Hermann Hesse
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: About Josh, HiLo Heroes, Literature, Radium Age SF, Utopia

In the Sixties and Seventies, American countercultural types embraced certain novels — Siddhartha (1922), Steppenwolf (1927), Narcissus and Goldmund (1930), Journey to the East (1932) — by the German-born Swiss author HERMANN HESSE (1877-1962). The Magic Theatre in San Francisco, not to mention the prog/hard rock bands Yes, Kansas, Hawkwind, and Steppenwolf, paid tribute to Hesse’s shamanistic proto-existentialism; that is, to his obsession with the individual’s noble, alienating quest for “authenticity.” Post-Seventies, we’ve learned to think of Hesse as a Salinger-esque author of quatsch coming-of-age romances beloved by adolescents and adultescents. In fact, Hesse was a psychonaut who roamed far and wide in his travels and studies; an experimentalist (Steppenwolf is a Cubist fiction); a friend of Dadaist Hugo Ball; and the author of a terrific philosophical novel for which all his others were preliminary studies. Written during the 1930s, The Glass Bead Game (1943, aka Magister Ludi) is a Radium Age science fiction that imagines a 25th-century community (Castalia) whose members are dedicated to studying all Eastern and Western arts and scholarship — in order to dialectically synthesize them in a complex game. In the end, Hesse’s protagonist, Knecht, who has become the Magister Ludi, decides that this realization of the utopian Argonaut Folly for which Nietzsche pleads in Human, All Too Human is an ambiguous utopia, and quits it. So much for synthesis!



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Joshua Glenn is a cultural and brand semiotician, and co-principal of the agency SEMIOVOX LLC. He is editor and publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age sci-fi paperback imprint HILOBOOKS. He is author of (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY (2008) and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY (2011); and he is co-editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY (2007) and SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (2012). With Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Tony Leone, Josh produced the popular family activities guides UNBORED (2012), UNBORED GAMES (2014), and UNBORED ADVENTURE (2015), not to mention two UNBORED activity kits from MindWare. In the ’00s, Josh was an editor and columnist for the BOSTON GLOBE's IDEAS section; in the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT. He was born and raised in Boston, where he lives with his wife and sons.