In reaction to the shallowness and frivolousness of their age, a number of groups interested in fostering the intellectual and the spiritual capacity of society begin to develop. Among these is the League of Journeyers to the East, which focuses on the contemplative elements of culture and introduces them into the glass bead game.
The history and development of the game is an interesting one. Like any great idea, the game itself has no real beginning, for it is foreshadowed in ancient philosophies that range from Pythagoras’s mathematical theorems to the ideas of harmony and peace of ancient Chinese thinkers. The present form of the game had developed in Castalia, a province of intellectual elites whose quest for wholeness and unity finds its highest expression in the game. The origins of the Castalian order and the establishment of the game had grown and evolved in reaction to the age of the feuilleton, where bourgeois writers discussed such mundane and superficial topics as the role of the lapdog in the lives of great courtesans.
At first the game is little more than a witty exercise for musicians and students interested in the intellectual commonalities of music and mathematics. Eventually, a musicologist named Lusor, or Joculator, Basiliensis invents a new language of symbols and formulas for the game, whose glass beads resemble an abacus, and reduces mathematics and music to a common denominator. The game becomes the essence of intellect and art, symbolizing the mystic union of literature, music, art, and mathematics.
An orphan named Joseph Knecht possesses a tremendous musical aptitude. After his teachers recognize his musical genius, they invite the Music Master to hear Knecht play. Although Knecht is nervous at the audition, the Master puts the child at ease by playing himself. During this moment, Knecht learns the harmony and unity that lies at the heart of all music.
After this audition, Knecht is invited to Eschholz, where he studies music with the hopes of being invited to one of thirteen advanced schools. At the age of seventeen, he goes off to Waldzell, the elite school where students study the glass bead game. There he meets Carlo Ferromonte, a gifted musician who encourages Knecht’s passion for music so fervently that Knecht does not attend to his other studies. Knecht also meets Plinio Designori at Waldzell. Unlike the other students, Designori is an outsider, a hospitant, a student from a wealthy family who is allowed to study as a guest. As an outsider, Designori recognizes the shortcomings of the Castalian order and begins a series of debates with Knecht about the order. Even though Designori’s questions are unsettling to Knecht, his own studies of the history of the order in preparation for these debates provide a deeper knowledge about the order’s structure and its vision for unity.
At the age of twenty-four, Knecht is allowed a period of free study, a privilege that is granted only to those pupils who demonstrate a firm grasp of the spiritual discipline...
(The entire section is 1249 words.)