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DEMIAN: THE STORY OF EMIL SINCLAIR'S YOUTH

Introduction

A FULL DECADE has passed since I last shook Hermann Hesse's hand. Indeed the time seems even longer, so much has happened meanwhile -- so much has happened in the world of history and, even amid the stress and uproar of this convulsive age, so much has come from the uninterrupted industry of our own hand. The outer events, in particular the inevitable ruin of unhappy Germany, both of us foresaw and both lived to witness -- far removed from each other in space, so far that at times no communication was possible, yet always together, always in each other's thoughts. Our paths in general take clearly separate courses through the land of the spirit, at a formal distance one from the other. And yet in some sense the course is the same, in some sense we are indeed fellow pilgrims and brothers, or perhaps I should say, a shade less intimately, confreres; for I like to think of our relationship in the terms of the meeting between his Joseph Knecht and the Benedictine friar Jacobus in Glasperlenspiel which cannot take place without the "playful and prolonged ceremony of endless bowings like the salutations between two saints or princes of the church" -- a half ironic ceremonial, Chinese in character, which Knecht greatly enjoys and of which, he remarks, Magister Ludi Thomas von der Trave was also past master.

Alexander von Bernus (1880 – 1965) was a poet and alchemist. His first exposure to the literary and artistic public occurred when he was still a student. He became the publisher of the literary magazine "Die Freistatt", for which renowned authors wrote, who, at the turn of the century, had made the Munich district of Schwabing famous. Among them were, to name but the most well known, Karl Wolfskehl, Ricarda Huch, Else Lasker-Schüler, Frank Wedekind, Franz Blei, Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Scheerbart, Stefan Zweig, Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse, with whom von Bernus had friendly relationships over the years. Until 1926 he kept open for them Stift Neuburg, his country residence near Heidelberg, to serve as a meeting and working place over the summer months. Also among the frequent visitors were Stefan George and his circle.

Only 23 years old, he went public with his own literary works and met immediate success. His first volume of poetry "Aus Rauch und Raum" (roughly "Of Smoke and Space") was received positively by the public. Together with, among others, Will Vesper, Karl Wolfskehl, Rolf von Hoerschelmann, Karl Thylmann and Emil Preetorius, he ran his own little theatre from 1907 to 1912, the "Schwabinger Schattenspiele" (Schwabinger Shadowplay). In 1912 he met Rudolf Steiner and a close friendship developed between both of them until Steiner's death. From 1916 to 1920 he published the magazine "Das Reich" ("The Realm") for which Steiner was one of the most important contributors. Over the course of his life, Alexander von Bernus published over twenty volumes of poetry, he wrote novellas, shadowplays, theatre plays, mystery plays, prose texts, and an important work in the fields of alchemy and natural science: "Alchymie und Heilkunst" ("Alchemy and the Art of Healing").

Beside his literary work, von Bernus dedicated himself to research in alchemy and the natural sciences. In the year 1921 he founded his own alchemical-spagyrical laboratory, in which, in decades of concentrated work, he developed more than thirty healing substances. Bernus continued the ancient tradition of alchemy – which had more or less fallen into discontinuity after Paracelsus – in a practical way, hence returning to the natural sciences their spiritual dimension. With the very effective healing substances, which where the results of his work, he proved to the 20th century that there is more to alchemy than superstitions from the middle-ages

Alexander von Bernus' life and work tell of a rich personality, and a combination of many talents. He was both, a withdrawn, and in his spiritual beliefs often lonely poet and researcher and a public figure. He was a member of the PEN and of the Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung (Academy of Language and Poetry), and he was always in contact with other creative thinkers of his time. Bernus entered three marriages, the last of which, with Isa von Bernus, née Oberländer, was to bring the fulfilment he had been looking for. Both of them lived and worked together for 35 years until Alexander von Bernus' death in 1965.

-- Biographical Sketch of Alexander von Bernus, by bernus.de

Thus it is only natural that our names should be mentioned together from time to time, and even when this happens in the strangest of ways it is agreeable to us. A well-known elderly composer in Munich, obstinately German and bitterly angry, in a recent letter to America called us both, Hesse and me, "wretches" because we do not believe that we Germans are the highest and noblest of peoples, "a canary among a flock of sparrows."

CANARY - can denote either a joyful emotion or on the negative side a gossip situation.
SPARROW - denotes a gentle nature of an intellectual person
-- Animals, Birds, Insects and Reptiles and Their Meanings, by greatdreams.com, by Joe Mason


On the left inner wing of The Temptations of St. Anthony the following birds, among others, appear as expressions of human moods of soul:

Sparrow (Passer domesticus) Soul mood of the simple man
Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) Mood of those whose mouth is always full of Christianity and the Cross, but who avoid the inner content of these words.
Heron (Ardea cinerea)
 
Mood of the person who is thinking of his death as something that is inevitable, also symbol of death.
Ibis (Ibis religiosa) Sacred mood of soul
Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

 
The bird of Satan, in the Ahrimanic sense. For mood of soul it is a picture of intellectual rigidity that will only admit materialistic thoughts.
Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio)
 
The bird of death. It does not appear on the right inner wing, but on all the other wings.
Mocking bird (cassicus cristatus). This was a new phenomenon for Bosch as it had only just been brought from South America in his time.


 
This appears on the right inner wing to denote self-mockery, and is the main motif for the mood of St. Anthony. In the purgatory scene on the right inner wing of The Hortus Deliciarum [ii] it is standing as the "mocker within man" on the mill-stone that is grinding the thoughts inside the man's head.

-- The Pictorial Language of Hieronymus Bosch, by Clement A. Wertheim Aymes


The positioning of a monument to Spinoza at his place of birth on the Zwanenburgwal in Amsterdam is a tribute to his philosophical views, the influence of which on Western thinking is invaluable.

The sculpture is a triad: a platform, an icosahedron, and a statue of the philosopher form an inseparable whole. The platform is playfully modeled after the laws of Newton, who, coming after Galileo and Keppler, described how the planets form an elliptical arc around the earth, like Spinoza wanted to encompass and describe the spiritual universe in his Ethics.

The bronze figure of the philosopher is wrapped in a cloak that bears symbols which refer to his ideas on tolerance, freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and which simultaneously form a link with today’s multicultural society (for Spinoza was also a son of immigrants). The cloak is decorated with sparrows, ring-necked parakeets and roses, lying on its folds in relief. The ring-necked parakeet, which a few years ago chose the Vondel Park as its biotope, has proved to be hardy: it has adapted to the climate, eats what is available and now circulates throughout the entire city. The sparrow, our most archetypical bird, is having a difficult time, however – not that the species is in danger of dying out, but its former ubiquitousness is no more. And finally, the rose. Engraved in Spinoza’s signet ring was a rose wreathed with the word CAUTE (caution). The rose, universal metaphor for beauty, also has thorns (‘spinoza’ literally means ‘thorn’).

The philosopher’s thinking is represented by an icosahedron, a mathematical globular form comprised of twenty identical triangular planes, twelve angular points, and thirty edges, made of polished granite: a reference to his profession of lens grinder.

The statue stands on an ovular platform of terrazzo. Its spiraling shape once again emphasizes the essence of things: after all, every plant and flower branches off in a regular spiral, as does our DNA. Carved into the side of the platform is the philosopher’s name and the citation The purpose of the state is freedom, a statement which makes Spinoza, who was born 376 years ago at this spot, forever contemporary.

 "Benedict Spinoza: Philosopher, Mystic, Rosicrucian, by Gary L. Stewart

The simile itself is peculiarly weak and fatuous quite apart from the ignorance, the incorrigible arrogance which it expresses and which one would think had brought misery enough to this ill-fated people. For my own part, I accept with resignation this verdict of the "German soul." Very likely in my own country I was nothing but a gray sparrow of the intellect among a flock of emotional Harz songsters, and so in 1933 they were heartily glad to be rid of me, though today they make a great show of being deeply injured because I do not return. But Hesse? What ignorance, what lack of culture, to banish this nightingale (for, true enough, he is no middle-class canary) from its German grove, this lyric poet whom Moerike would have embraced with emotion, who has produced from our language images of purest and most delicate form, who created from it songs and aphorisms of the most profound artistic insight -- to call him a "wretch" who betrays his German heritage simply because he holds the idea separate from the form which so often debases it, because he tells the people from whom he sprang the truth which the most dreadful experiences still cannot make them understand, and because the misdeeds committed by this race in its self-absorption stirred his conscience.

If today, when national individualism lies dying, when no single problem can any longer be solved from a purely national point of view, when everything connected with the "fatherland" has become stifling provincialism and no spirit that does not represent the European tradition as a whole any longer merits consideration, if today the genuinely national, the specifically popular, still has any value at all -- and a picturesque value may it retain -- then certainly the essential thing is, as always, not vociferous opinion but actual accomplishment. In Germany especially, those who were least content with things German were always the truest Germans. And who could fail to see that the educational labors alone of Hesse the man of letters -- here I am leaving the creative writer completely out of account -- the devoted universality of his activities as editor and collector, have a specifically German quality? The concept of "world literature," originated by Goethe, is most natural and native to him. One of his works, which has in fact appeared in America, "published in the public interest by authority of the Alien Property Custodian, 1945," bears just this title: "Library of World Literature"; and is proof of vast and enthusiastic reading, of especial familiarity with the temples of Eastern wisdom, and of a noble humanistic intimacy with the "most ancient and holy testimonials of the human spirit." Special studies of his are the essays on Francis of Assisi and on Boccaccio dated 1904, and his three papers on Dostoevski which he called Blick ins Chaos (Glance into Chaos). Editions of medieval stories, of novelle and tales by old Italian writers, Oriental fairy tales, Songs of the German Poets, new editions of Jean Paul, Novalis, and other German romantics bear his name. They represent labor, veneration, selection, editing, reissuing and the writing of informed prefaces -- enough to fill the life of many an erudite man of letters. With Hesse it is mere superabundance of love (and energy!), an active hobby in addition to his personal, most extraordinarily personal, work -- work which for the many levels of, thought it touches and its concern with the problems of the world and the self is without peer among his contemporaries.

Moreover, even as a poet he likes the role of editor and archivist, the game of masquerade behind the guise of one who "brings to light" other people's papers. The greatest example of this is the sublime work of his old age, Glasperlenspiel, drawn from all sources of human culture, both East and West, with its subtitle "Attempt at a Description of the Life of Magister Ludi Thomas Knecht, Together with Knecht's Posthumous Writings, Edited by Hermann Hesse." In reading it I very strongly felt (as I wrote to him at that time) how much the element of parody, the fiction and persiflage of a biography based upon learned conjectures, in short the verbal playfulness, help keep within limits this late work, with its dangerously advanced intellectuality, and contribute to its dramatic effectiveness.

German? Well, if that's the question, this late work together with all the earlier work is indeed German, German to an almost impossible degree, German in its blunt refusal to try to please the world, a refusal that in the end will be neutralized, whatever the old man may do, by world fame: for the simple reason that this is Germanic in the old, happy, free, and intellectual sense to which the name of Germany owes its best repute, to which it owes the sympathy of mankind. This chaste and daring work, full of fantasy and at the same time highly intellectual, is full of tradition, loyalty, memory, secrecy -- without being in the least derivative. It raises the intimate and familiar to a new intellectual, yes, revolutionary level -- revolutionary in no direct political or social sense but rather in a psychic, poetical one: in genuine and honest fashion it is prophetic of the future, sensitive to the future. I do not know how else to describe the special, ambiguous, and unique charm it holds for me. It possesses the romantic timbre, the tenuousness, the complex, hypochondriacal humor of the German soul -- organically and personally bound up with elements of a very different and far less emotional nature, elements of European criticism and of psychoanalysis. The relationship of this Swabian writer of lyrics and idyls to the erotological "depth psychology" of Vienna, as for example it is expressed in Narziss und Goldmund, a poetic novel unique in its purity and fascination, is a spiritual paradox of the most appealing kind. It is no less remarkable and characteristic than this author's attraction to the Jewish genius of Prague, Franz Kafka, whom he early called an "uncrowned king of German prose," and to whom he paid critical tribute at every opportunity -- long before Kafka's name had become so fashionable in Paris and New York.

If he is "German," there is certainly nothing plain or homely about him. The electrifying influence exercised on a whole generation just after the First World War by Demian, from the pen of a certain mysterious Sinclair, is unforgettable. With uncanny accuracy this poetic work struck the nerve of the times and called forth grateful rapture from a whole youthful generation who believed that an interpreter of their innermost life had risen from their own midst -- whereas it was a man already forty-two years old who gave them what they sought. And need it be stated that, as an experimental novel, Steppenwolf is no less daring than Ulysses and The Counterfeiters?

For me his lifework, with its roots in native German romanticism, for all its occasional strange individualism, its now humorously petulant and now mystically yearning estrangement from the world and the times, belongs to the highest and purest spiritual aspirations and labors of our epoch. Of the literary generation to which I belong I early chose him, who has now attained the biblical age, as the one nearest and dearest to me and I have followed his growth with a sympathy that sprang as much from our differences as from our similarities. The latter, however, have sometimes astounded me. He has written things -- why should I not avow it? -- such as Badegast and indeed much in Glasperlenspiel, especially the great introduction, which I read and feel "as though 'twere part of me."

I also love Hesse the man, his cheerfully thoughtful, roguishly kind ways, the beautiful, deep look of his, alas, ailing eyes, whose blue illuminates the sharp-cut face of an old Swabian peasant. It was only fourteen years ago that I first came to know him intimately when, suffering from the first shock of losing my country, my house and my hearth, I was often with him in his beautiful house and garden in the Ticino. How I envied him in those days! -- not alone for his security in a free country, but most of all for the degree of hard-won spiritual freedom by which he surpassed me, for his philosophical detachment from all German politics. There was nothing more comforting, more healing in those confused days than his conversation.

For a decade and more I have been urging that his work be crowned with the Swedish world prize for literature. It would not have come too soon in his sixtieth year, and the choice of a naturalized Swiss citizen would have been a witty way out at a time when Hitler (on account of Ossietzky) had forbidden the acceptance of the prize to all Germans forevermore. But there is much appropriateness in the honor now, too, when the seventy-year-old author has himself crowned his already rich work with something sublime, his great novel of education. This prize carries around the world a name that hitherto has not received proper attention in all countries and it could not fail to enhance the renown of this name in America as well, to arouse the interest of publishers and public. It is a delight for me to write a sympathetic foreword of warm commendation to this American edition of Demian, the stirring prose-poem, written in his vigorous middle years. A small volume; but it is often books of small size that exert the greatest dynamic power -- take for example Werther, to which, in regard to its effectiveness in Germany, Demian bears a distant resemblance. The author must have had a very lively sense of the suprapersonal validity of his creation as is proved by the intentional ambiguity of the subtitle "The Story of a Youth" which may be taken to apply to a whole young generation as well as to an individual. This feeling is demonstrated too by the fact that it was this particular book which Hesse did not wish to have appear over his own name which was already known and typed. Instead he had the pseudonym Sinclair -- a name selected from the Holderlin circle -- printed on the jacket and for a long time carefully concealed his authorship.

Because Goethe's nature was complete, fully sure of itself, he could unhesitatingly absorb all alien things, create the concept of world literature, and entertain the belief that though the great literatures of the world spring from different roots, their branches rise into the lofty atmosphere which belongs to all, into the realm of space up to the very stars!

At this level the poet has indeed achieved fame. As soon as the magic word "fame" is uttered, it is time to look not only at things but through them!

A man whose fame is spread by foreigners, whom one plays off against his people and fatherland, or whom one esteems because he has denied his people and his fatherland and betrayed them in spirit, is a pathetic ghost, a Herostratus, a deception, not a man with a mission!

The fame of a poet must reflect as much on his people, country, and Reich as on himself. Otherwise he must reject it like a poisoned shirt! A German of our militant age achieves the most honorable fame when he steps forward as an accuser before the world, and lashes it for an outrage, an injustice, a fundamental criminal attitude, when he hurls a lightning-like, flaming thought into the stifling expanse around him, and when through the strength of his reasoning, the tone of truth, the force of the accusation, he compels the adversary to respond, against his will and in the agony of confessing his guilt....

The dying Chamberlain had this feeling: a novum has come into the world, and new too in the way in which it came. A book was written, not poetry in a low common sense, and yet a poem, a view of a new people in a new state! The man who wrote it is called Adolf Hitler! At last the stirring, noble Holderlin, who wandered through his Germany with the question "Will the books soon come to life?" has received an answer, an unhoped-for answer: Yes, the books live, and not only the books -- living men emerge and charge them with life! Here is the primordial and model image of the future German being! The spirit journeys forth before the deed as the morning wind goes before the sun! Before he embarks upon his work, the great statesman of the Germans is a kind of poet and thinker, his mind clarifies for itself how things ought to be in the world of things! A prose comes into being with a surging quality uniquely its own, a march-like step, with tensions and projections of that attitude which Nietzsche had in mind when he said: "I love him who hurls forth the great word of his deed, since he wills his fall!" But since the spirit of Hitler lives in Germany, one no longer seeks the tragic, ultimately sweet decline and fall, but the tough, day-bright, enduring upward thrust and drive. Neither the individual nor all are to go under....

Everything is possible in Germany, except the tragedy of the whole! To prevent this tragedy, as the curse of curses, is precisely the meaning of Being and hence of the meaning of poetry. Poetry and this direction of life are as one! The European mission of German poetry is one with the European mission of the German Reich. The Reich of the poets lies in the German world, and its shrine is in Weimar!

A new man has emerged from the depth of the people. He has forged new theses and set forth new Tables and he has created a new people, and raised it up from the same depths out of which the great poems rise -- from the mothers, from blood and soil.

-- Intellectuals Must Belong to the People, by Hermann Burte


MUCH wit has been spent in defining the difference between man and beast, but the distinction between man and man seems to me to be even more important, preparing the way, as it does, for the recognition of a fact of greater significance. The moment a man awakens to a consciousness of freely creative power, he crosses a definite boundary and breaks the spell which showed how closely, in spite of all his talent and all his achievements, he was related even in mind to other living creatures. Through art a new element, a new form of existence, enters into the cosmos.

In expressing this as my conviction, I put myself on the same footing as some of Germany's greatest sons. This view of the importance of art corresponds, too, if I am not mistaken, to a specific tendency of the German mind; at any rate so clear and precise a formulation of this thought, as we find in Lessing and Winckelmann, Schiller and Goethe, Holderlin, Jean Paul and Novalis, in Beethoven and Richard Wagner, would hardly be met with among the other members of the related Indo-Teutonic group.

-- The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, by Houston Stewart Chamberlain


 The Draft continues: "Why should our spirit not take upon itself torment and restlessness for the sake of sanctification? But all this will come over you, for I already hear the steps of those who bear the keys to open the gates of the depths. The valleys and mountains that resound with the noise of battles, the lamentation arising from innumerable inhabited sites is the omen of what is to come. My visions are truth for I have beheld what is to come. But you are not supposed to believe me, because otherwise you will stray from your path, the right one, that leads you safely to your suffering that I have seen ahead. May no faith mislead you, accept your utmost unbelief, it guides you on your way. Accept your betrayal and infidelity, your arrogance and your better knowledge, and you will reach the safe and secure route that leads you to your lowest; and what you do to your lowest, you will do to the anointed. Do not forget this: Nothing of the law of love is abrogated, but much has been added to it. Cursed unto himself is he who kills the one capable of love in himself, for the horde of the dead who died for the sake of love is immeasurable, and the mightiest among these dead is Christ the lord. Holding these dead in reverence is wisdom. Purgatory awaits those who murder the one in themselves who is capable of love. You will lament and rave against the impossibility of uniting the lowest in you with the law of those who love. I say to you: Just as Christ subjugated the nature of the physical to the spirit under the law of the word of the father, the nature of the spirit shall be subjugated to the physical under the law of Christ's completed work of salvation through love. You are afraid of the danger; but know that where God is nearest, the danger is greatest. How can you recognize the anointed one without any danger? Will one ever acquire a precious stone with a copper coin? The lowest in you is what endangers you. Fear and doubt guard the gates of your way. The lowest in you is the unforeseeable for you cannot see it. Thus shape and behold it. You will thus open the floodgates of chaos. The sun arises from the darkest, dampest, and coldest. The unknowing people of this time only see the one; they never see the other approaching them. But if the one exists, so does the other" (pp. 409-10). Jung here implicitly cites the opening lines of Friedrich Holderlin's "Patmos," which was one of his favorite poems: "Near is / the God, and hard to grasp. / But where danger is, / salvation also grows." Jung discussed this in Transformations and Symbols of the Libido (1912, CW B, §651f ).

-- The Red Book: Liber Novus, by C.G. Jung


The soul mood of the bourgeois Philistine works especially strongly against the sound development of the basic personality. A Philistine is the opposite of a human being, who finds his satisfactions in the free expression of his native capacities. The Philistine will grant validity to this expression only to the extent that it adapts to a certain average of human ability. As long as the Philistine remains within his boundaries, no objection is to be made against him. The one who wants to remain an average human being will have to settle this with himself. Among his contemporaries Nietzsche found those who wanted to make their narrow-minded soul mood the normal soul mood of all men; who regarded their narrow-mindedness as the only true humanity. Among these he counted David Friedrich Strauss, the aesthete, Friedrich Theodore Vischer, and others. He thinks Vischer, in a lecture which the latter held in memory of Holderlin, set aside this Philistine faith without conquering it. He sees this in these words: “He, (Holderlin) was one of those unarmed souls, he was the Werther of Greece, hopelessly in love; it was a life full of softness and yearning, but also strength and content was in his willing, and greatness, fullness, and life in his style, which reminds one here and there of Aeschylus. However, his spirit had too little hardness: it lacked humor as a weapon; he could not tolerate it that one was not a barbarian if one was a Philistine.”

-- Friedrich Nietzsche, Fighter for Freedom, by Rudolf Steiner


Sinclair had belonged to a secret society in Jena called "The Black Brothers."

-- Friedrich Holderlin, by Wikipedia

I wrote at that time to his publisher, who was also mine, S. Fischer in Berlin, and urgently asked him for particulars about this striking book and who "Sinclair" might be. The old man lied loyally: he had received the manuscript from Switzerland through a third person. Nevertheless, the truth slowly became known, partly through critical analysis of the style, but also through indiscretions. The tenth edition, however, was the first to bear Hesse's name.

Toward the end of the book (the time is 1914) Demian says to his friend Sinclair: "There will be war.... But you will see, Sinclair, that this is just the beginning. Perhaps it will become a great war, a very great war. But even that is just the beginning. The new is beginning and for those who cling to the old the new will be horrible. What will you do?"

The right answer would be: "Assist the new without sacrificing the old." The best servitors of the new -- Hesse is an example -- may be those who know and love the old and carry it over into the new.

THOMAS MANN April, 1947

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