Thursday, December 26, 2013

Journey of a Seeker

by Hermann Hesse

“I have no right to call myself one who knows. I was one who seeks, and I still am, but I no longer seek in the stars or in books; I'm beginning to hear the teachings of my blood pulsing within me. My story isn't pleasant, it's not sweet and harmonious like the invented stories; it tastes of folly and bewilderment, of madness and dream, like the life of all people who no longer want to lie to themselves.”   ― Hermann Hesse, Demian

Herman Hesse writes in the Prologue to Demian, "Each man's life represents a road toward himself, an attempt at such a road, the intimation of a path."(p 2) Is there a reality apart from our "constructed self"? Rather is each man on the road? The story of Emil Sinclair and his relationship with Max Demian is Hesse's attempt to narrate one young man's journey on the road toward himself.

Demian presents a first person account of Sinclair's life recorded not long after World War I and centered on crucial episodes earlier in his life between the ages of ten and twenty. His memories of boyhood are dominated by his friendship with Max Demian, an older boy who rescues him from a bully and challenges him to exercise his own independent thought to liberate himself from his parents life of pietism. Upon going off to boarding school Emil adopts another mentor, a renegade theologian named Pistorius, and experiences platonic love for a young girl whom he glimpses in a park. At the university to which he matriculates he once again encounters Demian and continues his spiritual growth until Demian goes off to war. Emil's eventual spiritual independence occurs with his realization that he no longer needs external protectors like Demian.

Hesse draws upon Nietzsche, Jung and others for his ideas, but the story is almost an archetypal example of the search both for meaning and identity. The forming of an identity involves discovering values, forming beliefs, and learning how to deal with reality. It involves reconciling the two worlds of his life, the world of light represented by a home filled with order and Christian goodness, and the world of dark that exists in the streets of the town with the temptations of sex, violence and lust. It is only through his relationship with Demian that Emil is able to escape from the temptations of this life, at least for a time.
Emil is not satisfied with a life of quiet piety. Life for Emil thus includes his dream life. He tells a friend, "I live in my dreams--that's what you sense. Other people live in dreams, but not in their own. That's the difference." (p 118) 

The experiences of Emil are dramatic and result in a rejection of the convention life for one of a seeker. In his search Emil confronts his beliefs, dreams, and more. An epiphany occurs on one Spring day when he is attracted by a young woman in the park. He names her Beatrice and is soon transformed "into a worshiper in a temple." (p 81) He says,
"I had an ideal again, life was rich with intimations of mystery and a feeling of dawn that made me immune to all taunts. I had come home again to myself, even if only as the slave and servant of a cherished image."(p 81)
Thus the narrator describes what in Jungian terms is his "anima". This inspires him to create and to read as his journey takes him in a new direction. For Hesse and for the reader it is always a path on "a road toward himself".

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Brian Joseph said...

I love Hesse and I read and blogged about this one in November of 2012

Though still a worthy work, what I most remember about this is that it seemed to contain some ideas that were more developed in novels that Hesse wrote later.

Have you read anything else by Hesse?

James said...

I have read other Hesse novels. Steppenwolf is by far my favorite It is the only one, other than Demian, that I have read multiple times and thought about in depth.