The Glass Bead Game (Magister Ludi) by Herman Hesse.

Set in the future around 25 AD this allegory is told from an historian’s perspective. It focuses on the 23rd Century and the main character is Joseph Knecht. Set in Castalia, the story is revealed through documents written by Knecht’s contemporaries. Further insight is gained through poems and short stories written by Knecht. Castalia is isolated from day to day worries and is populated by intellectuals that spend their days thinking in its purest form. This culminates in the Glass Bead Game. This is coded and combines maths, music, philosophy, science and art. A large abacus is used to make patterns using glass beads. These patterns are created through associations of thought and are a visual expression of intricately interwoven conceptual theory. The dilemma posed is do we lead an impoverished proletariats life of labour, while others play the Glass Bead Game and dabble in transcendent pursuits? Or do we expect those pursuing erudite ideals to assist those who are struggling? Hesse is an author on the edge of the void and this novel is another search for salvation. Written in 1943 it is juxtaposed to the real historical terror of Nazi Germany and totalitarianism; Hesse was attempting to “liberate the German spirit from its perversion under the Nazis”. The current times call for the crisis of Hesse and his painful exploration of aberrant thought and the negation of reason and knowledge. Knecht’s withdrawal from Castalia to a more humble pursuit of helping a friend’s son, finds him at one with the world “Everything was new again, mysterious, promising: all that had been would recur, and many new things as well.” Seeking truth and avoiding illusions of truth is as uncannily pertinent now as when Hesse first wrote this manuscript.

Leave a Reply