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sirinrob

'Das Glasperlenspiel' Hermann Hesse

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The comments below are based on the original edition in German published in Switzerland in 1943, copyright renewed by Suhrkamp in 1971

 

This was the last novel written by Hermann Hesse. It was written between 1930 and 1942. Hesse's original plan was to have written a series of interconnected short stories, but he abandoned this and eventually produced a novel with a set of poems and 3 short stories attached.

 

The novel is on its most basic level is a Romansbild of one Josef Knecht. It is in Hesse's own words an attempt at a biography of Knecht's life and works related by an historian of the community of which Knecht was a part of for much of his life. This community is located in Kastilia and is devoted to the pursuit of knowledge with scant regard to the trials and tribulations of life outside the province. The chief occupation within Kastilia is the 'Glassbead game', of which Knecht becomes the master. Details of how the game is played are scant, but the concepts behind it are laid down. The significance of these concepts will be covered later. Eventually Knecht leaves the province and dies shortly after.

 

The synopsis I've given may well sound sparse, but does sum up the overall plot. What Hesse explores within that framework is where the interest lies. He explores several themes, some of which he had detailed within 'Narzissus und Goldmund', but are expanded upon here, and others which are introduced within this work. The main themes I have identified are:

 

Philosophy, death, love, theology, human relationships, education, self awareness, nature, history, politics, trust and friendship.

 

Each of these themes is explored in depth within the novel and the themes are interwoven. The style used is scholarly, deliberately so. On the surface this lends the work a dry aspect, but Hesse being the commensurate wordsmith adds much irony, satire and wordplay. Most , if not all, of the characters are based on real persona that Hesse knew. The head of Kastilia , Thomas van Trave is based on Thomas Mann (Thomas Mann came from L

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I've enjoyed reading your thoughts so far, sirinrob, and I'm looking forward to the rest!

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Allow me gently to correct the spelling of the state in Hesse's novel: "Castalia."

 

Castalia is the name of a Greek nymph who threw herself into a well to avoid the "attentions" of Apollo. She becomes a patron of poetry.

 

Many thanks for founding this topic! This has been one of my favorite books: the first English translation was given a Latin title: Magister Ludi, which translates as "Master of the Game." But this also has a double meaning, since the word can mean a "school," which of course is important in the novel.

 

There have been attempts to create the Glass Bead Game, although Hesse provides just enough clues that you cannot really play such a game without assuming a few things.

 

Some webpages from the late '90's have attempts at creating a Glasperlenspiel:

 

http://www.corewave.com/

 

http://home.earthlink.net/~hipbone/Grail.html

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The spelling I gave for the province is as per the German original i.e with a 'K', but in English it would be as you said with a 'C'. The allusion to Castalia as a patron of poetry had eluded me, so thanks for pointing that out.:irked:

Edited by sirinrob

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continuation.....

 

As noted previously, one of the main themes within the novel is philosophy. This has two facets: Western and Eastern. Dealing with the Western first there is a strong influence from the work of Nietzsche, but Hesse does not take on all of Nietzsche's concepts uncritically. In his treatment of Tegularis, I detected a less than sympathetic view of some of Nietzche's ideas. In the novel Knecht remains a friend of Tegularis , but keeps him at arms length. The other influences from Western philosophy I detected are Hegel, in particular his philosophy of history - that gets explored in the conversation with Pater Jacobus and Kant which is personified in the attitude of Alexander the head of the order. Hesse adds his own ideas as well.

 

The influence of Eastern philosophy, given Hesse's prediliction to Indian philosophy and Buddhism, is not unexpected. I was initially perplexed by the mention of the I Ching ( I Ging in German original). Then I recalled that Hesse had received treatment from Karl Jung and became one of his acquantices. Now Jung wrote a foreword to the translation of the I Ching into German by Richard Wilhelm, this being considered by many to be the definitive translation. So given Hesse's interest in Eastern philosophy and esotericism, it seems likely that he became aware of the I Ching through Jung. The inclusion of the I ching and Taoism within the novel adds an interesting layer. The description of the Elder brother consulting the I ching using the sticks is an accurate description of the traditional ritual. The Eastern philosophical theme pervades the book. One point at which this influence is keenly felt is the heated conversation Knecht has with erstwhile friend Carlo Ferromonte.

 

Death as a theme is used at key moments within the novel. The death of Thomas van Trave affects Knecht deeply, aside from the immediate consequences for the province. The whole episode shows the Order in a bad light, with the exile of Bertram. The death of the Old Music Master leads to more self awareness on Knecht's part. This episode is sensitively handled and in my view is one the more haunting episodes in the novel. Knecht's own death forms a haunting end to the novel, in particular its affect on Tito.

 

Love as a theme plays an important role within the novel. Hesse decided to present it on a platonic level, eschewing the homoerotic elements he had used in 'Narzi

Edited by sirinrob

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continuation.....

 

From Knecht's point of view, human realtionships are important. As an orphan, he feels the need to form meaningful relationships. even though he has a heated debate with Plinio, this leads to an abiding relationship. within the order, close relationships are discouraged, formality rules. He does however form a realtionship with the Alexander, which however in the end gets tested to breaking point.

 

Education features strongly in this work. The Order persue intellectual knowledge for its own sake, which Knecht comes to realise is sterile and one sided. He attempts to incorporate ideas from outside the Order into his own study. Early in the work he defends the Order, but does listen to outside ideas, such as the teachings of the Elder Brother and Pater Jacobus. As the work progresses he feels the need to pass on his ideas to young students and finds the teaching of the elite school more and more burdensome. his frustration in the situation is a major factor in his decision to leave the Order. In his confronation with Alexander, it becomes readily apparent that the Order does not like change, Knecht's ideas represent change and this leads to the heated exchange between him and Alexander.

 

Knecht has a sense of selfawareness early on, but this gets quelled under the influence of the order. The time he spends with the Elder Brother reawakens this and develops it. Once he starts studying the Glasperlenspiel this awareness diminishes ,but is never extinguished. Once he becomes Magister Ludi, his self awareness is rekindled and leads to the inner struggle which results in him leaving the Order.

 

Knecht's appreciation of nature, mirror's that of Hesse's own interest. Hesse became later in life a watercolourist concentrating on landscapes. Within the work the depictions of nature are treated sympathetically , especially near the end.

 

History features strongly in the work under various guises. Mention of the conversation with Pater Jacobus has already been made. From an autobiographical point of view Hesse had left Germany just before the first World War - he was one of the minority of Germans who at the time had little enthusiam for the War or the Kaiser. This feeling of 'apartness' pervades the work. The history of the Order seems to have been fossilsed and probably reflects Hesse's own views on the Weimar Republic and the Nazi regime. One of the references in the work which at first seems a bit puzzling is to the 'Feuillitonische Epoch'. My understanding of this is a reference to the Weimar Republic, during which glossy magazines and cheap massed produced light literature predominated. Through this work, Hesse seems to be making a protest against the debasement of Art in germany. He himself was a victim of the Nazi's cultural ideology, his works being deemed 'undesirable', especially after 'Narzi

Edited by sirinrob

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Many thanks for your comments!

 

Concerning the "Beichtvater" story at the end of Das Glasperlenspiel: the term could be translated as "Father Confessor," i.e. a priest to whom one as a Catholic confesses as part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Penance.

 

Castalia is meant to be somewhat ironic: a non-poetic society named after the muse of poetry. :irked:

 

More later!

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Yes I had noted the irony re Kastalien (spelt the German right this time :irked:) and the order. The poetry fits Knecht tho. Yes I had noted that Beichtvater is strictly Father Confessor, but given the period the story is set felt confessor was better and more encompassing, given the twist.

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can someone do me a favour and tell me what the first sentence in their English translation of the Intoduction says. I'm stuck on trying to decide what das Wenige means. TIA

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can someone do me a favour and tell me what the first sentence in their English translation of the Intoduction says. I'm stuck on trying to decide what das Wenige means. TIA

 

Do you mean the introduction by Theodore Ziolkowski?

 

Or the "introduction" after the Latin translation?

 

In either case, without a context, the best I can say is that "Das Wenige" can translate as "the little amount" or "the few things."

 

Best Wishes!

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Great review sirinrob :irked:

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Some years ago I read a biography of Thomas Mann which said that privately Mann had great reservations about Das Glasperlenspiel, despite his public pronouncements about its greatness.

 

To be sure, the novel is a hard sell, seeming at times to be a meditation on the ideational matrix for a novel rather than a novel.

 

I will try to find the precise reference.

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Be interested to see the reference. From reading this work, I hesitate in calling it a novel. Hesse himself indicated it was an attempted biography of Josek Knecht and doesn't seem to label it as a 'Roman = novel at all. I found it read more like an essay.

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