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Herman Hesse: Outside Man (weeklystandard.com)
94 points by the-enemy 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 16 comments





I've discovered Hermann Hesse comparatively late in my life, given that many of his novels are seen as "coming of age" topics. Still I can recommend them to anyone with an open mind or willing to open their mind or change perspectives. For instance if you are into eastern thinking there's the famous "Siddharta".

One of my personal favourites is "Narcissus and Goldmund", which sketches the relationship between two young men who represent an "artistic" and a "scientific" way of thinking and life.


Siddhartha is an amazing story, at least for me. So much wisdom if it comes at the right time in your life.

“His goal attracts him, because he doesn’t let anything enter his soul which might oppose the goal. This is what Siddhartha has learned among the Samanas. This is what fools call magic and of which they think it would be effected by means of the daemons. Nothing is effected by daemons, there are no daemons. Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goals, if he is able to think, if he is able to wait, if he is able to fast.”



This has stood with me for a long time. Now, it's back, thanks to your comment:

Everyone gives what he has. The soldier gives strength, the merchant goods, the teacher instructions, the farmer rice, the fisherman fish.

Very well and what can you give? What have you learned that you can give (the merchant asks of Siddhartha)

I can think, I can wait, I can fast.


I must admit I was a bit disappointed with Siddharta. Obviously the ideas in it are deep and very interesting but as a novel it doesn't really have much to hold it together.

Seems like being raised in, and rejecting, a pietist environment can result in some fantastic literature and philosophy. Hesse was raised in a pietist household and smoked cigarettes to protest. Kant was brought up the same and wrote "Critique of Pure Reason".

I don't necessarily regard Hesse's work as necessarily being directed towards a 'coming of age' readership; but, I discovered him at a time when I was struggling with my own "private battles of adolescence" and am grateful in finding his work.


I, too, am lucky to have found him a few years ago in my late teens. It feels like I’ve just been in an internal existential crisis these past few years and his words always keep me grounded. Along with Rilke’s and Camus’s.

"Beneath the wheel" (Unterm Rad) is a good read if you are interested in that aspect.

I've come across dozens of copies Siddhartha in thrift shops and garage sales, bought them all and given them to friends and colleagues to read.

I am surprised nobody mentions Hesse's book of short stories[1] which i highly recommend. They are quite different from his novels and offer a different insight into his world. It's the one book that I am going to to take with me wherever I move.

[0] The Fairy Tales of Herman Hesse https://www.amazon.com/Fairy-Tales-Herman-Hesse/dp/B0000544O...


Thank you to you also. I had read Hesse only because someone gave me the used books too. A fine gift it is.

Herman Hesse is my Tesla, my Einstein, my guru. I first read "Siddhartha" quite young, and by my early teens I'd read both "The Glass Bead Game" and "Magister Ludi" - a different translation a bit harder to read - I'd read them both multiple times.

Hesse's philosophy is so comprehensive, there is no trite summary. Perhaps simply viewing life as a series of symphonic movements, with competing harmonies and melodies is as short as one can get.


The closest I can get to describing his philosophy is that he is focused on the tension between book learning and experiential learning (particularly as manifest in the outdoors). The other theme that comes up repeatedly is the relationship between students and teachers (both those that are in the official role of teacher, and more often those that are teachers because a student, often the protagonist, chooses to follow them and learn from them).

He is great. Also try existentialist literary fiction. Russian writers do an amazing job by designing rich characters and writing good conversations which will resonate with you if you like Herman Hesse's work.

I'm currently reading Steppenwolf by Hesse and it has me thinking a lot. Main character (Harry Haller) seems to portray being in one of those "be careful what you wish for" situations. One aiming for individuality and independence at the cost of alienating people close to him. It is his desire, his goal in the beginning and ends up being his punishment, his prison. Maybe I found the book at the right time of my life (25).

"Ah, Harry, we have to stumble, through so much dirt and humbug before we reach home. And we have no one to guide us. Our only guide is our homesickness."

Those were the days. When Hess wrote The Glass Bead Game, Mann gave us The Magic Mountain, Camus had The Plague, and Kafka ...

Yet what remain closest to me from my days of enjoying their writings is just an essay by Herman Hess titled "Thou Shalt not Kill". Hess, the man and his times, seems to unravel its depth and mystery here. (And Mann's short story, "A Man and his Dog" has a similar staying power for me)




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