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The Glass Bead Game: Magister Ludi by…

The Glass Bead Game: Magister Ludi (original 1943; edition 1969)

by Hermann Hesse, Richard Winston (Translator), Clara Winston (Translator)

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4,708621,002 (4.14)179
Title:The Glass Bead Game: Magister Ludi
Authors:Hermann Hesse
Other authors:Richard Winston (Translator), Clara Winston (Translator)
Info:Holt, Rinehart and Winston (1969), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 558 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:read 2012, fiction, 1001 books, philosophy

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The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse (1943)


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Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
Hippie heaven. Or how I found another way to calculate life (and love). ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
The life of Joseph Knecht, describing his ascension through the Castalian hierarchy to become the Magister Ludi and eventual renunciation of that role and passing into legend.

When I first read this as a teenager I would have loved to have come a Glass Bead Game player or at least a Castalian scholar. Now there is much food for thought about the relationship between the pursuit of knowledge and ideas and the "real" world as the crisis of the Feuilletonistic Age becomes more acute, not to mention the underlying assumptions of what kind of knowledge is pursued in Castalia and what seems to be considered beneath a scholar's interest. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Nov 8, 2015 |
A precious read. ( )
  sturmer | Oct 25, 2015 |
The Glass Bead Game (the title Magister Ludi was an imposition of the first English translation) was Hesse's final novel, separated from his penultimate one Journey to the East by over a decade. I think it has been even longer for me between the reading of the two, and I wish that I had a fresher memory of the earlier book, because it's clear that they have some themes and questions in common, but possibly some different conclusions.

I have seen reviewers refer to the imagined society of Castalia that Hesse presents (set several centuries in our future) as "utopian" and as "dystopian," and I found it to be neither, although it is set at a certain extreme of social development for an intellectual aristocracy. Accordingly, the prose style and structure of the book is not that of a novel, but rather that of scholarship. It is easy for me to imagine this approach putting off many readers, and a quick scan of online reviews shows that it is so. The pace is slow, the narrative voice is pedantic, and the details are often not the ones in which a readerly imagination will take the most interest.

Still, I found this book enormously engaging and rewarding. It centers on the career of Joseph Knecht in the elite academy that has for its transcendent superfluity -- something between a sport, a performance art, and a scholarly discipline -- the Glass Bead Game which synthesizes cultural legacies into symbolically-integrated abstractions. The actual "rules of the game" are never presented; it is rather treated as an opaque object at the acme of a set of social and cultural concerns.

The themes of the book include aspiration, pedagogy, cultural difference, intellectual legacy, and confrontations between spiritual and material priorities. In addition, there are large pieces of end matter within the frame of the fiction: a set of poems written by Knecht in his youth, and three "lives" written during his studies. These latter are imagined prior incarnations, used to provide narrative expression of the writer's research into earlier ages and archaic cultures. Any of this material could be read with interest on its own, and it seems that much of it may have been written by Hesse before he built the larger Glass Bead Game framework into which it is now fitted. Still, read retrospectively, the end matter pieces all echo and illuminate core features of the Knecht story.

My Bantam mass market paperback copy has a foreword by Theodore Ziolkowski, ostensibly to justify the production of a new translation. This essay is interesting and enlightening, but it is replete with spoilers, and ironically enough, it subjects the text to analysis and situates it in Hesse's oeuvre, after complaining that too few people approach the book for the pleasure of reading it rather than some duty of study. One of Ziolkowski's best services in the introduction is to point out the roman a clef elements in characters based on other men of German letters, such as Nietzsche, Burkhardt, and Mann. I would recommend reading this essay after the novel itself.

The Glass Bead Game is not light or quick reading, but it has a lot to offer the reflective reader. I'm not sure that I would have appreciated it if I had read it when I was younger, but I could easily see revisiting it (along with Journey to the East) another 20 years from now.
5 vote paradoxosalpha | Jan 6, 2015 |
The Glass Bead Game is set in a dystopian future where the age of creation and creativity is long past, where the best and brightest are culled from the population and brought to the province of Castalia. There, they are indoctrinated in the approved subject matter (no history, of course, lest they realize how terrible life is now compared to earlier eras), assigned a path in life by the superiors in the Castalian hierarchy without any say as to their own preference, and pushed into a life of celibacy and isolation from the outside world. The closest they can get to doing anything creative is playing the titular Glass Bead Game, a game which at first appears to be a systematic understanding of all human knowledge, but on closer inspection reveals itself to be a nebulous construct where elements of previous knowledge are endlessly recombined without actual comprehension. Even the rules of this game are impervious to any attempt at creativity: the first section of the book makes clear that changes to the rules are now all but impossible, and while winning a specific tournament creates the potential for a person's proposed changes to be adopted, in practice the winner of that tournament is the one who plays the most conservatively, without proposing new additions to the preexisting rules. Even the way people speak is regulated so that everyone sounds the same. The perfect person in this world is a servant, not a leader. Those who disappoint the Castalian hierarchy or attempt to leave it are met with swift death. At least this is how I chose to interpret the book, because if I read this work as merely the story of a boring character working his way through a slightly futuristic university it would have been unbearably dull.

Most of these points have been made before, but I'll reiterate them briefly: The main character Joseph Knecht is incredibly boring, with little personality for the vast majority of the book, but despite that he is beloved by everyone for no discernible reason. He rises rapidly in the hierarchy through luck, not because it makes any sense, but because Hesse wanted to tell the story of a person rapidly rising in the hierarchy. His speech is bland, you never get a sense of his motivations until the book has them come out of nowhere, and in general it is all but impossible to get invested or excited by his life. There are a few other characters that might have been more intriguing, but we never follow anyone else so it's an academic point.

The writing in general is incredibly flat. There are few descriptions and the prose lacks beauty, and while you could attribute this to the story supposedly being written in an era that eschews beautiful prose in favor of a more scientific account of a person's biography, this interpretation is undercut by the dialogue also being subpar. Every character talks in the same voice, consistently delivering page-long speeches in a way that no real person ever talks. There is a segment where Knecht talks to a young boy in the same longwinded academic style he does to everyone else, and the effect is laughable. With this being a fictional biography you could attribute even this flaw in the writing to the writer-character, but if Hesse set up a story so that it necessitated poor writing then he made an even bigger flaw.

So if the characters are boring and the writing is flat, you would hope that the concepts the book explores would be interesting. Sadly, this isn't the case. I already presented what I found to be the most interesting interpretation of the book in my opening paragraph, but I'm the first to admit that such an interpretation requires the text to be stretched. A more supported interpretation of the text is that it centers on what is basically a fictional university, isolated from the outside world, where perpetual studenthood is allowed and even encouraged. Despite the text’s assertions to the contrary, Castalia isn’t much different from an elite university town, except for the fact that it is the bastion of the Glass Bead Game. At first, this game appears to encompass all human knowledge, and based on the fact that it supplies the title of the book I thought the book would delve into this concept. Just hearing the premise, I thought of the Borges story “On Exactitude in Science” wherein a map was created in such detail that it covers all the land it is meant to depict, and effectively becomes that land. Such seems the inevitable outcome of a game that actually encompassed all knowledge. Instead Hesse’s game, from what little the text presents of it, isn’t about actual knowledge but the association of concepts and the recombination of previously thought of ideas. Knecht spends years actually learning the material gone over in a single game, highlighting that such games merely require a familiarity with a concept, not understanding of it. Of course I could be way off base about this, but that is because The Glass Bead Game is never clearly laid out. In truth I don’t think Hesse had a clear idea in his head of how the game worked or even how it looked; if he had, then at a minimum he didn’t communicate it to the reader. What should have been the most interesting part of this book was instead a nonentity.

An uninteresting main character, a text that isn’t engaging, subpar writing, and a lack of truly interesting ideas combine to make this a book you should skip. Also, it is about twice as long as it needed to be to explore what Hesse wanted to explore, with the excess length mostly created by the long speeches every character feels obliged to say at each other at every opportunity. I would skip this one, but I’m giving it three stars because while nothing in the text was done well, nothing was so poorly done to reach the level of embarrassment, and it was interesting to reinterpret the story in such a way as to make it less boring. So one of these stars is for me, I guess. ( )
1 vote BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (83 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hesse, Hermannprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ausma, TineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Clee, PaulCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Houwink ten Cate, AnnemarieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kaila, KaiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sinervo, ElviTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winston, ClaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winston, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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. . . For although in a certain sense and for light- minded persons non-existent things can be more easily and irresponsibly represented in words than existing things, for the serious and conscientious historian it is just the reverse. Nothing is harder, yet nothing is more necessary, than to speak of certain things whose existence is neither demonstrable nor probable. The very fact that serious and conscientious men treat them as existing things brings them a step closer to existence and to the possibility of being born. (From Joseph Knecht's holograph translation of Albertus Secundus tract. de cristall. spirit. ed. Clangor et Collof. lib. I, cap. 28).
dedicated to the Journeyers to the East
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It is our intention to preserve in these pages what scant biographical material we have been able to collect concerning Joseph Knecht, or Ludi Magister Josephus III, as he is called in the Archives of the Glass Bead Game.
But now for the first time I had heard the inner voice of the Game itself, its meaning. It had reached me and since that moment I have believed that our royal game is truly a lingua sacra, a sacred and divine language.
One who had experienced the ultimate meaning of the Game within himself would by that fact no longer be a player; he would no longer dwell in the delight in invention, construction and combination, since he would know altogether different joys and raptures. Because I think I have come close to the meaning of the Glass Bead Game, it will be better for me and for others if I do not make the Game my profession, but instead shift to music.
God sends us despair not to kill us; He sends it to us to awaken new life in us.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312278497, Paperback)

The final novel of Hermann Hesse, for which he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946, The Glass Bead Game is a fascinating tale of the complexity of modern life as well as a classic of modern literature

Set in the 23rd century, The Glass Bead Game is the story of Joseph Knecht, who has been raised in Castalia, the remote place his society has provided for the intellectual elite to grow and flourish. Since childhood, Knecht has been consumed with mastering the Glass Bead Game, which requires a synthesis of aesthetics and scientific arts, such as mathematics, music, logic, and philosophy, which he achieves in adulthood, becoming a Magister Ludi (Master of the Game).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:41 -0400)

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Set in the 23rd century, "The glass bead game" is the story of Joseph Knecht, who has been raised in Castalia, the remote place his society has provided for the intellectual elite to grow and flourish. Since childhood, Knecht has been consumed with mastering the Glass Bead Game, which requires a synthesis of aesthetics and scientific arts, such as mathematics, music, logic, and philosophy, which he achieves in adulthood, becoming a Magister Ludi (Master of the Game).… (more)

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