Hesse, Hermann

Tagged: Author

(1877-1962) German-born author, in Switzerland 1880-1886, and from 1919 until his death; a Swiss citizen from 1923. His long career, which began in the mid-1890s, culminated with the publication of his last and largest novel and only work of direct sf interest, Das Glasperlenspiel [for subtitle see Checklist] (1943 2vols; trans M Savill as Magister Ludi 1949; preferred trans Richard and Clara Winston as The Glass Bead Game: (Magister Ludi) 1969 US); it was largely as a result of this novel that Hesse was awarded the 1946 Nobel Prize for Literature. Set in a future land closely resembling Europe, it is a complex Utopia whose structure revolves around the eponymous Game, and in that specific sense can be described as an example of ludic fiction (see Johan Huizinga). For the inhabitants of the community of Castilia, under the initially Godgame-like guidance of Joseph Knecht, their Magister Ludi (or Master of Games), the undescribed aesthetic and intellectual disciplines of the game climax in experiences that – by specific analogy with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) – serenely resolve the dissonances of the outside world. Knecht's biography constitutes the bulk of the novel; his poems and essays are published in a non-narrative appendix. Through these various texts, which are suffused with allusions to and renderings of the world-transcending subtleties and graces of the Castilian mind-plays, Knecht's life has a sometimes exalting effect on the reader, though Knecht himself must eventually repudiate the game for a more humane vision of utopia.

Hesse's great popularity in English translation in the 1960s and 1970s derives more directly, however, from earlier and more accessible works, like Demian: die Geschichte einer Jugend (1919; trans W J Strachan 1958 as Hesse) as by Emil Sinclair, Siddhartha: eine indische Dichtung (1922; trans Hilda Rosner 1954) and Der Steppenwolf (1927; trans Basil Creighton as Steppenwolf 1929; trans rev Walter Sorrell 1963), in which Jungian depth psychology, Indian mysticism and Weltschmerz are perhaps overpalatably combined; these and others of his novels can be read – unwisely – to emphasize any fantasy elements, for at their core they are meditations on transcendence. Strange News from Another Star and Other Tales (coll trans 1972), Pictor's Metamorphoses and Other Fantasies (coll trans Rika Lesser 1982) and The Complete Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse (coll ed and trans Jack Zipes 1995), together assemble from various sources much of his short work, mostly fantasy, though some parable-like sf venues are evoked, not unpalely. [JC]

see also: Arts.

Hermann Hesse

born Calw, Württenberg, Germany: 2 July 1877

died Montagnola, Switzerland: 9 August 1962

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