1919, Books, Fiction

Demian (1919) by Hermann Hesse

This is the kind of book I’d have eaten up when I was in my early 20s, I think. It’s one of those novels of ideas, and the ideas are vague enough that one can project one’s own feelings on them. That’s one reason it would have appealed to me. Also, I was a young man struggling with what I thought / knew and what I wanted to be, like most young men. So I think I could see reading this 10+ years ago and thinking it was pretty decent. I liked Steppenwolf back then too. (And I wonder how I’d feel now.)

But I have no time for shit like this; I really don’t. This book may have connected to a feeling some people (mostly German) were feeling as WWI came to an end, but that doesn’t make that feeling particularly universal and it sure doesn’t make the wishy washy “philosophy” in this book hold up over time. This is the kind of weak spiritualism and willfully stupid belief in destiny that I not only cannot abide any more in art, but that I now view as politically dangerous. (I’ve read Nietzsche too, and I don’t get the things Hesse does from him.) If these ideas weren’t so vague – and if the “premonitions” weren’t so clearly written with the benefit of hindsight – maybe this would be less ridiculous, but the idea that there is a select few who are marked for special beliefs and who can interpret the “signs” is both patently ridiculous and dangerous. It has no basis in reality and it’s also the kind of idiotic ego-stroking that is the last thing young men actually need. (To grow up, I believe, young men need to learn their unimportance in the grand scheme of things, not the opposite.)

It’s kind of bizarre that this book is viewed as a “mature” work by Hesse. Maybe it’s because I’m so divorced from his time and place, but this to me feels like the yearnings of someone who hasn’t yet actually accepted reality for what it is – who is still fighting (pointlessly and fruitlessly) against the actual world.
Don’t bother.

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