Das Glasperlenspiel


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Inre Lives— life compositions— Hesse wrote...

These were, then, not a purely voluntary and unofficial, not to say secret and more or less illicit kind of literary activity, such as his poems written at Waldzell had been, but a normal and official assignment. Far back in the earliest days of the Pedagogic Province the custom had arisen of requiring the younger students, those who had not yet been admitted to the Order, to compose from time to time a special kind of essay or stylistic exercise which was called a "Life." It was to be a fictitious autobiography set in any period of the past the writer chose. The student's assignment was to transpose himself back to the surroundings, culture, and intellectual climate of any earlier era and to imagine himself living a suitable life in that period. Depending on the times and the fashion, imperial Rome, seventeenth-century France, or fifteenth-century Italy might be the period most favored, or Periclean Athens or Austria in the time of Mozart. Among language specialists it had become the custom to compose their imaginary biographies in the language of the country and the style of the period in which they were best versed. Thus there had been highly ingenious Lives written in the style of the Papal Curia at Rome around the year 1200, in monastic Latin, in the Italian of the "Cento Novelle Antiche," in the French of Montaigne, and the baroque German of Martin Opitz.

A remnant of the ancient Asian doctrine of reincarnation and the transmigration of souls survived in this playful, highly flexible form. All teachers and students were familiar with the concept that their present existence might have been preceded by others, in other bodies, at other times, under other conditions. To be sure they did not believe this in any strict sense; there was no element of dogma in the idea. Rather, it was an exercise, a game for the imaginative faculties, to conceive of oneself in different conditions and surroundings. In writing such Lives students made a stab at a cautious penetration of past cultures, times, and countries, just as they did in many seminars on stylistics, and in the Glass Bead Game as well. They learned to regard their own persons as masks, as the transitory garb of an entelechy. The custom of writing such Lives had its charm, and a good many solid benefits as well, or it probably would not have endured for so long.

Incidentally, there was a rather considerable number of students who not only more or less believed in the idea of reincarnation, but also in the truth of their own fictional Lives. Thus the majority of these imaginary pre-existences were not merely stylistic exercises and historical studies, but also creations of wishful thinking and exalted self-portraits. The authors cast themselves as the characters they longed to become. They portrayed their dream and their ideal. Furthermore, from the pedagogic point of view the Lives were not a bad idea at all. They provided a legitimate channel for the creative urge youth. Although serious, creative literary work had been frowned on for generations, and replaced partly by scholarship, partly by the Glass Bead Game, youth's artistic impulse had not been crushed. In these Lives, which were often elaborated into small novels, it found a permissible means of expression. What is more, while writing these Lives some of the authors took their first steps into the land of self-knowledge.

Incidentally, the students frenquently used their Lives for critical and revolutionary outbursts on the contemporary world and on Castalia. The teachers usually regarded such sallies with understanding benevolence. In addition, these Lives were extremely revealing to the teachers during those periods in which the students enjoyed maximum freedom and were subject to no close supervision. The compositions often provided astonishingly clear insight into the intellectual and moral state of the authors.

14. Februar 2010 aktualisiert, von Ailanto.