Skip to content

You are tiring yourself, Joseph.

My Thoughts on The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse

[BUY THE BOOK (affl. link)]

Glass bead game thoughts

My mouth felt dry. There sat the man I revered, my patron, my friend, whom I had loved and trusted ever since I could think, who had always responded to whatever I might say — there he sat and listened to me talk, or perhaps did not listen to me, and had barricaded himself completely behind his radiance and smile, behind his golden mask, unreachable, belonging to a different world with different laws; and everything I tried to bring by speech from our world to his ran off him like rain from a stone. At last — I had already given up hope — he broke through the magic wall; at last he helped me; at last he said a few words. Those were the only words I heard him speak today. " 'You are tiring yourself, Joseph,' he said softly, his voice full of that touching friendliness and solicitude you know so well. That was all. 'You are tiring yourself, Joseph.' As if he had long been watching me engaged in a too-strenuous task and wanted to admonish me to stop.

Outside, beyond the boundaries of the Province, was a way of life which ran counter to Castalia and its laws, which did not abide by the Castalian system and could not be tamed and sublimated by it. And of course he was aware of the presence of this world in his own heart also. He too had impulses, fantasies, and desires which ran counter to the laws that governed him, impulses which he had only gradually managed to subdue by hard effort.

But it happens that cultural creativity is something we cannot participate in quite so fully as some people think. A dialogue of Plato's or a choral movement by Heinrich Isaac — in fact all the things we call a product of the mind or a work of art or objectified spirit — are the outcomes of a struggle for purification and liberation. They are, to use your phrase, escapes from time into timelessness, and in most cases the best such works are those which no longer show any signs of the anguish and effort that preceded them.

"An old house is a fine thing, and if the two had stood side by side and your father were choosing between them, he probably would have kept the old one. Certainly, old houses are beautiful and distinguished, especially so handsome a one as this. But it is also a beautiful thing to build one's own house, and when an ambitious young man has the choice of comfortably and submissively settling into a finished nest, or building an entirely new one, one can well see that he may decide to build.

"If the high Authority appoints you to an office, know this: every step upward on the ladder of offices is not a step into freedom but into bondage. The higher the office, the tighter the bondage. The greater the power of the office, the stricter the service. The stronger the personality, the less self-will."