Magister Ludi (The Glass Bead Game) Hermann Hesse

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Magister Ludi

(The Glass Bead Game)

Hermann Hesse
Translated from the German

Das Glasperlenspiel

by Richard and Clard Winston

with a Forword by

Theodore Ziolkowski

Back Cover:
This is Hesse's last and greatest work, a triumph of imagination which won for him the Nobel Prize for Literature. Described as "sublime" by Thomas Mann, admired by André Gide and T. S. Eliot, this prophetic novel is a chronicle of the future about Castalia, an elitist group formed after the chaos of the 20th-century's wars. It is the key to a full understanding of Hesse's thought.

Something like chess but far more intricate, the game of Magister Ludi known as the Glass Bead Game is thought in its purest form, a synthesis through which philosophy, art, music and scientific law are appreciated simultaneously. The scholar-players are isolated within Castalia, an autonomous elite institution devoted wholly to the mind and the imagination. . .

"Part romance, part philosophical tract, part Utopian fantasy. Its theme is one that preoccupied Hesse earlier: the conflict between, and the need to synthesize, thought and action, intellect and the flesh. . . A fascinating novel, well translated at last."

-- Book-of-the-Month Club News

This low-priced Bantam Book

has been completely reset in a type face

designed for easy reading, and was printed

from new plates. It contains the complete

text of the original hard-cover edition.



recently published as THE GLASS BEAD GAME

A Bantam Book / published by arrangement with

Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.


Originally published in German under the title of

Das Glasperlenspiel, Copyright 1943 by

Fretz & Wasmuth Verlag AG Zürich

Holt edition published October 1969

Bantam edition / October 1970

2nd printing . . . October 1970 6th printing . . . December 1973

3rd printing . . . January 1972 7th printing . . . April 1974

4th printing . . . September 1972 8th printing . . . January 1976

5th printing . . . December 1972 9th printing . . . June 1976

10th printing . . . March 1978
All rights reserved.

English translation copyright © 1969 by

Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.

Foreword by Theodore Ziolkowski Copyright © 1969 by

Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.
This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by

mimeograph or any other means, without permission.

For information address: Holt. Rinehart and Winston, Inc.,

383 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017.

ISBN 0-553-11916-8
Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada

By Theodore Ziolkowski
The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse's last major work, appeared in Switzerland in 1943. When Thomas Mann, then living in California, received the two volumes of that first edition, he was dumbfounded by the conspicuous parallels between Hesse's "Tentative Sketch of the Life of Magister Ludi Joseph Knecht" and the novel that he himself was writing, Doctor Faustus (1947). For all their differences in mood, style and theme, both works employ a similar fiction: a pleasant though somewhat pompous narrator recounts, with a sympathy matched only by his pedantry, the life of a man whom he loves and admires. Since in each case the narrator is incapable of fully comprehending the problematic genius of his biographical subject, an ironic tension is produced between the limited perspective of the narrator and the fuller vision that he unwittingly conveys to the reader. Both authors were obsessed, in addition, with the self-destructive course of modern civilization, and this concern pervades both novels. But Mann's view is more immediate. His narrator, Serenus Zeitblom, can see and hear the exploding bombs of World War Two as he writes, and the spectacular career of the composer Adrian Leverkühn parallels with ominous precision the history of Germany from the declining Empire through the shortlived brilliance of the Weimar Republic to the raging madness of National Socialism. In Hesse's novel, in contrast, that same period is described with the detachment of a narrator looking back at the "Age of the Feuilleton" from a vantage point in the distant future. Unlike Mann's Leverkühn, Hesse's Joseph Knecht succeeds in analyzing the dangers of an excessive aestheticism and acts to avert the catastrophe of intellectual irresponsibility. In both novels, finally, the authors slyly weave their experience of our culture into a pastiche of hidden quotations and characters à clef.

Thomas Mann, immediately sensing that the serious theme of Hesse's novel was enclosed within "a cunning artistic joke," recognized the source of its humor in "the parody of biography and the grave scholarly attitude." But people won't dare to laugh, he wrote Hesse. "And you will be secretly annoyed at their dead-earnest respect." Hesse was pleased that his friend had put a finger on the comic aspect of the novel, but Mann's prediction was correct. In the quarter-century since its publication, The Glass Bead Game has enjoyed the adulation customarily awarded to literary "classics." Indeed, largely on its merits Hesse received in 1946 the Nobel Prize for which Mann, among others, had repeatedly nominated him. Hesse's opus magnum was one of the first works by a distinguished emigré to be published in Germany after the war, and it has been regularly reprinted there since 1946. The book was dutifully translated into English, Swedish, French, Spanish, Italian, and other languages. But the novel, whose title has supplied us with one of those imagistically suggestive catchwords for our age, like "the Waste Land" or "the Magic Mountain," has suffered the fate of many classics -- it is less frequently read than cited, more often studied than appreciated. In Germany many readers, blandly ignoring the implicit criticism in the novel, tended to see in Hesse's cultural province nothing but a welcome Utopian escape from the harsh postwar realities. More discerning European critics have usually been so preoccupied with the fashionably grave implications that they have neither laughed at its humor nor smiled at its ironies.

In part these one-sided readings are understandable, for the humor is often hidden in private jokes of the sort to which Hesse became increasingly partial in his later years. The games begin on the title-page, for the motto attributed to "Albertus Secundus" is actually fictitious. Hesse wrote the motto himself and had it translated into Latin by two former schoolmates, who are cited in Latin abbreviation as the editors: Franz Schall ("noise" or Clangor) and Feinhals ("slender neck" or Collo fino). The book is full of this "onomastic comedy" that appealed to Thomas Mann, also a master of the art. Thus Carlo Ferromonte is an italianized form of the name of the author's nephew, Karl Isenberg, who assisted Hesse with the music history that is interwoven with the history of the Glass Bead Game. The "inventor" of the Game, Bastian Perrot of Calw, gets his name from Heinrich Perrot, the owner of a machine shop where Hesse once worked for a year after he dropped out of school. The figure of Thomas von der Trave is a detailed and easily recognizable portrait of Thomas Mann, who was born in the town of Lübeck on the river Trave. In the person of Fritz Tegularius, Hesse has given us his interpretation of the brilliant but unbalanced character of Friedrich Nietzsche. And Tegularius' spiritual opponent in the novel, Father Jacobus, borrows some of his words and most of his ideas from Nietzsche's antagonist, the historian Jakob Burckhardt. The reader who fails to catch these sometimes obscure references is not only missing much of the fun of the book, he is also unaware of its implications in the realm of cultural history and criticism.

The reception of The Glass Bead Game in this country has been affected by other factors as well. The book has been available since 1949 under the misleading title Magister Ludi. But if it failed to make an impact, this was due equally to the translation by Mervyn Savill, which fails to bring out its irony, and to the fluctuations of Hesse's reputation in the United States. Although Hesse's stature was recognized in Europe (where he was praised by such admirers as Thomas Mann, André Gide, and T.S. Eliot) for some thirty years before he received the Nobel Prize, Time magazine noted in 1949 that his works were still virtually unknown here. His eightieth birthday, widely celebrated abroad, passed unnoticed in the United States in 1957. And when Hesse died in 1962, a New York Times obituary stated that he was "largely unapproachable" for American readers. This neglect is due in part to the introspective, lyrical quality of his novels, which depart radically from the more realistic tradition that dominated American fiction between the world wars. But another circumstance is probably more important in accounting for the lack of interest in his works for a good fifteen years after he received the Nobel Prize. Hesse's novels fictionalize the admonitions of an outsider who urges us to question accepted values, to rebel against the system, to challenge conventional "reality" in the light of higher ideals. For almost two decades after World War Two our society was characterized largely by the button-down-collar mentality of a silent generation whose goal it was to become a part of the establishment and to reap its benefits as rapidly as possible. Such ages have little use for critics of the system and prophets of the ideal.

But times have changed, and Hesse has suddenly become -- to use a current shibboleth -- relevant. But relevance resides in the mind of the perceiver, and the under-thirty generation that has embraced Hesse in the sixties as an underground classic is better known for its rebelliousness than for its sense of irony. As a result, the Hesse cult in the United States has revolved primarily around such painfully humorless works as Demian and Siddhartha, in which readers have discovered an anticipation of their infatuation with Eastern mysticism, pacifism, the search for personal values, and revolt against the establishment. Those who have gone on to Steppenwolf have greeted it as a psychedelic orgy of sex, drugs, and jazz, but have conveniently overlooked the ironic attitude through which those superficial effects are put back into perspective by the author. It was partly as a reaction against such self-indulgent interpretations, which he encountered as much as forty years ago, that Hesse undertook The Glass Bead Game.

What is the "Glass Bead Game"? In the idyllic poem "Hours in the Garden" (1936), which he wrote during the composition of his novel, Hesse speaks of "a game of thoughts called the Glass Bead Game" that he practiced while burning leaves in his garden. As the ashes filter down through the grate, he says, "I hear music and see men of the past and future. I see wise men and poets and scholars and artists harmoniously building the hundred-gated cathedral of Mind." These lines depict as personal experience that intellectual pastime that Hesse, in his novel, was to define as "the unio mystica of all separate members of the Universitas Litterarum" and that he bodied out symbolically in the form of an elaborate Game performed according to the strictest rules and with supreme virtuosity by the mandarins of his spiritual province. This is really all that we need to know. The Glass Bead Game is an act of mental synthesis through which the spiritual values of all ages are perceived as simultaneously present and vitally alive. It was with full artistic consciousness that Hesse described the Game in such a way as to make it seem vividly real within the novel and yet to defy any specific imitation in reality. The humorless readers who complained to Hesse that they had invented the Game before he put it into his novel -- Hesse actually received letters asserting this! -- completely missed the point. For the Game is of course purely a symbol of the human imagination and emphatically not a patentable "Monopoly" of the mind.

The Game, in turn, is the focal point and raison d'être of an entire province of the spirit called Castalia (from the Parnassian spring sacred to the Muses) and located in an unspecified future. (Hesse has indicated that he thought of his narrator as writing around the beginning of the twenty-fifth century.) But again Hesse makes it clear that he is not predicting a specific utopia but, rather, trying to represent the model of a reality that has actually existed from time to time in such orders as the Platonic academies or yoga schools. It is "a spiritual culture worth living in and serving," he explained to one correspondent. Castalia, in other words, represents any human institution devoted wholly and exclusively to affairs of the mind and imagination. As such, the spiritual province of the novel constitutes the goal of a search upon which Hesse had been embarked for many years. But this last novel is at the same time the document of an intense personal crisis, for it depicts not only the fulfillment of a long sought ideal, but also its ultimate rejection.

Hesse's literary career parallels the development of modern literature from a fin de siècle aestheticism through expressionism to a contemporary sense of human commitment. Born in the Black Forest town of Calw in 1877, Hesse in his youth reflected the neo-romanticism then prevalent among many writers of his generation in England, France, and Germany. The misty yearnings of his earliest stories and poems display the frank escapism of a young man who is not at all at home in the bourgeois reality of Wilhelmine Germany and who projects his dreams into a romantic kingdom that he locates, according to the title of one work, "An Hour beyond Midnight." But the success of his first major novel, Peter Camenzind (1904), reconciled the young writer, at least temporarily, with a world that was prepared to bestow upon him the material rewards of literary fame. From aestheticism he shifted to the melancholy realism that marked his next poems and stories as well as the novels Under the Wheel (1906), Gertrude (1910), and Rosshalde (1914). Putting aside his romantic longings, he assumed the role of a settled family man who advocated in his fictions a bittersweet doctrine of renunciation and compromise.

But the war brought a radical change. Hesse, who had been living in Switzerland since 1912, found that his outspoken pacifism alienated many of his former friends and readers, who succumbed to the wave of martial exhilaration sweeping over Europe in August of 1914. Meanwhile, family and marital difficulties shattered the illusion of a happy life that he had carefully sought to preserve for some ten years. A lengthy psychoanalytic treatment at the hands of a disciple of Jung in 1916 and 1917 completed his disillusionment with his present state and the process of psychic re-evaluation. Hesse came to the conclusion that he had been living a lie and denying the authentic impulses of his own being. In 1919 he moved to the village of Montagnola, near Lugano in southern Switzerland, where he lived in relative seclusion until his death in 1962. Here he wrote most of the major works for which he has subsequently become famous and in which he sought to discover a more mature ideal of the spirit to replace that "reality" with which he had become disenchanted.

In several essays that he wrote around 1920 -- most notably in pieces on Nietzsche and Dostoevsky -- Hesse argued that men must seek a new morality that, transcending the conventional dichotomy of good and evil, will embrace all extremes of life in one unified vision. A later essay, "A Bit of Theology" (1932), outlines the three-stage progression toward this goal. The child, he says, is born into a state of unity with all being. It is only when the child is taught about good and evil that he advances to a second level of individuation characterized by despair and alienation; for he has been made aware of laws and moral codes, but feels incapable of adhering to the arbitrary standards established by conventional religious or moral systems since they exclude so much of what seems perfectly natural. A few men -- like the hero of Siddhartha or those whom Hesse calls "the Immortals" in Steppenwolf -- manage to attain a third level of awareness where they are once again capable of accepting all being. But most men are condemned to live on the second level, sustained only by a sense of humor through which they neutralize oppressive reality and by an act of the imagination through which they share from time to time in the kingdom of the Immortals, the realm of spirit.

Hesse's novels trace this struggle in the lives of heroes set against backgrounds from different ages of civilization. In each case the triadic rhythm of development is the same; only the historical circumstances differ. In Demian (1919) the milieu is that of the student generation of the turbulent years immediately preceding World War I. The hero of Siddhartha (1922) progresses through the three stages in the classical India of Buddha. Steppenwolf (1927) ironically depicts the dilemma of a European intellectual confronted with the tawdry pop culture of the twenties, while the dual protagonists of Narcissus and Goldmund (1930) act out their individuation in the waning of the Middle Ages. In the thinly veiled symbolic autobiography of The Journey to the East (1932), finally, the hero joins a League of Journeyers to the East in a timeless present set sometime after "the Great War." Each novel postulates the possibility of a spiritual kingdom toward which the hero strives, whether he reaches it or not.

Castalia is clearly another attempt, this time projected into the future, to represent this same ideal: a symbolic realm where all spiritual values are kept alive and present, specifically through the practice of the Glass Bead Game. In this sense, then, the novel was originally envisaged as yet another variation in Hesse's continuing search for a spiritual dimension of life, for it depicts a future society in which the realm of Culture is set apart to pursue its goals in splendid isolation, unsullied by the "reality" that Hesse had grown to distrust.

The Glass Bead Game was a continuation and intensification in another sense as well. Hesse was aware of the fact that his earlier novels had employed the same basic pattern of individual development against different historical backgrounds. He now decided to incorporate this structural tendency into a single new novel. The idea that came to him, he wrote to a friend in 1945, was "reincarnation as a mode of expression for stability in the midst of flux." Long before he began writing, he remarks, he had in mind "an individual but supratemporal life. . . a man who experiences in a series of rebirths the grand epochs in the history of mankind." The novel, in other words, was to consist of a number of parallel lives, ranging through time, presumably, from the prehistoric past to the remote future. But the emphasis was to be distributed evenly among the parts. "The book is going to contain several biographies of the same man, who lives on earth at different times -- or at least thinks that he had such existences," he wrote to his sister in 1934. Around this time Hesse wrote and published separately three such biographies: one about a prehistoric rainmaker; one set in the Golden Age of India; and a third depicting an episode from the patristic period of the early Christian church. (A fourth life, set among the Pietists of eighteenth-century Swabia, occupied Hesse for almost a year, but was never published during his lifetime.)

As we now read the novel in its final form, of course, the arrangement of the parts is different. The biography of Joseph Knecht, which was to have been but the last in a long series of parallel lives, has grown to comprise the twelve central chapters of the book. The history of the Glass Bead Game and the organization of the cultural province are sketched in a lengthy introduction, and the three parallel lives, along with some poems, are added in an appendix as school exercises of young Knecht. Why this shift in plan, which seems to have taken place in the mid-thirties after parts of the book had already been written and published? At first it was simply a matter of expediency. Hesse found that he could best render "the inner reality of Castalia" through the figure of a dominating central figure. "And so Knecht stepped into the center of the narrative." In fact, in the first three chapters of his biography we get a far clearer idea of the Castalian ideal at its finest than in the narrator's more abstract introduction.

But Joseph Knecht ends by defecting from Castalia, a conclusion that was far from Hesse's mind when he first dreamed of this new version of the spiritual kingdom and when he wrote the first of the lives. At least two factors contributed to change Hesse's attitude toward the ideal which he had been striving to portray in so many works for almost twenty years. First, the sheer reality of contemporary events -- the disintegration of the Weimar Republic, the rise of Hitler, the horrors of Nazism -- opened Hesse's eyes to the failure of the intellectuals and convinced him of the futility of any spiritual realm divorced wholly from contemporary social reality. His ideal had to give way, he wrote, "under the pressures of the moment." This is the meaning that emerges clearly from young Knecht's debates with that emissary from the outside world, Plinio Designori, who argues that a life consecrated exclusively to the mind is not only unfruitful, but also dangerous. Fritz Tegularius, the brilliant scholar who is totally unfit for any position of responsibility in the order, is the living example of the excesses of an aestheticism cultivated in isolation from reality. Secondly, Hesse's growing uneasiness regarding an absolute spiritual kingdom was substantiated by his study of Burckhardt's writings. It is Burckhardt, in the person of Father Jacobus, who convinces Knecht-Hesse that even the most perfect spiritual institution, in the eyes of history, is a relative organism. In order to survive it must adapt itself to the social exigencies of the times. The central chapters of the biography, therefore, recapitulate in fictional form Hesse's own shift from his original belief in a haughty Nietzschean elitism to a more compassionate social consciousness -- shaped by Burckhardt's historicism. The ideological tensions between Knecht, Plinio, and Father Jacobus reflect on the level of character the areas of Culture, State, and Church, whose complex interrelationships Burckhardt investigated in his Observations on World History (a course of lectures delivered in 1870-1871 and posthumously published in 1905).

Seen in this light and put into the contemporary idiom, Knecht's life represents typologically the radicalization of the intellectual, who moves from the vita contemplativa not to the opposite extreme of the vita activa, but to an intermediate position of responsible action controlled by dispassionate reflection. It is essential to understand that Knecht's defection from Castalia, far from implying any repudiation of the spiritual ideal, simply calls for a new consciousness of the social responsibility of the intellectual. Knecht remains true to his name, which means "servant." Now his service takes on a fuller meaning. By quitting Castalia, Knecht fulfills two functions. He serves Castalia by warning it, through his example, to forsake its posture of arrogant and self-indulgent autonomy, which can lead ultimately only to its destruction. And he makes a commitment by putting spirit and intellect at the service of the world outside in the person of his pupil, the youth Tito. Knecht's death has been variously interpreted, and certainly that final scene has symbolic overtones that expand its dimensions. But Hesse made its basic meaning quite clear in a letter of 1947. "He leaves behind a Tito for whom this sacrificial death of a man vastly superior to him will remain forever an admonition and an example." The spiritual ideal, once attained, has now been put back into the service of life.

The Glass Bead Game, then, is indispensable for a complete understanding of Hesse's thought. It is possible to read Siddhartha as a self-centered pursuit of nirvana, but Joseph Knecht gives up his life out of a sense of commitment to a fellow human being. It is possible to see in Steppenwolf a heady glorification of hip or even hippie culture, but Joseph Knecht shows that the only true culture is that which responds to the social requirements of the times. The Glass Bead Game, finally, makes it clear that Hesse advocates thoughtful commitment over self-indulgent solipsism, responsible action over mindless revolt. For Joseph Knecht is no impetuous radical thrusting non-negotiable demands upon the institution and demanding amnesty from the consequences of his deeds. He attains through disciplined achievement the highest status in the Order and commits himself to action only after thoughtfully assessing its implications for Castalia and the consequences for himself. Above all -- for the novel is not a philosophical tract or a political pamphlet, but a work of art -- Hesse suggests that revolt need not be irrational and violent, that indeed it is more effective when it is rational and ironic. This is the value of the temporal distance, the double perspective vouchsafed by the fiction. In the Introduction, looking back at our own civilization from the vantage point of the future, we see it in all its glaring self-contradictions. At the same time, we look ahead to the Castalia of the future, where the problems of our age are displayed in a realistic abstraction that permits us to consider them rationally and dispassionately. Castalia has more than a little in common with the intellectual and cultural institutions of the sixties, to the extent that they have become autonomous empires cut off from the social needs of mankind and cultivating their own Glass Bead Games in glorious isolation. And Knecht's conviction that a State ruled without the tempering influence of Culture is doomed to brutishness reflects a prevalent contemporary concern: our computerized society has become so bureaucratically impersonal that it is no longer guided sufficiently by forces that are in the highest sense humane. The longer we consider Hesse's novel, the more clearly we realize that it is not a telescope focused on an imaginary future, but a mirror reflecting with disturbing sharpness a paradigm of present reality.

All of these considerations justify a new translation of Hesse's late masterpiece. Our society has caught up with his vision. And Richard and Clara Winston have produced a translation that is eminently usable for this age. I do not mean merely that their translation is "correct" in avoiding the many mistakes of the earlier English version. More important: they have succeeded in catching the sense and style of the book. They realize that with this last novel Hesse shifted his focus from the individual to the institution; hence they have not made the mistake of calling it Magister Ludi, which would suggest that it is simply another German Bildungsroman, a pretty fiction of personal development unrelated to the more general concerns of society. Instead, they have reinstated the title that Hesse gave to the original (Das Glasperlenspiel), which sums up in a word the glory and tragedy of culture in our time. By capturing the monkish tone of the narrator, who repeats himself with clerical pedantry, the translation opens up the irony of the work. For the Castalian self-obsession from which Knecht defects is nowhere more evident than in the smug complacency of the narrator in the Introduction and opening chapters. Ironically, as he learns to appreciate the meaning of Knecht's life by writing his biography, the narrator assumes a more humane and, in the finest sense, "spiritual" tone, thus vindicating Knecht's action.

Perhaps even the worst translation could not conceal the "message" of Hesse's novel. But only a subtle, sensitive one can render what Thomas Mann called "the parody of biography and the grave scholarly attitude." It is easy, too easy, to be sober and grave. That is in fact the most serious shortcoming of Hesse's most ardent admirers at present. This new translation of The Glass Bead Game offers the American reader the opportunity, as Thomas Mann suggested, to dare to laugh. If parody alone can adequately render the reality of our times, only irony offers us the freedom and detachment that are the essential condition of responsible analysis and action. This is the final aesthetic meaning of The Glass Bead Game.
May 1969


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