(The Glass Bead Game)
Translated from the German Das Glasperlenspiel by Richard and Clard Winston with a Forword by Theodore Ziolkowski
By Theodore Ziolkowski THE GLASS BEAD GAME, Hermann Hesse's last major work, appeared in Switzerland in 1943. When Thomas Mann, then living in California, received the two volumes of that first edition, he was dumbfounded by the conspicuous parallels between Hesse's "Tentative Sketch of the Life of Magister Ludi Joseph Knecht" and the novel that he himself was writing, Doctor Faustus (1947). For all their differences in mood, style and theme, both works employ a similar fiction: a pleasant though somewhat pompous narrator recounts, with a sympathy matched only by his pedantry, the life of a man whom he loves and admires. Since in each case the narrator is incapable of fully comprehending the problematic genius of his biographical subject, an ironic tension is produced between the limited perspective of the narrator and the fuller vision that he unwittingly conveys to the reader. Both authors were obsessed, in addition, with the self-destructive course of modern civilization, and this concern pervades both novels. But Mann's view is more immediate. His narrator, Serenus Zeitblom, can see and hear the exploding bombs of World War Two as he writes, and the spectacular career of the composer Adrian Leverkühn parallels with ominous precision the history of Germany from the declining Empire through the shortlived brilliance of the Weimar Republic to the raging madness of National Socialism. In Hesse's novel, in contrast, that same period is described with the detachment of a narrator looking back at the "Age of the Feuilleton" from a vantage point in the distant future. Unlike Mann's Leverkühn, Hesse's Joseph Knecht succeeds in analyzing the dangers of an excessive aestheticism and acts to avert the catastrophe of intellectual irresponsibility. In both novels, finally, the authors slyly... [continues]
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