Copyright J.Sobel & HHP 5/11/97



Hermann Hesse is clearly unusual in the category of fictional writers in the sense that nearly everything that Hesse wrote was autobiographical and confessional. When one reflects on past and contemporary fictional writers it is difficult to recall a fictional writer that consistently and faithfully drew upon his own experiences as the foundation for a fictional piece as Hermann Hesse did.

Hesse continually maintained that all his writings were confessions with a therapeutic intent, with his main concern being to write frankly and sincerely about himself in the efforts towards a greater understanding of the self and the self's relation to society. Hesse said, "My purpose is to delineate that piece of humanity and love, of instinct and sublimation, that I know from my own experience, and for whose truth, sincerity, and actuality I can vouch." In fact, Hesse thought it absurd to write about something that one did not experience oneself. This is not to say that Hesse felt fictional writers of this kind inferior to his own style of writing, for Hesse revered and respected a number of writers, but rather that purely fictional writing did not work for Hesse, and did not serve the therapeutic purpose of writing which he sought.

An example of this confessional style is in Peter Camenzind. It reflects and epitomizes Hesse's crises of youth and the dichotomy between the individual and society. Hesse said of this piece that, "I hardly need to stress that what I write is always a very personal attempt to express intimate matters in modern form ... I do not write much and when I do it is only as a consequence of highly personal necessity." So it seems that for Hesse, Peter Camenzind was a way in which Hesse could clarify to himself the conflicts that he was finding between the individual and the pressure of society to be a homogenous group, as well as clarifying the methods in which one can remain an individual with a unique path and be a "solitary king in a dream world of his own creation". Yet Hesse was also beginning to explore the ways in which one can remain an individual while at the same time being a social person.

Hermann Hesse also had some interesting things to say concerning the nature of language and the limitations of language as an accurate tool of expression for a writer. In his essay, "Language" (1917), Hesse discusses how language provides "contradictory notions" and that it is a limiting medium as an expression of ideas that are limitless and beyond literal expression. Hesse commented, "language is a detriment, an earthbound limitation from which the poet suffers more than anyone else."

Hesse felt that unlike the arts of music and painting in which the musician and the painter have a medium that is solely their own with its own unique form of expression, the writer must use "an instrument made for something entirely different". So whereas the "musician's language belongs to him alone", and is just for making music, the writer must use a language which also serves as the sole means of communicating the trivialities of life.

It seems that for Hesse, like many writers, language was a paltry substitute for describing things that were perhaps better not described in words. Musical notes and a painter's palette are mediums that are more open to interpretation and less likely to be an obstacle to understanding. Hesse epitomized these ideas on language when he said, "Never has a human language, (I mean a grammatical one) achieved half the animation, wit, elegance, and spirit that a cat reveals in the waving of her tail or a bird of paradise in the silvery plumage of its wedding attire."

*"Language", in: My Belief: Essays on Life and Art, Jonathan Cape, Thirty Bedford Square London, 1976, pp.26-31. (Back to text))

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