Hermann Hesse Hesse, Hermann (Vol. 2)

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Hesse, Hermann (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hesse, Hermann 1877–1962

A Nobel Prize-winning, German-born Swiss author, Hesse was a novelist, essayist, and poet. Among his highly imaginative works, often influenced by Eastern religions, are Demian, Steppenwolf, Magister Ludi, and Siddhartha. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-18.)

In a sense—and my apology to those who might object to an intentional confusion of art forms—Hesse is a literary Wagner, pulling out all the stops, fully orchestrated, performing all the available instruments of his art, and even devising some new ones, to produce a highly imaginative, fulfilling work of art. His prose is cadenced with rich, ravishing melodies and the crescendo-like power of his dramas have a transcendental quality that is reminiscent of a Die Walkure or a Parsifal. True, like the grandiose musical titan, Richard Wagner, Hermann Hesse can be accused of Teutonic extravagance, but unlike the former, never for a moment is he guilty of that unforgivable sin called boredom. For both, art is sacred, but of the two, only Hesse realizes its function as a commodity for human consumption and mercifully serves it in digestible portions. Admittedly Hesse is frequently message-ridden and occasionally prone to deliver preachments, but never for a moment is he uninteresting. A tidal wave rarely is….

He exhibits an uncanny comprehension of man's interior states and portrays them with awesome power and unusual artistic insight; he charts youth's constant search for self-identity and meaningful self-expression with uncommon poignancy; he strips the animal man down to the raw naked skeleton of existence and sets him on a dramatically moving journey to seek flesh by solving the riddle of his life, the only one he has. Having read Hesse you may dismiss him, but forget him? Never….

What is he really saying? Practically everything not a few young people are saying about religion, the world, institutions, the need "to do one's thing" amidst conflicting loyalties and confusing options. In Hesse, as indeed today, there is an awareness of the impersonalism of existence, the impoverishment of a materialistic culture, the struggle to construct spiritual moorings, the failure of structures to cope with human problems and the concomitant failure of those in positions of power and prestige to provide human solutions. There's a happy absence of clichés and enervating bromides in Hesse. His works are candid, straightforward documents delineating man's perpetual combat to know himself and at the same time attempting to define his relationship to others, especially to the Other.

Richard J. Ford, "Hermann Hesse: Prophet of the Pot Generation," in Catholic World, October, 1970, pp. 15-19.

Why should good, clean kids living in a high middle-class suburban area—the ones who "have it made"—revolt, destroy a comfortable system, search for a different way of life?…

[Having] begun their readings with a pervading anger and disenchantment with the world, its disorder, its disappointments, our young people found Hesse's stories identifiable with their own situations and captured some optimism. Siddhartha reaches into the finer inner fiber of the thinking adolescent and affects the searching spirit who wants to know his world, himself, and himself in relation to all that is the world. Siddhartha explores and experiences that which life presents to him, ever changing, ever growing, ever reaching that fulfillment of one's self. He knows the despair and aloneness that the adolescent must suffer before recognition of self. The theme plays on the hope and imagination of young people; the strong identification with a hero who finds his way revitalizes their outlook of themselves.

The appeal in Narcissus and Goldmund is in the controversy between traditional, monastic intellectuality, and modernistic worldly intellectuality. The accumulated wisdom of the centuries is posed against the searching, sensitive, restless soul…. Narcissus is the exemplification of nobility,...

(The entire section is 4,072 words.)