Herman Hesse is a German-born Swiss novelist, poet and painter. He was known for his winning works: Steppenwolf, Siddharta, Demian and The Glass Bead Game in which each of them focus on the scrutiny of individual’s search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality.
As a tribute for the late Nobel laureate, I have collected notable quotes from Hesse’s best-known novels that will surely awaken your inner sense.
Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf addresses division within the self and society, and the effects such divisions can have on an individual, such as loneliness, self-mutilation, and possible suicide. As to what I have researched, probably this novel depicts Hesse’s depression and suicidal state during his youth.
I have read a lot of quotes on Steppenwolf but so far these were the ones that really appealed to me.
“There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside of them for reality and never allow the world within to assert it.”
“For what I always hated and detested and cursed above all things was this contentment, this healthiness and comfort, this carefully preserved optimism of the middle classes, this fat and prosperous brood of mediocrity.”
“When I have neither pleasure nor pain and have been breathing for a while the lukewarm insipid air of these so called good and tolerable days, I feel so bad in my childish soul that I smash my moldering lyre of thanksgiving in the face of the slumbering god of contentment and would rather feel the very devil burn in me than this warmth of a well-heated room. A wild longing for strong emotions and sensations seethes in me, a rage against this toneless, flat, normal and sterile life. I have a mad impulse to smash something, a warehouse, perhaps, or a cathedral, or myself, to commit outrages, to pull off the wigs of a few revered idols…”
“Most men will not swim before they are able to.” Is that not witty? Naturally, they won’t swim! They are born for the solid earth, not for the water. And naturally they won’t think. They are made for life, not for thought. Yes, and he who thinks, what’s more, he who makes thought his business, he may go far in it, but he has bartered the solid earth for the water all the same, and one day he will drown.”
“There are always a few such people who demand the utmost of life and yet cannot come to terms with its stupidity and crudeness.”
Hesse was also known for his notable novel, Siddhartha that deals with the spiritual journey of self- discovery of a man named Siddharta, the title itself during the time of the Gautama Buddha. It is said that for you to be able to understand this novel, you have to be aware of the process of synthesis, a mental process of reconciling dualities of opposing elements. Hesse became aware of this process of unifying opposites during his period of psychoanalysis under Dr. Joseph Bernhard Lang and Lang’s mentor, Dr. Carl Gustav Jung. We can see this process at work in his psychoanalytic and post-psychoanalytic literature (including Siddhartha and Steppenwolf, and also probably Demian), in which the theme of self-quest by resolving chaotic polar opposites appears. Here are my chosen quotes on the said piece.
“When someone seeks,” said Siddhartha, “then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”
“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”
“It may be important to great thinkers to examine the world, to explain and despise it. But I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect.”
“So she thoroughly taught him that one cannot take pleasure without giving pleasure, and that every gesture, every caress, every touch, every glance, every last bit of the body has its secret, which brings happiness to the person who knows how to wake it. She taught him that after a celebration of love the lovers should not part without admiring each other, without being conquered or having conquered, so that neither is bleak or glutted or has the bad feeling of being used or misused.”
“I have had to experience so much stupidity, so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow, just in order to become a child again and begin anew. I had to experience despair; I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace.”
“Opinions mean nothing; they may be beautiful or ugly, clever or foolish, anyone can embrace or reject them.”
In 1916 to 1917 Hesse underwent treatment through psychoanalysis with Dr. Josef Lang, a disciple of Carl Jung. Through his contact with Lang and later, in 1921, from having psychoanalysis done by Jung, Hesse became very interested in Jungian analysis and interpretation. Demian is replete with both Jungian archetypes and Jungian symbolism. In addition, this psychoanalysis helped Hesse identify psychological problems which he had experienced in his youth, compromising internal tension caused by a conflict between his own carnal instincts and the strict moralism of his parents. These themes appear throughout Demian as semi-autobiographical reflections upon Hesse’s own exploration of Jungian philosophy. Check out the notable passages on it.
“The bird struggles out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must first destroy a world. The bird then flies to God. That God’s name is Abraxas”
“Fate and temperament are two words for one and the same concept.” That was clear to me now.
(By how Hesse expressed his thoughts through figurative language, you can clearly understand what he wanted to represent.)
“I have no objection to worshiping this God Jehovah, far from it. But I mean we ought to consider everything sacred, the entire world, not merely the artificially separated half! Thus alongside the divine service we should also have a service for the devil.”
“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”
And lastly, The Glass Bead Game, it is said that this novel was Hesse last and longest piece that he had ever written published in 1943. The title “Glass bead game” is the literal translation of the German title, but originally the book was published under the title “Magister Ludi”, Latin for “Master of the Game”. However, this title is misleading, as it directly implies that the book is a straightforward “bildungsroman” (the novel of formation, novel of education, or coming-of-age story). In reality, the novel is about two main dualities and dissecting them at their cores through intense self-analysis and binary oppositions, illustrated through two main settings: The Eastern philosophy versus the Western philosophy and the Worldy pleasures versus Asceticism.
Here are my personally-picked quotes from this novel:
“No permanence is ours; we are a wave that flows to fit whatever form it finds”
“There is truth, my boy. But the doctrine you desire, absolute, perfect dogma that alone provides wisdom, does not exist. Nor should you long for a perfect doctrine, my friend. Rather, you should long for the perfection of yourself. The deity is within you, not in ideas and books. Truth is lived, not taught.”
“Should we be mindful of dreams?” Joseph asked. “Can we interpret them?” The Master looked into his eyes and said tersely: “We should be mindful of everything, for we can interpret everything.”
“The old man slowly raised himself from the piano stool, fixed those cheerful blue eyes piercingly and at the same time with unimaginable friendliness upon him, and said: “Making music together is the best way for two people to become friends. There is none easier. That is a fine thing. I hope you and I shall remain friends. Perhaps you too will learn how to make fugues, Joseph.”
I think what Herman Heese wanted us to learn from his novels are: the importance of self- discovery, enlightenment of the reality, the spiritual belief, and also us, embracing the dualities.
Hesse wanted us to discover our inner self because as to what he had experienced, this was very essential. Reality is a horrible thing, we know that, but having the thought of being enlightened to it is a powerful armor to be used as shield in any hindrance. True to fact, Hesse also expressed his spiritual belief (In Demian and Siddharta, probably) in which he used symbolic characters to represent Jehovah, the Jewish God, and that his belief that it embodies only the one face of God, ruling over all the wholesomeness. Hesse believes that there must be dualities into it. If people served the God of wholesomeness, then they should also serve the contrary. Hence, both of these opposing forces should be considered as necessary.
I believe that in some aspects we should believe how Hesse views the world but on the other hand, we should also evaluate it with ourselves because I surely know we believe in the saying “To see is to believe”. Oh, let me rephrase that… To experience is to believe.