Sunday, June 12, 2016

Essays for Humanity

My Belief: Essays on Life and ArtMy Belief: Essays on Life and Art 
by Hermann Hesse

“Without words, without writing and without books there would be no history, there could be no concept of humanity.”   ― Hermann Hesse

There are those writers who spin tales and tell imaginary stories and there are those who document their lives. These essays fall into the latter category within the oeuvre of Hermann Hesse. Each is a delight whether of personal detail, literary criticism, philosophy, or meditation on the meaning of life. Hesse had to write and most often he had to write about himself. There is little that he wrote that is not confessional in aspect and therapeutic in function. These essays provide milestones and assessments of his life and reading. They are a joy to read and consider alongside his fiction and other writings.

Here is an especially moving excerpt from his essay "The Magic of the Book":

For every thinking person each verse of each poet will show a new and different face to the reader every few years, will awaken a different resonance in him.  When as a youth I read for the first time, only partially understanding it, Goethe's Elective Affinities, that was a completely different book from the Elective Affinities that I have now read perhaps for the fifth time!  The great and mysterious thing about this reading experience is this:  the more discriminatingly, the more sensitively, and the more associatively we learn to read, the more clearly we see every thought and every poem in its uniqueness, its individuality, in its precise limitations and see that all beauty, all charm depend on this individuality and uniqueness--at the same time we come to realize ever more clearly how all these hundred thousand voices of nations strive toward the same goals, call upon the same gods by different names, dream the same wishes, suffer the same sorrows.  Out of the thousandfold fabric of countless languages and books of several thousand years, in ecstatic instants there stares at the reader a marvelously noble and transcendent chimera:  the countenance of humanity, charmed into unity from a thousand contradictory features." (pp 161-62)

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Brian Joseph said...

I love Hermann Hesse but I have not read this. I really need to do so soon.

That is a great quote that you posted. The idea that there are universal human themes that are expressed in so many various various ways through art, in this case literature, is something we see in various works of his.

James said...


Thanks for your comment. Your keen observation is apt for a writer like Hesse. His thoughts resonate with readers like us.