Hermann Hesse

By: Joshua Glenn
July 2, 2010

In the Sixties and Seventies, American countercultural types embraced certain novels — Siddhartha (1922), Steppenwolf (1927), Narcissus and Goldmund (1930), Journey to the East (1932) — by the German-born Swiss author HERMANN HESSE (1877-1962). The Magic Theatre in San Francisco, not to mention the prog/hard rock bands Yes, Kansas, Hawkwind, and Steppenwolf, paid tribute to Hesse’s shamanistic proto-existentialism; that is, to his obsession with the individual’s noble, alienating quest for “authenticity.” Post-Seventies, we’ve learned to think of Hesse as a Salinger-esque author of quatsch coming-of-age romances beloved by adolescents and adultescents. In fact, Hesse was a psychonaut who roamed far and wide in his travels and studies; an experimentalist (Steppenwolf is a Cubist fiction); a friend of Dadaist Hugo Ball; and the author of a terrific philosophical novel for which all his others were preliminary studies. Written during the 1930s, The Glass Bead Game (1943, aka Magister Ludi) is a Radium Age science fiction that imagines a 25th-century community (Castalia) whose members are dedicated to studying all Eastern and Western arts and scholarship — in order to dialectically synthesize them in a complex game. In the end, Hesse’s protagonist, Knecht, who has become the Magister Ludi, decides that this realization of the utopian Argonaut Folly for which Nietzsche pleads in Human, All Too Human is an ambiguous utopia, and quits it. So much for synthesis!



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