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Published since 1997 by Prof..em. Gunther Gottschalk the Hermann Hesse Research Project (HHP) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. and as a mirror in Germany © All Rights Reserved HHP, 1996
Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf – Accepting the Shadow
If a work of art could commit a sin, it would be that of leaving those who encounter it indifferent. And perhaps the royal road to indifference is the possession of answers, answers cut-and-dried, prefabricated answers that spare someone the necessity of knowing even the questions. For to have an answer is to possess certainty, and to possess certainty is to cease growing, and to cease growing is to cease existing.
If art could be said to engage in a love affair, it would be a love affair with questions. And a question must be loved before it will surrender its secret. The degree to which someone can live without certainties or answers need not be a sign of immaturity or indecisiveness, but one of adulthood and inner strength.
Steppenwolf is a book with few answers and fewer certainties. It is too honest for that. It is in some respects like a newborn child which looks upon the world for the first time with wondering eyes, intoxicated with the delirium of initial discovery. It is in many respects an invitation to renounce the customary manner of looking at life and to refashion one’s existence after one’s deepest desires. It is in virtually every respect a voice from within which whispers: “Become who you really are!”
Every generation that confronts great literature is apt to see in it a projection of its own problems, needs, and desires. Steppenwolf is no exception. That American youth in the 1960’s saw in this novel its own rejection of middle-class values, hypocrisy and sham is natural and justified, for all of this is present, and Hesse meant to put it there.
The mesmeric power that Hesse’s novels and short stories exercised over American youth at that time can be largely explained, after all, by the quiet disdain he bore toward establishment values. Punctuating all his writings is the call to self-realization and selfhood, the necessity of becoming one’s higher self, that more authentic inner person one sensed only too well who was being stifled under the tyranny of society’s Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not be different!” Everywhere in his works the emphasis lay on the primacy and autonomy of the personal, the subjective, and the inward. Hesse’s writings had become American youth’s Holy Writ and sacred mythology that explained a generation to itself and rallied it to an exalted and clarified existence of higher aspiration.
Yet, like all mythologies, the danger arises when the myth is taken literally and interpreted as the thing-in-itself, when the symbols used to express a vision of life are not understood as symbols and metaphors pointing beyond themselves, but as the reality itself. Hesse needs to be demythologized if he is not to suffer the fate of becoming for modern readers what he regrettably became for many of the 1960’s — a cliché, a commodity, a fetish, and, ultimately, for some, a bore!
The bucolic simplicity of his poetical plot lines, the self-encapsulation of his heroic strivers after deeper authenticity, and the nostalgic intoxication of a bygone world suffusing his moodscapes should not deceive us into believing that all he has to say can be reduced to the trite escapism of “Turn on! Tune in! Drop out!”
Hesse is an artist, and if an artist can be said to “think” in a piece of fiction, it is not in words or concepts, not in closely-reasoned arguments or debate-like tactical maneuvers, but solely in images, metaphors, symbols, and visions. At times, artists themselves don’t know what it is they may want to “say.” Rather, they gropingly feel their way along some vaguely-sensed, newly emerging, and inexpressible realm of experience for which words do not yet exist.
And so they resort to symbols and metaphors, which — they hope — will suggest at least some vague silhouette that faintly approximates in some impoverished way a fraction of what hovers before their mind’s eye. The last thing they expect is that their symbols be taken at face value, as if they literally meant what they seem to be saying, and not as so many metaphorical prisms through which is refracted a higher vision these symbols convey.
To fail to understand this about art is to mistake fundamentally the artist’s intention. To fall down in adoration before those images by which artists express their vision is to commit the unpardonable sin against art — the sin of idolatry, idol worship, which takes symbols literally when they are meant to be but mere hints, aromatic fragrances of a beauteous presence which lies far beyond.
This fate has fallen like the curse of Cain upon this novel. For those readers who have taken Hesse and his novels literally, Steppenwolf has been read as a veiled initiation-rite to free-love, a bacchanalian celebration of drugs, and an open invitation to all forms of license and orgiastic violence, when in fact it is none of these.
As so often happens in life, we first act and only then set about finding rationales and pretexts that justify what we’ve done. Hesse’s novel has been prostituted to serve ends which he never intended - and becomes trivialized by a fashionable pop-art interpretation that has managed to cake itself upon the surface of this work, which results in a complete misreading of the author’s intention.
What are we to make, then, of this lonely, middle-aged gentleman, this wolf-of-the-steppes as he calls himself, who lives on the borderland of bourgeois society? How are we to piece together the utterly bizarre experiences he undergoes, the twilight characters who flit across his path, the somnambulistic encounters with the Immortals, Goethe and Mozart? How might we divine some semblance of coherence in this hallucinatory nightmare of the Magic Theater?
To bring some clarity into what is happening at a surface-level of this novel, let us briefly consider how the work is structured. First, we have the notebooks or memoirs left behind by a certain Harry Haller. These notebooks are, in turn, prefaced by an editor’s introduction, which seeks to explain the general background of the notebooks, their nature, value, and author. Finally, there is a mysterious third section, “The Treatise on the Steppenwolf,” which is incorporated into the body of Haller’s manuscript. These three components of the novel — the editor’s introduction, the notebooks themselves, and the “Treatise” — represent three different points of view, three separate perspectives, each with its own tone, coloration, agenda, and bias.
The introduction, written by an unnamed editor, reflects what we could call the everyday, middle-class reaction to Haller, a point of view which sees him as an eccentric, disorganized, a somewhat suspicious, yet basically sympathetic character. By and large, this is the impression that Haller might make upon the average observer. From this viewpoint, his comings and goings, his lifestyle, interests, and tastes might well appear strange. What we, in turn, must bear in mind, however, is that this editor’s viewpoint in describing Haller is just that, a viewpoint, which reveals more about the editor than it does about Haller.
Next, we have the notebooks, which illuminate Haller from within. We see Haller as he sees himself. We are therefore enabled to penetrate more deeply into this subterranean phenomenon who calls himself a “Steppenwolf”. We are presented with countless opportunities of evaluating people, circumstances, and events through Haller’s eyes. In fact, reading the notebooks, we come to realize in hindsight that many of the editor’s initial observations were shallow and devoid of insight into Haller’s character or situation. With our understanding of Haller thereby substantially enriched and given deeper hues through this subjective portrayal of himself, we need again to be cautioned that we have to do here with yet another viewpoint, which suffers from its own limited perspective, as did that of the editor’s introduction.
Finally, we have the “Treatise on the Steppenwolf”, which can be said to embody an ostensibly more profound perspective than the previous two, a more eternal, a more sublime, a more Olympian evaluation of Haller’s state-of-affairs. This point of view, formulated from the lofty heights of the “Immortals,” attempts to situate Haller’s particular destiny along the co-ordinates of the metaphysical.
What conclusions can we draw, then, from this brief structural analysis of the novel? Through the use of multiple perspectives and contrasting viewpoints, each serving to complement and supplement the others, each subtly qualifying, drawing into question, and challenging the others, Hesse seems to be suggesting that truth is a very fugitive being, so elusive, protean and gossamer in nature, that it is immediately rent when forced to clothe only one point of view.
For every viewpoint, taken by itself, may be true, as far as it goes, but false, if it goes no farther. Moreover, every attitude or view of life must suffer from its own inherent blind spot, since each views life through the eyes of self-interest. Moreover, any theory, philosophy, or party line does scant justice to the riches of truth, which is too vast and mysterious to be caught within any system of thought.
These are some of the inferences that brew and ferment below the novel’s surface and can be distilled into the following questions: How can the world as we know it, with all its injustice, corruption, and malice, be reconciled with that higher vision of the Ideal that we want to believe is no less real?
How can we make our peace with what is as opposed to what ought to be?
Do all the noble things in life that make life worth living — beauty, love, truth, and goodness — are these real, or the empty chimera of our imagination, comforting illusions, creations of our most cherished hopes?
Why strive to constantly transcend ourselves if it all ends in the grave?
These are some of the questions that Hesse seems to be asking, questions which everyone asks who struggles to be human. To equate this novel, therefore, with free-love, drugs, and dropping out completely misses the point of this searching analysis of the human condition by reducing it to the trite and banal. Such a literal-minded misreading of Steppenwolf permits one to see only the surface action and thoroughly obscures the underlying dynamic at work by focusing on a distracting display of pyrotechnics.
Such is the artistry of Hesse’s novels that they reveal only what each of his readers is prepared to receive. Their insights into life are very soft-spoken creatures, not given to flamboyant self-display, but resting content within themselves, yet are all the more captivating precisely because they are so self-effacing and understated.
Hesse is an author who places great demands on readers who approach his work seriously. He expects that nothing be taken at face value, that no one point of view be fully adopted, that no single character be completely believed or identified with. Everything must be read and evaluated in relation to everything else, everything judged not only within its own proper context, but also in light of what follows and of what has preceded. One must give ear to the subtly-nuanced discordances which arise between character, scene, and dialogue. At times, his artistic intention is revealed not by what a character says, but by what it leaves unsaid. At times, his intention is conveyed by the contradictions that arise within and among these various characters.
And Harry Haller is a man of contradictions, strident contradictions, contradictions that cut into his soul so deeply that he is driven to the edge of existence in his agonizing attempt to resolve them. What are we to make of his relentless struggle to reconcile the dual aspects of his nature — the human versus the wolf, the refined gentleman of civilized urbanity and the primitive beast bent on destruction? This split within his nature is emphasized several times throughout the novel. At times, it is the wolf that gains the upper hand; at times, it is his humanity that prevails.
It is at this point that we must write a cautionary note in capital letters. We should not deceive ourselves into thinking that the treatment given this theme of human-versus-wolf is as stale and predictable as we might initially think. All appearances to the contrary, we are not dealing here with a mere rehashing of the traditional warfare of Faust’s “two souls dwelling within one breast”-motif, immortalized by Paul in Romans 7:19: “For the good that I would do, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.”
Needless to say, this is the human dilemma that has been treated, dissected, and analyzed with critical acumen for two millennia, and it is precisely for this reason that we may be prone to see in Hesse’s handling of this motif simply another variation on this age-old question.
However, if we look more closely at what he is saying, we see something far different taking shape. The seemingly oversimplistic wolf-vs.-human metaphor stands for something more complex and nuanced than the platitudinous “two souls” in inner conflict, something more labyrinthine than a piece of homespun wisdom about human beings as creatures dangling helplessly between the vault of heaven and the abyss of hell.
Within the context of this novel, this wolf/human metaphor represents nothing less than the Unconscious, that side of human nature which, for thousands of years, lay undiscovered. But, if it had been merely undiscovered, things might have been relatively calm and quiet. But, for millennia, Hesse is suggesting, this Unconscious had been denied, suppressed, repressed, and explained away, so that what we have in Steppenwolf, what we have in Harry Haller, what Europe had witnessed in the First World War, and re-witnessed again in the Second, was the volcanic eruption of this Unconscious in all its fury, wreaking vengeance on humankind for its lack of awareness that it did, indeed, exist and had to be recognized and dealt with in an honest and forthright way.
This novel seems to be suggesting that human beings are not the two-dimensional creatures they have for centuries taken themselves to be, but beings containing within themselves a mysterious inner life, an unconscious level of existence which must be recognized, faced up to, and accepted. The acceptance of this other self, one’s shadow, involves a revolutionary advance in one’s self-understanding. This relationship with one’s own dark side permits a person to recognize one’s solidarity with the entire human species. The integration of the Unconscious into one’s conscious existence directs one’s personality into new paths of emotional, intellectual, and psychological health, growth, and maturity.
Through the metaphor of Haller’s wolf-like existence, Hesse is diagnosing the soul of modern man, the disillusionment and inner dislocation of the 20th century, the era of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, wherein the traditional beliefs and values that had sustained and nourished Western civilization for two-and-a-half millennia had revealed themselves to many as hollow and bankrupt.
The belief in the essential goodness of human nature; the conviction that there was a preordained, divinely-sanctioned scheme of existence; the certainty that goodness, beauty, and truth were Immutable Absolutes, all of this lay shattered for many as a result of Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and the cataclysmic events of the First World War.
Numerous were the attempts at reconstructing what were seen as broken values upon a solid basis — a return to right reason and the classical tradition, a resounding reaffirmation of religious beliefs, and humanitarian involvement were the panaceas prescribed by the cultural and moral physicians of the day.
But Hesse saw in these solutions not the remedy, but intensifications of the problem itself. He, more than many, saw that it was impossible to think one’s way out of this breakdown of values, since it was the very organ of thought that had become diseased. In his eyes, a return to organized religion was also self-deluding, for it was the very ability to believe that in the modern era had become decayed. He saw social involvement as escapist, because the resolution of the crisis was not achieved, but simply postponed. In short, he saw in all these proffered solutions, not the remedies for a speedy recovery, but advanced stages of the sickness itself.
Hesse poured modern man’s tragic predicament into the agonizing struggles of Harry Haller whose journey through the dark night of the soul was Everyman’s descent into his own inner Hades. But whereas Hesse’s contemporaries considered the tumultuous upheavals of the times as the sickness, he saw in them the cure. Far from desiring to impede the further progress of this “illness,” he sought to promote its development and to encourage its growth, for the simple reason that this process of disintegration was curative and healing of itself.
A case in point was tragic art that arose among the Greeks as a response to the deep suffering they felt at facing the emptiness of the universe. We can understand the dramas of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, suggests Nietzsche, as their means of finding comfort in the depths of their own despair. Thus, where there had been only a frightening nothingness threatening their very reason and sanity, new meaning and hope were invented and given beautiful expression in their passionate affirmation of life. As he says at the end of his Birth of Tragedy: “How much this people must have suffered to become so beautiful.”
The beauty of the novel Steppenwolf is seen in its heroic struggle with the gods of the Underworld within one’s own soul. Modern man, personified by Harry Haller, must learn to recognize his shadow, his dark side, to accept it as his brother, to integrate and assimilate it into himself. The characters of Pablo, Hermine, Maria, as well as the Magic Theater are all means that Hesse employs to bring this message home to Harry.
He must forsake his one-sidedness, abandon his sterile seclusion from the simple pleasures of everyday life, and forego his over-identification with the world of the Immortals. “Er muss lachen lernen” (“He must learn to laugh”) at the inner divisions within himself, and at the disparity between the world of the Ideal and the Real, for both are essential to the human condition.
But, again, we risk falling into the pit of cliché, this time that of “learning to laugh” at oneself. The popular meaning of the expression is all-too-familiar — not taking oneself too seriously, developing a sense of humor, seeing the bright side of things. But this is decidedly not Hesse’s meaning at all, but rather — appreciate the ironies of existence, savor them, learn to relish them, cultivate the ability to seek them out, for they are the very stuff and texture of life. See the world as it is, with all its absurdities, stupidities, and foibles as so many sarcastic comments upon the world of the Ideal.
“Learning to laugh” is an invitation to become a connoisseur, a connoisseur of life’s absurdities. Haller must learn not to take himself, others, or even life itself too seriously, for in the final analysis everything is a game, even the way we choose to view it. For one can play all sorts of games with life — make a duty of it, a prison, a testing ground, a vale of tears, or a glorious opportunity for something joyous and beautiful.
On the other hand, Haller must not even take the realm of the Immortals, the realm of the Ideal seriously, either. Even Mozart and Goethe must be kept at a distance. He must not succumb to anything. Not that what the Immortals represent, the world of the Ideal and high aspiration, are bad things in themselves, but that the mere act of succumbing breeds inner pestilence. Every form of addiction is bad, whether it be alcohol, morphine, or the Ideal itself!
Such was Haller’s addiction, the addiction to the Ideal. His development had stopped early in life. There was no further unfolding, no acceptance of new outlooks, no ongoing enrichment of his nature. Life had wilted in his hands. Animated solely by the Ideal, he could tolerate no admixture of the Real, had lost his way, and thereby sinned against life. He had offended the gods, and his destiny became one of atone-ment for hubris, his overweening pride and self-glorification.
The Greeks understood this first law of life only too well. The flight of Icarus toward the sun portrays this basic truth in the symbolical language of myth. Attempting nothing less than flying higher and higher into the face of the sun with wings fastened by wax, Icarus plunges irretrievably to his destruction. Man is but mortal and must not transgress human limits, for to do so is to court extinction.
Life demands both the Ideal and the Real, both the ethereal Don Quixote and the earthbound practicality of Sancho Panza. It will tolerate no exemption, for life needs polarities, with the resulting energy between these two poles. One who refuses to bathe in the warm current of the Real is left stranded on the shore, the non-participant doomed to solitude, isolation, and wasting away. Haller’s claim that he be allowed to serve only art and not deal with the mundane aspects of human existence, to walk only with the Immortals and not with his fellow man, constitutes an intolerable presumption.
For none but the gods, none but the Immortals are so privileged as to live thus apart in unchallenged inviolability and apartness from life. What can human beings expect, but that life will exact a fearsome vengeance upon them who disdain the ever-vivifying water of the Real? Harry Haller must learn to live, he must learn to feel, laugh, and embrace his shadow.
About the author: Frank Breslin is a retired high-school teacher in the New Jersey public school system, where he taught English, Latin, German, and history. This article has been previously published on the HuffPost Contributor platform and https://epochemagazine.org/ This reprint was authorized by the author.
Source: Frank Breslin
Photograph Cathy Caruth 2015
Ralph Freedman, literary theorist and
'genuine mentor,' dies at 96
, Princeton University
Ralph Freedman, professor of comparative literature, emeritus, at Princeton University, died May 5 of natural causes at his home in Decatur, Georgia. He was 96.
Freedman joined the Princeton faculty in 1965 and retired in 1988. He taught for two post-retirement years at Emory University.
"Over the course of his long career, Professor Ralph Freedman published works of literary criticism about modern European and American literature, translations from German, prize-winning historical novels, and several influential scholarly biographies," said Eileen Reeves, professor of comparative literature and department chair. "The range of Professor Freedman's critical and creative interests, and his commitment to the study of foreign languages and literatures, made him a crucial force in the early days of this department."
Freedman came to Princeton as a senior fellow of the humanities and a visiting professor of comparative literature after teaching in the English department at the University of Iowa for eight years. At that time comparative literature was only a graduate program at Princeton; it expanded to include undergraduate courses in 1972. Freedman was named professor of comparative literature in 1966.
Along with Joseph Frank, the Class of 1926 Professor of Comparative Literature, Emeritus, and Robert Fagles, the Arthur Marks '19 Professor of Comparative Literature, Emeritus, Freedman helped organize the program into the Department of Comparative Literature in 1975.
One of Freedman's hires for the department was John Fleming, now the Louis W. Fairchild '24 Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Emeritus. "In helping to recruit me to the department, he told me I had the highest possible qualification — a surname beginning with the letter F," said Fleming.
Fleming remembers Freedman with a mix of admiration and humor. "Those who knew him here will ever remember him as a delightful and generous colleague. He was a man of kind heart and good humor who combined the daunting polyglot erudition of the Old School European littérateur with an obviously sincere affection for his students," Fleming said. "He seemed to delight in honoring the stereotype of the absentminded professor, and even in such a highly competitive field he did achieve new horizons in administrative disorganization."
"Ralph Freedman taught me why it is important to be a humanist and that the true value of literature was that it allowed us to confront our best and worst moments with both critical distance and passion," said Kathy Komar, who earned her Ph.D. in 1977 and is a professor of comparative literature at the University of California-Los Angeles. "He was generous with both his time and his wisdom for students and colleagues alike. And he made sure that he did everything in his power to help us succeed in our careers. He was a genuine mentor who looked out for us over many years beyond graduate school," she said.
Ellen Frankel earned her Ph.D. in comparative literature at Princeton in 1978 and taught writing and literature at various colleges before becoming editor-in-chief of the Jewish Publication Society, a position she held until her retirement in 2009. She said her first impression of Freedman was that he was "definitely 'old school' — conservative in his attire, formal in his teaching style, addressing all of his students as Mr. and Miss. But although he was reserved in etiquette, he was just the opposite when it came to his favorite subject: Romanticism. In his graduate seminars he was passionate about the sorrows of Young Werther, about German Romantic philosophers, about the poetry of Wordsworth and Keats. I met my future husband in that Romanticism class. Ralph seemed especially tickled that a romance bloomed under his tutelage," she said.
Freedman taught regularly in the English and comparative literature departments, including developing the introductory course for graduate students as well as teaching undergraduate courses on lyric poetry and the lyrical novel.
As a literary theorist, his research focused on the lyric and prose fiction from the late 18th century through the present, primarily in English, German and French literatures. He formed the governing board of senior fellows for a new national school of literary criticism at the University of California-Irvine in 1975.
Born Feb. 24, 1920, in Hamburg, Germany, Freedman emigrated at 19 to England and then to the United States. He became a naturalized citizen in 1942, and from 1943-45 served in the U.S. Army, in intelligence in the field during World War II in Tunisia and Italy and, at the end of the war, in a counterintelligence team in Austria.
Freedman graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Washington in 1948. In 1950 he earned a master's in philosophy from Brown University, where he was a teaching assistant for two years, and in 1954 he received his Ph.D. in comparative literature from Yale University.
He is the author of two historical novels based on his war experiences: "Divided" (1948) and "Rue the Day" (2009). His published works in literary criticism include "The Lyrical Novel: Studies in Hermann Hesse, Andre Gide and Virginia Woolf" (1963, Princeton University Press). Freedman wrote the biographies "Hermann Hesse: Pilgrim of Crisis" (1978), which has been translated into German and Italian, and "Life of a Poet: Rainer Maria Rilke" (1996), which he began to research and write while at Princeton with a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1980 and was published after his retirement.
"'The Lyrical Novel' was a landmark in literary studies because it showed us how to do comparative work when there weren't too many models around, and because it brought together three writers who were not obviously connected — Hermann Hesse, Andre Gide and Virginia Woolf — showing just how strong their theoretical and experimental connections were," said Michael Wood, the Charles Barnwell Straut Class of 1923 Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Emeritus.
Wood also commended Freedman's biographies of Hesse and Rilke. "[The mixture of generosity and cool critical sense in the writing was immediately recognizable, indeed unforgettable," he said. Wood published a review of the Rilke biography in the London Review of Books in 1996.
A prolific essayist whose work appeared in journals such as Texas Quarterly, Modern Fiction Studies and Comparative Literature Studies, Freedman also edited "Virginia Woolf: Revaluation and Continuity." He translated into English Sten Nadolny's novel "Die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit," which was published in 1987 as "The Discovery of Slowness." His works have been translated into German, French, Italian, Spanish, Korean and Japanese.
Freedman held fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was active in professional societies such as the Modern Language Association and the American Comparative Literature Association.
He is survived by two sons, Jonathan, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Mark, of New York, and six grandchildren. A public memorial service will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 5, at the Maison Française at Columbia University, near the 116th Street and Broadway entrance. Contributions may be made in Freedman's memory to the Planned Parenthood Foundation.
Quelle: Limberg, 2016
Veneration and Revolt
Hermann Hesse and Swabian Pietism
"Taking his title from Hesse, Barry Stephenson has given us the first thorough appreciation of the Nobel Prize-winner within the religious culture from which he emerged. Hesse's debt to pietism, against which he rebelled yet which he always venerated as his spiritual heritage, was long a commonplace. But no previous scholar approached the problematic topic with the requisite background in religious studies that informs this book. Beginning with the history of Pietism and its role in Swabia and German Romanticism, it moves through Hesse's life and oeuvre, exposing significant new dimensions from his early religion of art to The Glass Bead Game. This major and highly readable contribution forces us to contemplate Hesse's novels in a wholly original and edifying light."
Theodore Ziolkowski, Princeton University
Veneration and Revolt: Hermann Hesse and Swabian Pietism is the first comprehensive study of the impact of German Pietism (the religion of Hesse's family and native Swabia) on Hesse's life and literature. Hesse's literature bears witness to a lifelong conversation with his religious heritage despite that in adolescence he rejected his family's expectation that he become a theologian, cleric, and missionary.
Hesse's Pietist upbringing and broader Swabian heritage contributed to his moral and political views, his pacifism and internationalism, the confessional and autobiographical style of his literature, his romantic mysticism, his suspicion of bourgeois culture, his ecumenical outlook, and, in an era scarred by two world wars, his hopes for the future. Veneration and Revolt offers a unique perspective on the life and works of one of the twentieth century's most influential writers.
Wilfried Laurier University Press
75 University Avenue West
Waterloo, ON (N2L3C5)
Cloth, 300 Pages
Canadian $ 85.00
For more information contact Clare Hitchens, publicist,
Source: University of Toronto Quarterly
© DER SPIEGEL, 2012
The Legacy of Hermann Hesse, 50 Years Later
The cover of the Aug. 6, 2012 issue of Der Spiegel magazine features an illustration of Hermann Hesse, winner of the 1946 Nobel Prize in literature, glaring almost menacingly at the reader and giving the middle finger. “Der Störenfried” (“the troublemaker”) is written in bold letters, under which appear the labels “Sinnsucher, Dichter, Anarchist”—“seeker of meaning, poet, and anarchist.”
Der Spiegel covers are well-known for being provocative, but does this one go too far? Does it make sense to depict the peace-loving author, painter, and nature-lover who wrote about the search for self-discovery and deeper meaning, in such an aggressive pose? The editors clearly hope this challenging image will spark a debate about the role of the famous German-Swiss author, one of the best-selling German writers ever, 50 years after his death on August 9, 1962.
The title of the article, “Ich mach mein Ding,” “I just do my thing,” probably points more accurately at the true nature of the man. Born in 1877 in Calw, halfway between Stuttgart and Baden-Baden, Hesse lived through the great upheavals of the early twentieth century. Rather than going with the mass of society that clamored for war in the summer of 1914, Hesse published an essay, “O Freunde, nicht diese Töne” (“Oh friends, not these tones”), which appealed to brotherly love and Europe’s common heritage as reasons for not going to war. For this he was vociferously and publicly lambasted. This personal crisis partly explains why Hesse shied away from the public eye later in life.
Hermann Hesse (below) clinks glasses on July 2, 1947, in the garden of the castle Bremgarten with his son Martin (second from left ), Max Wassmer (third from left), the arts patron of Berne and Mr. Leuthold (right) on the occasion of his 70th birthday.
/© Hesse Editionsarchiv, Offenbach a.M, 1979.
Hesse had just been awarded the honorary doctor of the university of Berne and the honorary membership of the body of students of the city of Berne in a festive ceremony. According to the autobiographical sketch on the Nobel Prize website, his wish to be a poet had developed at the age of 12. Although he was a good learner at boarding schools in Württemberg, Hesse “was not a very manageable boy,” as he described himself. “It was only with difficulty that I fitted into the framework of a pietist education that aimed at subduing and breaking the individual personality.” Indeed, at the age of 15, Hesse fled his monastery school and was sent by his parents to a private clinic, where he attempted to take his life. Thereafter came a four-month consignment to a mental institution. The diagnosis: “melancholy.”
With no clear career path for a would-be writer, Hesse became an apprentice mechanic and worked in antique and book stores in Tübingen and Basel. His mother being partially of French Swiss descent, Hesse had lived in Basel as a young child, from 1880-86. After his first literary success, the novel Peter Camenzind, published in 1904, Hesse moved to the country, to Gaienhofen on Lake Constance, on the border with Switzerland. “At that time a rural life, far from the cities and civilization, was my aim.”
/© Hesse Editionsarchiv, Offenbach a.M, 1979
Hermann Hesse in front of his residence in Montagnola, undated picture. He was to live there until 1912; thereafter Hesse lived in Switzerland, in Basel, Bern, Zurich, and Montagnola, a small village in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino. In 1911, however, at the age of 34, Hesse embarked on a trip to India, where his parents had worked as missionaries. Though the ship actually sailed to Indonesia, the “India” journey would influence the young man’s thinking. His impressions from the trip, along with his studies of Buddhism and eastern philosophy, found their way into more than one of Hesse’s novels.
In 1923, he resigned his German and acquired Swiss citizenship. In picturesque Montagnola, overlooking Lake Lugano, where he lived for half his life, from 1919 to 1962, Hesse produced his most enduring works: Siddhartha, Der Steppenwolf, and Das Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game).
All of these novels deal with themes involving the individual search for self-knowledge, spirituality, and the inward turn. Though his novels proved popular during his lifetime, it was only after his death that his popularity skyrocketed, making him one of the most widely-read German authors of the twentieth century. One hundred fifty million copies of his books, published in 60 languages, are thought to be in circulation around the world. Significantly, only a sixth of these are in German. Hesse’s popularity thus far surpassed the cultural sphere of his origin.
But why? An engaging style and compelling narratives can only explain this in part. A fuller explanation of his significance in literary history — and history more broadly — must consider Hesse as emblematic of certain values that resonated—in particular in the late 1960s, in Germany and in America.
Foto: © Schwarzwälder Bote, Pforzheim, 2012
German rock star Udo Lindenberg, an acknowledged fan of Hesse, performs as part of the yearlong Hermann Hesse Festival in Calw on July 7, 2012. The surge in Hesse’s popularity coincided with the so-called “68er” generation in Germany, the Woodstock and Vietnam-protest era in America, when rebellions against the established, conformist society became mainstream. Hesse’s writings were rediscovered at the time, the themes coinciding with the ideals of the hippie and counterculture movements. Rebellion against conformity, listening to the self rather than authority—these ideas, also found in the works of Henry David Thoreau, who also drew inspiration from Eastern philosophy, defined Hesse’s appeal. The band Steppenwolf, best-known for “Born to be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride,” named itself after Hesse’s novel of the same name. Like with Thoreau in America, Hesse became required reading at schools across Germany. Today, a large number of schools are named after him.
With so many people encountering him at a young age, it’s no surprise interest in Hesse is not fading fifty years after his death. They are encountering him not only through his books, but through music. Since 2008, the foundation of German rock star Udo Lindenberg has organized the Hermann Hesse Festival, celebrating “die Kunst des Eigensinns.” While “Eigensinn” is a difficult-to-translate concept, the festival title means something like “the art of having one’s own will; a vigorous, determined inner voice.”
For Lindenberg, as for millions of other fans around the world, this devotion to “Eigensinn” is the source of fascination with, and inspiration from, Hermann Hesse.
Copyrighted by, and with the kind permission
of the Cultural Section of the German Embassy on August 28, 2012
Note that the images on this page have a different origin
from those in the original publication because of release restrictions
Source: Lawrence Zani, Kaiserslautern, Germany