Friday, January 27, 2017

Rereading The Glass Bead Game

So many wonderful books to read! I've made it a practice to never reread something unless for a specific purpose.  In the '70s the books of Herman Hesse were very popular. I started with Siddartha as I think most readers did.  I read nearly all of them and finally, I read his last big book, The Glass Bead Game. So much for Hesse, I moved on.

 The Glass Bead Game was given to me for Christmas, it's been a LONG time since I read it; I quickly got into the 300+ dense pages of the utopian world set sometime in the future in some attractive part of Europe, one supposes, and followed the surely brilliant and intellectual Joseph Knecht from school boy as he was trained by the all wise masters of a subcountry that exists to be entirely intellectual to become master of their raison d'etre The Glass Bead Game. 

I noticed quickly, as the much younger me did not, that there were no women in this world.  None!  Not even mention of mothers. Chinese  philosophy is an aside and history was mainly the realm of a throw back Benedictine abbot. So much about this world makes no sense at all although it's Knecht's training in the highest thought of the time. Yes, I was seeing the story quite differently.

At the end Knecht is drawn to resign his grand office and go out into the world (where an elite still runs things although the one example is shown to be a very unhappy man). Knecht wishes to tutor a single young man -- and yes, I cannot help but see homosexual attractions although there is not a hint that any of these intellectuals have a sexual body. Within two days, we see that Knecht is incapable of caring for himself, physically. He and the young man go to a cabin some 9,000 feet above sea level. Knecht suffers altitude sickness that he does not recognize, and then, perhaps to win affection of the student, perhaps to prove his own prowess, dives into a frigid lake and drowns. He cannot survive in the "real" world -- it upsets his body, muddles his mind, is visually beautiful but cold and fatal.

Hesse was a brilliant man, but seems to have been blind to anything other than intellectual pursuits. I think I'll look for some biographical material about him.  I'm amazed that in the mid-20th century a writer (of any national origin) could posit such an organization and such a protagonist in such a world. 

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