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Sunday, January 06, 2013

Hesse and Spengler

Now, I could be completely off-base here, but in reading the following passage, I was left with the very distinct impression that reading Spengler very likely inspired, in some way, Hermann Hesse's creation of the magnificent Glass Bead Game.

"Who amongst them realizes that between the Differential Calculus and the dynastic principle of politics in the age of Louis XIV, between the Classical city-state and the Euclidean geometry, between the space-perspective of Western oil-painting and the conquest of space by railroad, telephone and long-range weapon, between contrapuntal music and credit economics, there are deep uniformities? Yet, viewed from this morphological standpoint, even the humdrum facts of politics assume a symbolic and even a metaphysical character, and — what has perhaps been impossible hitherto — things such as the Egyptian administrative system, the Classical coinage, analytical geometry, the cheque, the Suez Canal, the book-printing of the Chinese, the Prussian Army, and the Roman road-engineering can, as symbols, be made uniformly understandable and appreciable.

"But at once the fact presents itself that as yet there exists no theory-enlightened art of historical treatment. What passes as such draws its methods almost exclusively from the domain of that science which alone has completely disciplined the methods of cognition, viz., physics,and thus we imagine ourselves to be carrying on historical research when we are really following out objective connexions of cause and effect....

"Nature is the shape in which the man of higher Cultures synthesizes and interprets the immediate impressions of his senses. History is that from which his imagination seeks comprehension of the living existence of the world in relation to his own life, which he thereby invests with a deeper reality. Whether he is capable of creating these shapes, which of them it is that dominates his waking consciousness, is a primordial problem of all human existence."

I should be very interested to learn if Hesse ever happened to read Spengler prior to his writing Das Glaspernspiel.

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37 Comments:

Blogger Titus Quinctius Cincinnatus January 06, 2013 1:03 PM  

My take on the Glass Bead Game was that it was Hesse's way of revolting against the "strictures" of pre-Romanticism western culture.

Anonymous aero January 06, 2013 1:44 PM  

Been there done that

Anonymous zen0 January 06, 2013 2:02 PM  

Link

The first phase of his writing, which began with the neoromantic treatment of the artist as a social outcast, ended with the realistic Rosshalde (1914; Eng. trans., 1970). At the beginning of World War I, the strain of his pacifist beliefs and domestic crises led him to undertake psychoanalysis with a follower of Carl Gustav Jung. Jungian psychology gave his work a new dimension; Demian (1919; Eng. trans., 1923), Siddhartha (1922; Eng. trans., 1951), and Steppenwolf (1927; Eng. trans., 1929) also reveal the influence of Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Spengler, and Buddhist mysticism. These novels are based on the conviction that Western civilization is doomed and that man must express himself in order to find his own nature. A third phase began in 1930. Narziss und Goldmund (1930; trans. as Death and the Lover, 1932) balances the artist's rebellion against the hierarchic continuity of social behavior. In Journey to the East (1932; Eng. trans., 1956) and The Glass Bead Game (1943; Eng. trans., 1957) the quest for freedom conflicts with tradition and leads to personal sacrifice suffused with optimism.

Anonymous Mr. Toad January 06, 2013 2:18 PM  

Go to this book in Google books. The Facts on File Companion to the World Novel: 1900 to the Present

and seek out page 311

Blogger Rantor January 06, 2013 2:19 PM  

Also mentioned in google books, Herman Hesse:Life and Art.

In college I read Kafka, Brecht, Boll, Mann and Durenmatt in my. German lit course, didn't get into Hesse, the summary of Glasperlenspiel sounds interesting. Another book to read, we'll I'll be in Stuttgart t next week.

Anonymous Aeoli Pera January 06, 2013 2:38 PM  

Finally, a writer more indirect than Steve Sailer! That's what I need in my life.

If I didn't already understand the idea this schmuck was trying to communicate, this mystical bullshit would have been completely lost on me. So...deduction is one thing, and induction is another thing, and we use both to understand the world. Or is that too plebian? Reading Mises must have spoiled me.

I'm having flashbacks to the Thomas Friedman column generator.

P.S.

Are you eventually going to tell us what this experiment was for?

Anonymous Aeoli Pera January 06, 2013 2:53 PM  

Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of coffee and Fred Reed just posted a new column. Life is pretty good today.

Anonymous The other skeptic January 06, 2013 3:07 PM  

Congrats for another mention.

Blogger Markku January 06, 2013 3:28 PM  

Are you eventually going to tell us what this experiment was for?

The quotes seem to be unrelated to each other, which is the reason it doesn't make any coherent sense. It's just that they have a striking resemblance to the Glass Bead Game. Now, don't ask me what the book is about; I've read it and I still couldn't explain it to you. But it looks as if Hesse had picked up on these ideas by Spengler and turned them into a futuristic novel.

Anonymous Aeoli Pera January 06, 2013 3:36 PM  

Thanks for answering that question, Markku.

I've read it and I still couldn't explain it to you.

I haven't read it either, but then one mystic is like any other. Funny how everything looks the same when your head's in the clouds.

Blogger Markku January 06, 2013 3:51 PM  

I haven't read it either, but then one mystic is like any other. Funny how everything looks the same when your head's in the clouds.

It seems to me like the main point of the book is, in fact, how academia can become completely divorced from reality, and how detrimental that is to a nation. Most other books would make this point in a grotesquely cartoonish way, of course.

Blogger Franklin K. January 06, 2013 3:53 PM  

You might be interested in the blog and writings of Spengler and Tolkien fan John J. Reilly. His website, johnreilly.info, disappeared when he passed away last year, but it's all been archived. I especially recommend Spengler's Future: a simple computer program he wrote to align Western, Roman, Qin/Han Chinese and New Kingdom Egypt through their Civilizational phases.
http://web.archive.org/web/20110608004334/http://www.johnreilly.info/
http://web.archive.org/web/20101205165807/http://johnreilly.info/cont.htm

Anonymous Aeoli Pera January 06, 2013 4:32 PM  

Now I'm interested in it. See what you've done?

Blogger David of One January 06, 2013 4:55 PM  

Fascinating ... predominately this an area for which I am not versed ...

http://web.archive.org/web/20110607235804/http://www.johnreilly.info/secrel.htm

For example, from the above link ...

Spengler and Toynbee both assert that the world of late civilization becomes resacralized, not because the critical intelligence is repressed or underfunded, but because it refutes itself. We can empathize with this: postmodernism, someone said, is not a philosophy, but a “bag of tricks.” (5) To the metahistorians, that is the fate of every great philosophical tradition. It becomes a canon, an armory of techniques, which no longer makes strong claims to truth. According to Toynbee, this is what happens then:

“If we pass to our examination of the complementary movements in which the philosophers of the dominant minority make their approach towards the religions of the internal proletariat, we shall find that on this side the processes begins earlier, besides going farther. It begins in the first generation after the breakdown; and it passes from curiosity through devoutness into superstition.” (6)

Then Hocking is cited, part of which caught my attention ...

"Hocking was keen to link the basis of science with the basis of religion. He tells us that the experience of the Thou, of a rational Other, is the foundation of science, and is identical to the intuition of the existence of God. Hocking allows for a supernatural only in the sense that not all real questions are scientific questions. For instance, the will to futurity is supernatural: what the world should be like in the future is not a question science can answer." ...

"In any case, what Hocking was trying to do was to end inter-religious controversy, and for that he employs a form of existentialism. Start with this premise: the sense of sin is not an artificial guilt created by an external command, but a direct participation in the divine nature. This creedless experience of God is always immediate: at this deep level, there are no disciples at second hand. When Hocking talks about religious unity in the world civilization, he was not predicting a new revelation. He advocated that the existing great religious traditions accept that they are united at their summits, where creed becomes wordless experience. (Again, if you are familiar with René Guénon or Frithjof Schuon, none of this will sound new. (11)) Hocking did argue that Christianity would play the central role in integrating the world's great faiths in the coming era, because the problems of modernity are Christian problems, with which Christianity is learning to deal."

Thanks for the diversion and the opportunity to learn.

Dave

Anonymous Church Lady January 06, 2013 5:38 PM  

@ David of One

He advocated that the existing great religious traditions accept that they are united at their summits, where creed becomes wordless experience.

Lets see, where might he have gotten that idea from? Maybe....SAATAAAN?

Anonymous hardscrabble farmer January 06, 2013 6:22 PM  

It would seem highly unlikely that Hesse was unaware of Spengler considering the mimicry of Spengler's ideas through his career, i.e. Narcissus and Goldman as the clerical/aristocracy of high culture, Imperium and technics of Culture in the Glass Bead Game, etc.

However...

If any of what Spengler wrote in TDOTW was indeed true, it would have been impossible for both men to be unaware of what the other was thinking (and in reflecting those truths via their works) because they were both products of an awakened Culture in full flower and were simply producing the fruit regardless of whether either man had ever heard of the other.

Just sayin'.

Anonymous Johnny Caustic January 06, 2013 6:28 PM  

It seems to me like the main point of the book is, in fact, how academia can become completely divorced from reality, and how detrimental that is to a nation.

Although it's not about academia per se, Paul Johnson's underrated Intellectuals is one of the best books of this genre. Highly recommended to all the ilk. Johnson studies the lives of some of the most influential Western thinkers, and shows how much their realities contradicted their abstract thoughts. (Only George Orwell comes out looking somewhat virtuous.)

Finally, a writer more indirect than Steve Sailer! That's what I need in my life.

Then you should check out Mencius Moldbug's blog.

Blogger David of One January 06, 2013 6:37 PM  

@Church Lady

I had immediately recognized it for the secular version of Kumbaya regarding the "great" religions. I think most, if not all, of the Brethren recognize it for what it is.

I did not think that the shrill finger of the religious stereotype would so quickly assert itself towards any discourse in this forum and to the continuing impediment of non-believers.

Discussions regarding intellectual pursuits should not be thought of as to ascribing to the ideas of their authors. In the past or now.

Anonymous Sensei January 06, 2013 7:21 PM  

Vox, I am adding The Glass Bead Game to my 2013 reading list, did you read an English translation and if so which one? There seem to be two or three different versions in English.

Or would you recommend just going straight to the source and reading Spengler instead?

Anonymous scoobius dubious January 06, 2013 7:41 PM  

"because the problems of modernity are Christian problems"

Meh, not really. At bottom, the problems of modernity are (or were) the problems, aesthetically, culturally, politically, psychologically, of the Machine Age.

Modernity as a style of consciousness (and that's what it is) merely reflects the Machine Age style of design, or perhaps we should say the imperative of design, in the way that form follows function, as they say. Post-modernism, likewise, is most easily understood as a reflection of the post-Machine Age (which is to say, the digital age, the fungibility-of-all-Information Age.)

These problems most greatly affect Christianity (and vice versa) primarily because Western Christian civilization arrived there first; but it's also true that, of the great world-religious traditions, Christianity is the most profoundly human, the most profoundly accurate, and has the best-calibrated understanding of the interrelation between the human and the divine, so it isn't surprising that Machine Age understanding of design would cause the greatest crisis to the most delicate structure. (The Chinese, by way of contrast, can bluster, force, and murder their way through the Machine Age, then just belch loudly and ask what's for dinner.)

"but then one mystic is like any other."

Not so. At least not in the cynical sense in which the observation is offered. (Which is to say, in the interest of reversing the polarities of the premise: one true mystic is inevitably like another because the truth, being true, is always the same.) Well, we could quite naturally say this ("they're all alike") about persons who _claim_ to be mystics, or like to wear that mantle for whatever reason; but then again of course real mystics never make such claims, and avoid mantles whenever possible. They are simply people who for whatever reason can see clearly, and their way of talking about it is perforce unclear to those who don't see clearly. The Way that can be spoken of, is not the real Way.



Anonymous Sensei January 06, 2013 8:00 PM  

The Chinese, by way of contrast, can bluster, force, and murder their way through the Machine Age, then just belch loudly and ask what's for dinner. -sd

Do not confuse a race of people nor their cultural tendencies with the actions of their government; the Chinese have done a lot more dying than murdering in the modern age.

Anonymous Daniel January 06, 2013 8:13 PM  

Glass Bead Game: I've only read the Winstons version. Recommended.

Anonymous scoobius dubious January 06, 2013 8:16 PM  

"the Chinese have done a lot more dying than murdering in the modern age."

True, but it wasn't my point. I wasn't aiming a kick at the Chinese, I was making a point about human cultures and their comparative relation to forces which could arguably be called non-human.

And besides, I wasn't thinking only of the Chi-coms and their government. The place has a rather long history, as you surely know, and with which I am suitably conversant.

Anonymous zen0 January 06, 2013 8:48 PM  

@ hardscrabble farmer

because they were both products of an awakened Culture in full flower and were simply producing the fruit regardless of whether either man had ever heard of the other.

Two hippies walk into a bar.....

But seriously, you are correct.

What does it say below the threads at this place?

Success comes most swiftly and completely not to the greatest or perhaps even to the ablest men, but to those whose gifts are most completely in harmony with the taste of their times.

Anonymous zen0 January 06, 2013 9:11 PM  

@ scoobius dubious

The Way that can be spoken of, is not the real Way.

Now that you have spoken of it, how can it still be the Way?

Anonymous Sensei January 06, 2013 9:30 PM  

Glass Bead Game: I've only read the Winstons version. Recommended. -D
Ok, thanks.

And besides, I wasn't thinking only of the Chi-coms and their government. The place has a rather long history, as you surely know, and with which I am suitably conversant. -sd

I am somewhat conversant in the wider scope of Chinese history as well, but given that you said "...their way through the Machine Age" I assumed you were referring to that portion of their history and was responding in kind.

Blogger Log January 06, 2013 9:54 PM  

Without a unifying narrative, history is just brute facts and as such is meaningless. What's new here?

Anonymous Daniel January 06, 2013 11:52 PM  

No Log. Read the final paragraph. The bit about the primordial problem. It isn't that history demands a unifying narrative to be purposeful. It is that each man of a sufficient capacity may be incapable of forming a narrative that indeed connects him to its deeper realities. The Glass Bead Game provides a means for making such connections, but Spengler pre-emptively suggests that should the Game be a lie, or should the player be of the sort who reduces the Game to incorrect summaries, it doesn't matter: he is at an impasse, whether or not he realizes it.

This impasse, in fact, is the final refuge of many: the man who dismisses all mystics need only dismiss another mystic to satisfy his intellectual curiosity and call it definitive - but also the man who chases mystics through every veil. Both sorts of thinkers get themselves unknowingly stuck in the satisfaction of having created false shapes of history, without ever coming to the resolution of wisdom.

But that's a lot of words to explain a view that needs little explanation around here. This notion has much more eloquently and succinctly been put with the aid of four letters: MPAI.

Even the brightest among us are incapable of overcoming his own idiocy, of testing the truth of his "shapes" by which he captures history and understands the deeper realities.

Most -likely all - are entirely dependent on the whim or mercy of Whatever or Whomever Lies Beyond, if anyThing or anyOne, in fact, does.

Anonymous Emperor of Icecream January 07, 2013 12:20 AM  

The late John Reilly, who was a Spengler authority extraordinaire, took it as a given that the Glass Bead Game was inspired by Spengler's works.

Blogger Norman House January 07, 2013 1:39 AM  

Man, do I miss John Reilly. I was his subscriber and occasional correspondent for over a decade, and I have felt no loss outside my own kin so deeply.

As for Hesse, I think Glassperlenspiel is more or less a fictionalization of one possible future post-Untergang des Abendlands. I can think of no better description of today's "reality-TV" anticulture than Hesse's Age of the Feuilliton.

Anonymous Jack Amok January 07, 2013 3:58 AM  

I especially recommend Spengler's Future: a simple computer program he wrote to align...

I took a brief look. Can't say I saw much alignment in particular. Momentous years in Roman history lined up with mundane ones in Western history and vice versa. I do very much believe in cyclical history - human nature drives the cycle and we are as we ever were - but I see no significant insight in the output of this computer program.

Not to speak ill of the dead of course. Just his code...

Anonymous scoobius dubious January 07, 2013 3:59 AM  

zen0: "Now that you have spoken of it, how can it still be the Way?"

Heh. You realize that that joke is over two thousand years old; it's the first one coming out of the gate, always, so no points for cleverness or originality; that joke was being made when the fellow who wrote the book was still alive. And yet, for some unknown reason, people kept on reading the book, and copying it, and publishing it, and commenting on it.

You might even say that that joke is itself a part of the Way. Who knows, for some, it may even be the first step out the door. Let's hope they don't lose heart and go back inside.

Blogger Dex Banner January 07, 2013 5:20 AM  

The "fiscal cliff" legislation passed this week included $76 billion in ... Hesse and Spengler

Anonymous Emperor of Icecream January 07, 2013 8:46 AM  

"Can't say I saw much alignment in particular. Momentous years in Roman history lined up with mundane ones in Western history and vice versa."

Year to year alignments would be inexplicably precise. *If* Spengler is partly right, you would expect alignments on the century scale.

But "Spengler's Future" is not to be taken extremely seriously, according to the author. He meant it more as a vehicle to explain a simplified version of Spengler's ideas and as a future history on which to hang science fiction stories.

Anonymous Holla January 07, 2013 12:07 PM  

John's site was one of the truly unique and compelling destinations on the internet. When he passed, I felt like I'd lost a brother.

RIP

Anonymous Jack Amok January 07, 2013 9:25 PM  

Year to year alignments would be inexplicably precise. *If* Spengler is partly right, you would expect alignments on the century scale.

Of course, but I'm not the one who was trying to line them up that precisely.

Anonymous Emperor of Icecream January 08, 2013 8:58 AM  

Neither was Reilly. I just explained to you what he was up to. Next time read the comment you are responding to before you respond to it.

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