Wednesday, December 28, 2011

stencil #035 - hermann hesse

Hermann Hesse (with Jung close by) outside Allsorts Books in High St Northcote
1. Compulsion to flee

My inherent desire for separation (from the herd, from false communion) is stirring. Incomplete disentanglements and partings won’t do. I’m tempted but terrified by the thought of walking away completely. Regardless, I lack the actual courage to flee. My attempts at flight are condemned to remain imaginary dress rehearsals. How dull.
In the metropolis where Anselm was a teacher and had a high academic reputation, he went about behaving exactly like other people of the world . . . he was serious or genial as the occasion demanded . . . But . . . He suddenly felt as if many years had slipped past and left him standing strangely alone and unsatisfied with a way of life for which he had always longed. It was no real happiness to be a professor, it was not really gratifying to be respectfully greeted by citizens and students, it was all stale and commonplace. (Hermann Hesse, Iris, 1918)
Like Anselm, my mask suggests I’m always where I want to be. The truth is, I’m really always checking to make sure there’s an exit route.

I suspect I’m beginning to undergo individuation, defined by Jung as the process by which a person becomes a psychological individual, a separate indivisible unity or whole, recognising his/her innermost uniqueness . . . becoming one’s own self or self-realisation . . . distinguished from ego-centredness and individualism (Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion Vol. 2).

This process of psychological maturity, through a confrontation between the conscious and unconscious aspects of the self, is considered to be natural, but not everyone responds to its call. After all, as Emil Sinclair perceptively asserts:
nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself. (Hermann Hesse, Demian, 1919)
On the other hand, the process of individuation may also be provoked by a (significant) change in one’s circumstances, a (profound) personal crisis or a (strong) desire to change direction. Having experienced all three lately, it’s probable that my desire for flight is really a call to a confrontation with the self. I’m no longer willing to simply identify with my persona.

According to Jung, the process, though painful, is meant to have a profound healing effect, leading to harmony through deeper self-awareness and greater acceptance of the self. But I’m sceptical that the quest-to-know leads anywhere other than a return to disenchantment and illusion. The ideas about the self inherent in Clarice Lispector’s work (influenced and inspired by Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf) are much more convincing: identity is an irreconcilable paradox; there is no recourse but to abandon the quest-to-know and return to the paralysing, false security of conventional wisdoms, structures and codes of conduct.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t find the work of Hermann Hesse deeply satisfying. Hero to the tormented and disenchanted, his Jungian-influenced writing deals with the difficulties put in the way of the individual in his/her effort to build up an integrated, harmonious self. On a conscious level, I’m prone to utopian notions of unitypermitted, at least, in fictioneven if at a deeper level I subscribe more to the idea of the fractured and fragmented nature of reality.

I haven’t yet read Hesse’s last novel, The Glass Bead Game 1943, nor have I been inclined towards his work that deals specifically with quests-for-enlightenment/the mysticism of Eastern thought: Journey to the East 1932, Narcissus and Goldman 1930 and Siddhartha 1922. Starting instead with Steppenwolf 1927, I’ve worked my way backwards through Hesse’s work, moving on to Demian 1919 (his classic story of Jungian individuation), Klingsor's Last Summer 1920, Knulp 1915 and then on to his earliest work which I have responded to most: Rosshalde 1914, Gertrud 1910 and The Prodigy 1906 (probably because they deal with pre-individuated selves).

In Rosshalde, Hesse movingly conveys Johann Veraguth’s struggle for personal fulfilment. Veraguth is wealthy and successful in his work as an artist but has failed to confront his sense of alienation and unhappiness. Having allowed his consciousness to regress into a state of unknowing, Veraguth remains unindividuated and as a result is tormented by self-hatred and filled with hostility:
It was strange and sad, but no more strange and sad than all human destiny: this disciplined artist, who derived his power to work from the deepest truthfulness and from clear uncompromising concentrations, this same man in whose studio there was no place for whim or uncertainty, had been a dilettante in his life, a failure in his search for happiness, and he, who never sent a bungled drawing or painting out into the world, suffered deeply under the dark weight of innumerable bungled days and years, bungled attempts at love and life.
Of this he was not conscious. For years he had not felt the need to see his life clearly. (Chapter Eight)
A visit from an old friend from abroad stirs up buried emotions. Veraguth's sense of despair deepens and the call to individuation is sounded:
. . . his friend’s visit had shaken him up. Since then the lonely man had lived with a foreboding of danger and impending fate, of struggles and trials in which all his art and industry could not save him. In his damaged humanity he sensed a storm was in the offing and that he lacked the roots and inner strength to withstand it. (Chapter Eight)
Stifled by his unhappy marriage but devoted to his youngest son and his beautiful country estate, Veraguth must confront the painful truth of his inherent need for separation before he can be free to explore possibilities for self-realisation. Responding to the call of individuation, he emerges with the courage to leave his family and his home to travel to India to discover himself anew:
. . . he looked back over the short summer and discovered something that had been unknown to him only yesterday. Recalling the days of two or three months past, he found himself transformed; today he found clarity and a feeling of certainty as to the road ahead, where only a short time ago there had been only darkness and perplexity . . . Now it became clear to him that his journey could not possibly lead him back here, that there was nothing more for him to do here than take his leave, perhaps with a bleeding heart but no matter. His life was flowing again, driving resolutely towards freedom and the future. Though still unaware of it, he had inwardly renounced and cut himself off from the town and countryside, from Rosshalde and his wife. (Chapter Thirteen)
Hermann Hesse’s Rosshalde (like Grozdana Olujic’s I Vote for Love) ends with the bittersweet but thrilling promise of adventure and possibility of fulfilment for its hero: 
[Veraguth] breathed deeply the moist, bitter-scented air of the park [at Rosshalde] and at every step it seemed to him that he was pushing away the past . . . His probing and his insight were without resignation; full of defiance and venturesome passion, he looked forward to the new life, which, he was resolved, would no longer be a groping or dim-sighted wandering but rather a bold, steep climb . . . (Chapter Eighteen)
But, for me, for now, it's vicarious flight into others’ battles with their subconscious through the remarkable work of Hermann Hesseuntil I can rouse my own consciousness out of retreat, confront my own need for departure and book myself on the next flight (to Caracas).

1 comment:

AllSorts Books said...

Deeply honoured to be stencilled.
Arrived at the bookshop this morning to be welcomerd by Herman Hesse - a writer who has done a lot for the secondhand book trade!