Wednesday, July 25, 2012



In my previous posting I had mentioned that  “Duality as a subject has given rise to great works of literature. It has been man’s never ending quest to come to terms with the various forces working within him. It is the realisation that without darkness, there is no true appreciation of light”. In this posting I intend to explore the recurring theme of duality that characterises the works of Hermann Hesse, one of the greatest German novelists of the twentieth century

Long ago I read Hermann Hesse’s ‘Narziss and Goldmund’ and to this present day it still remains one of my favourite novels. In fact I love all of Hesse’s works. Throughout all his works one can sense his attempts at bringing about a balance between the two opposing forces of asceticism and the world, so that we reach a better understanding of the world and on towards self realization. In fact one senses that life is incomplete without experiencing both the states. Like in ‘Narziss and Goldmund’, the theme of duality is dealt with in ‘Siddhartha’ and ‘Demian’ effectively, one of disillusionment and the other of Order verses Chaos.

Siddhartha leaves home full of hope; asceticism fails him, so he turns to the Buddha. The Buddha fails him, so he turns to worldly life. That fails too, so he becomes a ferryman. The river flows on. Siddhartha ends on a powerful note, Hesse says that there is no ultimate success or failure; Life is like the river, its attraction is the fact that it never stops flowing.

The conclusions arrived at in ‘Demian are clear. It is question of self realization. It is not enough to accept a concept of order and live by it; that is cowardice, and such cowardice cannot result in freedom. Chaos must be faced. Real order must be preceded by a descent in to chaos. This is Hesse’s conclusion. Those who refuse to discriminate might as well be dead.

In ‘Narziss and Goldmund, Narziss is the structured and stable priest, an individualist and Goldmund is an artist and wanderer, of a passionate and zealous disposition. The book highlights the harmonizing relationship of the two characters. Narziss retires from the world into a patterned order of prayer and philosophy while Goldmund quits the monastery and to plunge into a sea of blood and lust always chasing artistic perfection. The book ends with the death of Goldmund with Narziss holding him in his arms. Golmund leaves behind the sculptures that he had been commissioned to make by Narziss for the monastery. Looking at the statues Narziss realises that Golmund without being aware of it had discovered the image of the permanent and spiritual.

In this novel and so with his other novels one is able to discern the strong influence of Nietzsche’s theory of the Apollonian and the Dionysian which he explored in his first major work ‘The Birth of Tragedy’, where he declares that Greek Tragedy achieved greatness through a fusion of Apollonian restraint and control with the Dionysian components of passion and the irrational.

In the ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ Nietzsche says “the continuous development of art is bound up with the Apollonian and Dionysian duality: just as procreation depends on the duality of the sexes, involving perpetual strife with only periodically intervening reconciliations.”

I have only spoken of Hermann Hesse here because he has always been foremost in my mind whenever I think of all the forces that we are subjected to while leading our lives and our attempts at bringing about a harmony amongst them. It is in ‘Steppenwolf’ that he brings out the multi-dimensional nature of the human being. The hero Harry Haller believes that two opposing forces, a man and a wolf, are in constant conflict within him. While he wants to live as a wolf free of all social norms, he lives as a bourgeois bachelor, which isolates him from others. The other character is Hermine, a socialite, an ideal foil to the isolated bachelor. The climax of the book culminates in the Magic Theatre where Harry is seen to murder Hermine. But whether the murder actually takes place is a puzzle.

I guess one would be reminded of an earlier work by Robert Louis Stevenson ‘Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde’ while reading ‘Steppenwolf’, where the split between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde can be said to represent the civilized and the animalistic version of the same person.

Of course the greatest of Hesse’s works is ‘The Glass Bead Game’ which I feel is beyond the scope of this posting, a book of great intellectual and epic proportions, which ultimately won him the Nobel Prize for literature in 1946.

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