© HHP 9/10/97

Herbert W. Reichert

© Mt. Pleasant (Michigan): The Enigma Press, 1972, 93 pp.
Printed by Dr. Earl R. Nitschke with hand-set Craw Clarendon Book
on a 10 x 15 Chandler & Price in a limited Edition of
two hundred copies of which this is number: 45

"This essay on Hermann Hesse evolved from a lecture held at four midwestern universities in the spring of 1963.  The following year the lecture was revised and expanded for the VIIe Colloque Philosophique International De Royaumont: "Nietzsche and appeared in the printed proceedings of the conference, but in abbreviated form and in French ("Nietzsche", Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1967, pp.153-167).  As both Nietzsche and Hesse remain important to the intellectual scene, I am happy to accept the generous invitation of the Enigma Press to publish the full-length study in English."  Herbert W. Reichert

"Following this brief survey of Hesse's principal writings, we would now like to summarize our findings.It would appear that Nietzsche had virtually no effect on the transcendental base of Hesse's outlook.  This base is the product of Hesse's peitistic upbringing and of the great mystical teachings of East and West.  Nevertheless one cannot disregard Nietzsche's contribution to Hesse's thought as inconsequential.  We hope to have shown that Hesse received definite inspiration from Nietzsche with respect to 1) his conviction that bourgeois culture was decadent 2)his division of mankind into the strong and the weak 3) his ideal of a superhuman genius 4) his conception of pathologic modern man 5) his belief in the cultural mission of the inspired individual 6) his acceptance of the notion of amor fati.  And it is conceivable that many of Hesse's stylistic experiments as well as his anti-rationalism may be traced back, at least in part, to Nietzsche.

All this is important.  Furthermore, we have attempted to show that Nietzsche, interpreted by Hesse as a nihilist, reinforced the nihilistic doubts of the wavering author.  This is evident in Hermann Lauscher as it is in Magister Ludi [ed. The Glass Bead Game], where Burckhardt as the Pater represented "faith and order" (VI, 252), and the "jester and nihilist" Nietzsche symbolized the counterpole of chaos and disbelief.

One need only reflect for a moment on the frequency with which Hesse's heroes are forced to combat nihilism, how often they stand on the brink of despair and how often many of them succumb.  The inveterate nihilists Lauscher and Muoth commit suicide.  Klein regains faith only at the moment he takes his life.  Siddhartha barely rescues himself after attempting suicide.  The Steppenwolf calls himself a suicidal type and wanders from one torment to the next.  Heilner and Camenzind achieve a limited affirmation only with great effort.  Demian's path is termed a "route for desperate individuals" (VII, 519).  The resort guest  (Kurgast [ed. Spa Visitor, Guest at the Spa]) has the bitter taste of despair on his tongue.  Goldmund temporarily loses his faith in the world and in God and, as he once said, seeks to forget the horror and chaos in sensual joy.  In similar fashion, despairing H.H. temporarily loses faith in the ideals of the East; "nowhere," he cries, "is there a unity, a center, a point around which the wheel turns" (VI, 35).

It would not be correct to label Hesse a nihilist.  Without doubt he did everything in his power to affirm his transcendental ideal.  But it was not an easy task.  Even though his heroes usually won out, they always had a long and bitter fight, and each time the battle had to be fought anew.  Each time the goal was a bit different, too, a clear indication that the previous victory had not been quite what he had hoped it would be.

In a word, Hesse's life was a constant battle with Nietzschean nihilism.  Like so many of his famous literary contemporaries - Hauptmann, Musil, Broch, Rilke, George, Kaiser, Morgenstern, to mention a few - Hesse sought to bridge this abyss with a personal mysticism, for many years with only partial success. Herbert W. Reichert

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