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A brief overview of Hermann Hesse’s work

Hermann Hesse’s entire oeuvre has a folkish, and in addition, Swabian-tribal emphasis. He visualizes it more poetically than Thomas Mann: less in his verses than in his prose. Hesse is never a novelist, but a poetic narrator. At first, it seemed as if he was a lovable, neo-Romantic descendant of a noble, somewhat homely tradition, but since the first pseudonym was published after the Second World War – Demian – the true Hesse has revealed himself to be a creative nature of dangerous emotional and intellectual tension: intoxication and clarity, the Orient and the Occident together, in opposition to one another, and in connection with one another.

Radical individualist, hater of all uniformity in every field, as the “Steppenwolf” maliciously but also longingly circling around the enclosures of the bourgeoisie: that is one side – but the other side submits to the laws of high form, full of pleasure in the illustrious hierarchy of artistic ministers and virtuosos. He is, in the parable, a lust murderer and monk: full of dreamy, clairvoyant, Bacchanalian love mythology – at the same time fulfilled by the strict commandment of the Appolini. He strives for a poetry that is “a great, bold song of longing and life”: the hymnal price of friendship between men and spirit, a vision of the ice-cold, bright laughter of the gods about the madness of the earthly, ready also for the song drunken downfall of the “European man who wants to die”, as it is heard in Klingsor’s last summer .

He lastly conceived the phantasmagorical, occidental-wide-wide, intellectual-cult community of the “Glass Bead Players” in the most comprehensive and comprehensive works of superior and inaugurated age experience; yet The Glass Bead Game Hesse’s life dowry of an incessant tragic existence, previously banished by intellectual power, now extended to the realm of the musical, which appears in its glory and at the same time with the death germ of self-despair.

Humour sometimes mediates between the mutually exclusive spheres of intoxication and spirit. His humour is less ironic than Thomas Mann’s parody, and so he probably doesn’t speak so separately, but instead is more lifelike and warmer. Hesse belongs to the archetypal German narrative type, with his inclination towards youthful, youthful figures whose mental experience and suffering are in contact with the landscape and nature.

He gave the most dense design of his personal, but equally human polarity of Logos and Eros in Narcissus and Goldmund; his most original book, Der Steppenwolf, renews the romantic novel on a contemporary psychological level.

From: Knauers Geschichte der Weltliteratur, S.728-729

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