Category Archives: Hermann Hesse

Thoughts: Rosshalde

RosshaldeRosshalde by Hermann Hesse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospels, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. – Mark 10:29-30 (KJV)

“If this tragedy should strike, I consider Herr Veraguth an egocentric murderer. If this horror results from the suffocating environment perpetrated by Veraguth and yet avoidable through his absence, I charge him as a man leeching joy from the innocent without consideration for the sorrow he creates, as well as experiences, with his presence. I wholeheartedly agree with his friend who tells him to leave, to free himself from his lonliness and depravity, this world he has chosen, victimizing his art as an anasthetic rather than a wondrous expression of life in all its various forms of fulfillment.”

Yet perhaps Hesse condemns his protagonist as well. Considering his reputation as a proponent of Eastern philosophy, perhaps Johann Veraguth, in choosing to remain with his family, counters the teachings to amputate worldy attachments from one’s life not only for the sake of his spiritual freedom, but for the liberation of those worldly attachments as well. If the amputation only serves him, many can argue against it citing selfish motives which destroy the lives of others. Yet if the separation benefits both the man and the world, what argument can condemn such an action?

Upon beginning Rosshalde, I envied Johann Veraguth, the world-famous painter who thrives without a day job and soars without the burden of upkeep for his estate, without economic cares or spacial confines for his practice. I even envied his family situation. What a glorious existence to live along the perimeter of one’s family, to have sanctuary for all artistic endeavours and the freedom to saunter back and forth between worlds as one chooses. But can an artist experience true happiness having separated his art from his experience, his inspiration from life?

Throughout the novel, Hesse interweaves the existences of Herr Veraguth and his youngest son, Pierre. He seats the man at one end of the fulcrum and the child at the other. The innocence flares and the corrupted flounders. Then the balance shifted. Pierre embodies the kind of incorruptible desires and thought patterns which Veraguth can only yearn for in his own nostalgic perspective. But what does he offer his son? What does he exemplify as a beacon for Pierre to journey toward? Veraguth loves Pierre for the light he sheds on Veraguth’s lonely, isolated existence. And as Veraguth longs to live, it never occurs to him to do so by investing in the most important thing at his fingertips. He does not have to go anywhere.

After finishing Rosshalde, Hesse leaves the reader exhausted – drained of all philosophical, moral or ethical entreaty and left only with spiritual ash mixed with the glowing embers of hope for a revival of soul and life. All questions prove irrelevant, all considerations meaningless, all hindsight painfully pointless. He can only do better this time. And not only for himself.

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Posted by on January 26, 2013 in Hermann Hesse


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Thoughts: Steppenwolf

SteppenwolfSteppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is everybody in? Is everybody in? Is everybody in? The ceremony’s about to begin…

Center the Steppenwolf in Times Square and watch him writhe, observe his bared teeth peel the flesh from his own body, destroy himself and maybe, if fate embraces him warmly, listen to his laughing.

The philosophical discourse of Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf is like a dark molasses, glacially penetrating your mind. But Hesse’s tone and style is melodious, enticing the average reader to continue his plunge into the realm of Harry Haller’s madness. There are three distinct narrative perspectives employed throughout the book. First, we are introduced to the inconsequential character of Harry’s tenant mate, the landlord’s nephew. His preface bids us welcome to Haller’s narrative when we would have otherwise passed it by without thinking of it again. Second, we delve into the meat of the pages composed by Haller himself, composing his own story and trip into peace. Then there’s “The Steppenwolf Treatise” whose author we do not know for certain. Each narrative has a distinct tone and style, a unique perspective on the character and turmoil of Harry Haller. How fortunate the reader.

Hesse devotes Steppenwolf to the realization and destruction of dualism. In the preface we are introduced to the idea of two overlapping generations and the sorrowful outcasts who don’t belong to one or the other, to the mix of human spirit and the Steppenwolf, the opposite and complimentary pairing of Harry and Hermine, Old Harry and New Harry…Real Harry and Fake Harry. And the unbearable suffering infecting and spreading in this story for Harry, who, with Hermine, are labeled as suicides, beings whose destiny cannot end under any other circumstance than death. In his isolation and denial of fickle trivialities of the present culture; in his abstinence from the Bourgeois Compromise of balance between saintliness and profligacy, he yearns for death, to discover the ultimate capacity of human endurance and to martyr himself at the alter of what is valuable.

I am the Steppenwolf – or maybe the American puppy. I related to Harry’s suffering but mostly in angst. I bark at advertisements for inconsequential trinkets, for transient fascinations and abhor how much of our resources, and our selves, we invest in them. Where is our escape? How can we reverse this absurdity? If Hesse is right, and the bliss of the middle class is in the contented compromise, afraid to brush the walls of happy extremities lining the corridor of our existence; for their sake there will be no reversal. How does Harry cope with this hopeless realization? How do we?

“You are to live and learn to laugh. You are to learn to listen to the cursed radio music of life and to reverence the spirit behind it and to laugh at its distortions.”

This is not a story of inevitable hell.

WAKE UP! You can’t remember where it was had this dream stopped?

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Hermann Hesse


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Thoughts: Beneath The Wheel

Beneath the WheelBeneath the Wheel by Hermann Hesse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” – Albert Einstein

Take this, Hesse…you’ve got sarcasm dripping down onto your shirt.

The story of Hans Geibenrath’s journey toward maturity marks the beginning of Hermann Hesse’s infatuation with the topic. Despite lacking the depth and range of Demian, Beneath The Wheel explores the concept at a truly accessible level. Hesse’s brilliant and poetic style, though kept in relative check through this book, adds to the sheer pleasure of turning these pages.

Hesse explores three major crossroads in Hans’ journey.

First, the academy, and the social institution of scholarship and its general policies, plows irreverently across Hans’ road and he speeds to his right and left chasing the glories of academic fertility. Alongside him, schoolmasters, instructors, priests and parents zoom by with dust, debris and the occasional body spitting behind their vehicles. Hesse sarcastically impales these people and accuses them of repressing the liquor of curiosity naturally imbibed in youth. They tirelessly spark ambitious conceit within the child’s breast and feed the flame of their own pompous self-worth. Split from nature and the instinctive inclination to indulge in youthful fascinations, Hans excels in the world of academia but drowns in the muck of arrogance and reckless ambition.

But Hans cannot escape the natural influence of his peers and eventually gives up scholarly politics and continues along his road. Suddenly, and quite beyond his control, love, or its physiological affectation, intersects his path seemingly from behind. Unlike the academic realm, the fork leading to love cannot be avoided and he cannot turn about and resume his journey from the road he had once traversed. This compulsive turn had revived him, had opened his heart to a very primal physiological state quite opposite from the mental fortifications he had built throughout his youth.

He approaches the last crossroads, filled at every corner with riotous drunkards and cigar-puffing hyenas herded together according to their crafts. The people he had once scorned and at whose existence he had scoffed at, the people he had loathed, who had motivated him to escape their vocational fate, living their kind of deplorable life as base workers and laborers, artisans and tradesmen, now transformed into a kind of living knowledge. Hans saw them now, though through a drunken haze, as men who chose to live what others chose to study from the wall. And beyond this intersection, Hans might have seen his destiny beneath the wheel – grinding down the path of his life under the gloomy routine and dull anguish of the machinist and locksmith.

But that, too, was just a crossroad…

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Hermann Hesse


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Thoughts: Siddhartha

SiddharthaSiddhartha by Hermann Hesse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admittedly approached this work with my naivety exposed like a wound. The extent of my dealings with Buddhist philosophy/religion is comprised of one read-through of the Buddhist Scriptures, a collegiate course crammed with the study of most major Eastern religions and, now, this book.

Amidst Hesse’s gorgeous poetic prose, masterfully mirroring the subject matter, I found myself wondering what kind of story I was reading. Is it entirely fiction? To my knowledge, Saddhartha’s biography was not quite like the tale Hesse tells. Did Hesse simply employ the Buddha’s philosophies and his early name simply to express his own take on any person’s spiritual journey? And if so, what kind of credibility does Hesse have in rendering such philosophies?

In any event, I found this to be a great book. Many book lovers will undoubtedly attest to the feeling of simply loving a single printed word, the smell of a freshly cracked book and the various levels of coarseness felt at the fingertips. Hesse recklessly exploits these sensations in Saddhartha. And the philosophies are fascinating! So fascinating, in fact, that I will attempt to employ some of them now by turning from the desire to organize and reconstruct them in a comprehensible and easily dictated fashion and just let them go to work on me.

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Hermann Hesse


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