Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Glass Bead Game

Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game must rank as one of the greatest hermetic novels of the past century. In 1936, Thomas Mann lightly tripped his view of Hermes across the Confessions of Felix Krull. Hesse’s Hermes seems to move on from the world of Mann, though the Hermes of The Glass Bead Game is far more sombre. The novel is offered as a biography of Joseph Knecht, a legendary figure in the mysterious world of The Game. But what emerges, paradoxically, as the novel focuses on the life of Knecht, is an abstract history of intellect. The novel commences properly with an academic exercise in which Knecht has to write an “imaginary” biography…a recapitulation of a past life. And this quest for life and truth—what a life is true to and how a life is true—are major themes within the novel.

The essence of the novel is caught in one beautiful paragraph:

He [Knecht] had forgotten the dream by the time he awoke. But later, during a morning walk, the Master asked him whether he had dreamt, and it seemed to him that he must have had an unpleasant experience in his dreams. He thought, recovered the dream, and told it, and was astonished at how innocuous it sounded. The Master listened closely.
“Should we be mindful of dreams?” Joseph asked. “Can we interpret them?”
The Master looked into his eyes and said tersely: “We should be mindful of everything, for we can interpret everything.”

In those words, The Master of Music conjures a whole lost way of thought… the musical dance of words, poetry, total interpretation and interpolation! Phew! Just as Hermes led the Graces of Music, Dance and Poetry, Chastity, Beauty and Passion in the direction of significance and transformation...