s Dialogic Imagination and Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics. You’ll never see novelistic dialog the same way after reading them.
Finally, I have come up with a way to make dual-language books that you may find useful. You could have source-language on one side, Czech translation on the other. You need to have both versions in text format. I can send you Dutch-English and French-English examples. I’ve created a disposable email at:
Hi John Michael,
You mentioned above that your land spirits involves ‘somebody who has a vision’. Things are of course different down here, and for your personal interest, my gut feeling tells me that it may be more about place and connection to place. I tell ya, that story does not sit comfortably with our culture, but I reckon it is there all the same lurking away in the background. Dunno why there would be such a difference when compared to your country, but am cogitating upon it.
@ Guillem: Could it be that there was a time…. there ended improbably bad?
With sudden tragedy destroying the achievements of the protagonists?”
There actually was such a time, in ancient Greece, and the tragedies speak to us even now. Today’s happy-happy culture is a sugar-coated exception to the norm.
Yes was hoping to get a comment on this very important post JMG. This very true as far as dangerous literature in the sense of self discovery and the existential crisis we all face in the nobody existence of the modern industrialised nations. I grew up always wondering about this exact question you pose why was Lord of the Rings more accepted that these ideas. And wow you have really helped me to understand my intuition of my youth. I still have felt the Glass bead Game lends insight for us all in some very obvious ways but at the same time clandestine in the soul way. Thanks so much for this very special post.
Well, it’s Canadian Thanksgiving, very stormy here, and I have tremendous amounts of covid bureaucracy paperwork to procrastinate, so I’ve read Gertrude , Demian and Journey to the East .
I’m actually surprised that my grade 10 English teacher did not assign that last one with A Farewell to Arms and Jonathan Livingston Seagull , it would have been his style.
You may insinuate how I felt about the books so far based on the fact that in grade ten, I did my book report on the Hemingway, and why I hated it, for which I got an A+ and published in the provincial teachers magazine, because my teacher thought it was ace I went to the work to back up why I hated it with such extensive reference to the text when everyone else parroted why it was such classic litrutshurrr and they don’t write it like that anymore. The only Hemingway I liked was Hills Like White Elephants because the woman seemed like a human. Thus, a pattern of doing my best academic work out of pure spite was set in place.
I’m sorry, I did give it the old college try, but I’m still too… Whatever it is that makes me like that. And now I’ve had kids, and generally women are thought poorly of if they take off to Find Themselves and leave those behind, so I guess unelightened I shall remain.
I’m reasonably certain that these were the books the brooding artsy guys at university read while they ate in the cafeteria, and talked about how much they learned about their deep souls when they hitchhiked around Vietnam on summer break (I worked as a gardener, that break, a waitress and bingo hall server the one before, junior officers mess staff before that – you get the drift). They’d fill their cups with water, and put them upside down on the plate with the remains of the mushy lasagna, so that you’d have to pull it off and try not to be covered in goo when the suction released. I don’t think they all had rich parents, some of them were also there on student loans they figured they’d never pay off, because f the gubmint, man.
I do have the Glass Bead Game now to start, and the foreword says it’s meant to have an ironic sense of humour about the intellectual, so perhaps we’ll see if I can be redeemed.
For me, here in the United States, the general situation in Australia (as Chris of Fernglade describes it) seems much the same as mine is in North America. Place and the ancestors matter to me far more than any vision could, or even any Deity or Spirit.
I know whereabouts the remains of almost all of my ancestors lie, in some lines as far back as 12 generations before me, and I have visited all but one of those places. This has always been very important to me, and I hope to manage a visit to the last unvisited cemetery (in Rutland, VT) sometime before I die. [“Whereabouts” signifies that though I know the cemetery, I do not always know the precise grave site. Generally we did not place gravestones on our family’s graves in the early generations if we could avoid it.]
And I am very rooted in the non-Puritan parts of New England, where my more remote maternal ancestors lived, and where I, too, have lived since 1967. I am also rooted in the San Francisco Bay area, where my paternal ancestors settled after leaving Denmark in the 1860s, in the aftermath of the disasterous (for Denmark) Second Schleswig-Holkstein War.
These things–my ancestors and the land in which I am rooted–play a far greater role in my own “spirituality” (for want of a better word) and magic than Spirits or Deities do. Spirits can, and often do, deceive; so, too, can Deities. The land, however, does not deceive–though there are a few places where it may devour people who go there.
@bakhtin: I think you are right about Karamazoff; If FMD had lived longer, I read somewhere that he’d planned a sequel to his “greatest” novel. I thought “The Grand Inquisitor” was in effect FMD’s “Tea and Madelines” passage; that is to say if you have read it, then you have read Dostoyevsky. As for “Problems of Dostoyevsy’s Poetics” it’s still gathering dust on my shelf but when I read it I think it went mostly over my head. It did make me reread “Notes From Underground” with a new appreciation. Now there’s a candidate for another deeply alienated Harry Haller-type rascal! .
I’m a long term Archdruid Report follower and I wondered if you were aware of the ‘collapsologie’ movement that seems to have gone mainstream in France these days?
I just wanted to flag it up in case it wasn’t currrently on your radar,
if it interests you and ended up featuring in a 5th Wednesday of the month column I’d be delighted to read about it.
Hello John Micheal Greer,
Along with many others here, I have to thank you for (re)bringing to my attention the works of Hermann Hesse, with which I was only marginally familiar. You have added to my pandemic reading list some works which are probably more profound than most of what is on the rest of that list! I look forward to exploring at least two or three of Herr Hesse’s novels.
Incidentally, I was quite surprised to read your statement that Alaska contains the largest concentration of Serbian-Americans in the USA. I have lived in Alaska for over two decades, and am quite well acquainted with, and active in, the local Slavic communities here in Southcentral Alaska, predominately Russian and Polish, but I have yet to knowingly meet a single person of Serbian origin or descent here in Alaska. Could you perhaps have been mistakenly in your reference to Alaska in this context, rather than some other state? Or perhaps the Serbian-Americans are located in other parts of Alaska which I do not know nearly as well as Southcentral (centered on the city of Anchorage).
I’m not sure how well he fits in with the typical Russian author but I really loved ‘The Master and the Margherita’ when I read it as a teenager – made even more odd and surreal because my copy had several transposed sections. Also, I read an English version of Onegin published by Penguin and the translation seemed a surprisingly good in that that they had made a real effort to capture the rhythym and metaphor of the original.
John Michael Greer and Wesley,
I never understood the demise of Sauron to mean the demise of all evil. Just the one big evil from the semi-divine level. That evil disappears and with it, also the good from the semi-divine level and all the beings other than humans either fade away or return to not-being-seen (the Ents, Tom Bombadil). In other words, not just evil but an entire age disappears. What is left is the age of just humans, with all our good and evil.
But that is just how it resonated with me.
I recently listened to the audiobook for Children of Ash and Elm about the Vikings. New research seems to show that huge volcanic eruptions in the 530s and 540s created such severe cold weather in Scandinavia that something like half the population died off. The Viking Age occurs when the traumatized societies get back on their feet. The Icelandic sagas that are Tolkien’s source material (that and his lived experience of WW1) were written a few centuries yet later by people who were nominally Christian and who lived fairly close to the edge of climate disaster much of the time.
I can recommend The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson because it basically starts out as a world that has been ruled for 1000 years by a victorious Sauron-like ruler.
Guillem, as Pat Matthews pointed out above, Greek tragedy is close to that.
Your Kittenship, yeah, that occurred to me also. Unless he’d set things up so that Gwahno — er, Gwaihir — couldn’t get into Mordorean airspace until the antibirdcraft radar went down or something, it lands with a world-class thud. As for the profanity, well, ┘∩╗♣♫!!!
DFC, two out of three — yes, Tolkien was a world-class Luddite and yes, he was politically and socially very conservative. He didn’t get any of his story from Wagner, though — he and Wagner got them from the same Norse and German myths.
Your Kittenship, I’m good with that.
Ben, the Three Mile Island meltdown wouldn’t have done a thing for Carter’s reelection chances, but if there were thousands of deaths and a chunk of central Pennsylvania abandoned for decades, that would have given the appropriate-tech people the boost they needed to get a majority on their side. In that case, the decline of Western civilization would have been a lot slower, and might well have been postponed for centuries; think of civilizations such as ancient Egypt and imperial China, which worked out relatively stable relationships with their environments and endured for thousands of years.
Chris, different continents really do have different energies, and inspire different ways of thinking in the people who live on them.
Hawk, you’re welcome and thank you.
Pixelated, so noted!
Matt, I’ve heard of it but haven’t really followed it closely. Can you recommend some good sources?
Alan, that’s what the online sources I looked up said. If they were wrong, to be sure, so am I.
Jessica, granted — I don’t mean to imply that everything bad vanished when Sauron died. I’ll discuss this in more detail in a forthcoming post.
I don’t understand what “As for the profanity…” followed by gravlixes including a backwards L, a suit-of-clubs marker, and musical notes means. Is this a secret Druid message hidden in your remark to me?
Is it a fnord? 😳
“The Grand Inquisitor” is indeed the fodder of a thousand survey-of-literature-type college texts, and for most people who’ve heard of FMD it will be the thing they’re most likely to remember. I suppose that this is partly because it’s short and depends little on the surrounding context of the novel. I would suggest, however, that Ivan’s conversation with the Devil is more probing and subtle, suggesting FMD’s dialogic art as well as antedating the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” title by some 80 years.
As for Bakhtin, yes, Poetics> presupposes that you’ve read all of FMD and remember it, even the minor novels and short stories. A better intro to Bakhtin is Dialogic Imagination, which is much more accessible and ranges over the whole of European literature, from the Greek tragedies and romances up to Proust. The first chapter is “Epic and Novel”, enumerating the features of epics and how the novel expanded upon them to include things like character development, chronological organization, and consistency. And yes, Notes from Underground is a special case, being the kind of bitter monolog that Michel Houellebecq has so successfully resurrected in the same vein. I will have to check on Haller, having read only Siddhartha and GBG.
@tamhob, I know your comment was addressed to Irena, but I agree about Master and Margarita (I usually leave of ‘a’ or ‘the’ in Russian titles, as Russian itself has no articles.) The only other Bulgakov I’ve read is Country Doctor’s Notebook, which is autobiographical and completely different. The first story will give you the flavor and impact.
Regarding translations of Onegin, or any Russian poetry: It’s hard to explain (maybe JMG can help here), but a highly-inflected language like Russian lends itself to verse more readily than the languages of Western Europe. In Russian, all nouns and adjectives have endings (a syllable or two, like an ‘a’, ‘u’, ‘ami’, or just ‘uh’) to indicate the part of speech that the word represents, e.g., subject, direct/indirect object, etc. In Western European languages we rely much more on fixed word order to convey this information. The result is that word order in Russian is less fixed. The poet who wishes to rhyme has many more words to choose from (due to there being a limited number of endings). The looser word order means that the poet can move things around to fit the meter.
Russian verse generally has such fluid rhyme and meter that you find yourself memorizing it automatically after a few readings. The feeling you get from it is quite different than, say, Engish or French poetry. It is this feeling, to me at least, that presents the real barrier to translation.
Thanks for the tip to collapsology. Looking at wikipedia, the French version on this subject is at least twice as long as the English one (the proportions are usually reversed). The French seem to be a gloomier bunch (I’m currently reading Jacques Ellul), without a tradition of look-on-the-bright-side, can-do, stay-positive mantras.
With this in mind, I can see that Michel Houellbecq’s recent novel Submission (about a emergence of a Moslem-led government in France via the ballot box) falls on fertile ground.
Of course, it’s a very old notion. I recall that in Poetics Aristotle talks about stock dramatic characters, one of whom is the old man, someone always talking about how everything was better in his day, men were men, etc.
It was the Archdruid Report that led me to read Spengler, a wonderful experience (with a great comparison of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky: the former could never enter Russia, while the latter could never leave it), but a pretty persuasive argument that has held up well for a century now.
Thank you for drawing my attention to “Die Kindheit des Zauberers”. I received my copy yesterday and enjoyed reading it very much.
Hesse’s tale ends at puberty and suggests that this is where the magic of childhood is left behind. It seems to have started to drain away earlier already and to come back to last week’s topic I suspect that the increasing influence of words and the decrease in unguided imagination has something to do with it.
private note to JMG
Second hand copies of the book are easy and cheap to get here and I would get and mail you one if you like. It is a facsimile of the original that was handwritten and illustrated by a young Czech painter who fled to Switzerland when the Nazis invaded his country and to whom Hesse gave the commission to give him some support. The German is fairly basic and you should be able to work your way through.
The LOTR movies are not an accurate representation of the books; you really need to read them to get an idea of Tolkien’s intent.
“The eagle, Gwaihir, comes in the book, too, leaving the frustrated reader yelling at Elrond “So why didn’t you just give the damn ring to the eagle in the first place, you jerk?”” Um…because until the ring went in the fire Gwaihir would have had to contend with the Nazgul?
Sorry if this may seem a little off-topic but you have to see this Michael Lind article in a new site called thebellows (it aims to become the Quillette of “labor populism”):
I love his key insight that, “Gore Vidal was known to say that America has socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor. Contemporary American progressivism can be succinctly described as social democracy for the professional class.”
Far too late to add to the discussion, but Lady Cutekitten asks why Gandalf didn’t just give the ring to the Eagles. Um, it seems obvious to me that the eagles were no more immune to the ring’s power than Men, Hobbits, Gollum, or any other intelligent creature. Gandalf would simply have been creating a wannabe arial emperor.
Thanks for writing that. I was vaguely aware of Hesse from references by others, but I now have him clearly placed in that critical time in the history of the West. Rarely do I find a short read that provides as much enlightenment as this essay. Maybe I’ll find time to read one of the novels soon.
with respect to collapsologie it’s a bit difficult for me because my French isn’t that good,
I became aware of it when I discovered Jean-Marc Jancovici and watched a few of his presentations,
I didn’t realise it was all being taken reasonably seriously in France but it appears the publication of:
How everything can collapse: A manual for our times by Pablo Servigne and Raphaël Stevens brought the subject to the attention of the public and coined the term collapsologie,
now they have tv panel discussions, radio interviews, there’s been a tv dramatisation offering possible scenario’s of a future collapse, magazines and newspaper articles, facebook groups, etc.
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11248266/ (IMDb listing for L’Effondrement, Canal+ TV mini-series)
I think covid-19 has got a lot of people thinking and amplified it too,
it’s just starting to penetrate the anglophone world now, this was in the Guardian recently;
if you run Google translate on this webpage of a recent survey in France you get a solid 65% of all age groups saying they think some form of collapse is possible and 35% think it’s likely to happen in the next 20 years,
as a professor at L’Ecole des Mines, Paris, Jean-Marc Jancovici is teaching a course to first year students laying out the whole ‘energy is everything’ ‘peak everything’ story, he tells his students they’re going to be working in big corporations or the government and the course gives them a basis of understanding for their future decision making,
the entire 2019 lecture series is available on Youtube with English subtitles, 8 lectures, each about 2 1/2 hrs,
I watched all 20hrs and it’s pretty impressively comprehensive,
it also debunks the myths of PV, wind, EV’s and hydrogen, it’s the real deal, warts and all.
so yeah, while the anglophone world tells itself reassuring ‘little white lies’ the French seem to be coming to terms with reality.
it’s made me cautiously optimistic, maybe all your effort hasn’t been in vain : )
Oh god, Hesse was one of the best discoveries I ever made and is now an integral part of my sense of self.. Demian basically changed my adolescent life!
I still have so many to read from him though!
Oh, and you have left out one that I really enjoyed: Klingsor’s Last Summer
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