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

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

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4,515581,073 (4.13)160
Member:amerynth
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
Rating:**
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 54 (next | show all)
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 |
One of the great books of German literature, A trip of a lifetime wandering with Joseph K as he transforms from the ordinary man to the Magister ludi - the Master of the game - and then - as an enlightened man - wise beyond any - find the true meanings of the game. A must read for anyone seeking truth and discernment. Perhaps a bit cerebral for some. Hesse captures the soul of mankind in the wonderful tome. ( )
  difreda | Nov 30, 2014 |
Hermann Hesse's vision of a future in which intellectuals in monastic communities devote themselves to a complex game loosely based on the Chinese alphabet is beguiling and spiritual but somewhat baffling. Highly recommended but it does demand some concentration. ( )
  bodachliath | Nov 11, 2014 |
This novel of a distant future is presented as a scholarly work about the life of Joseph Knecht, a man who rose to distinction as the master (i.e. Magister Ludi) of the Glass Bead Game. The game itself is vaguely described but consists of extrapolating relationships between disparate bodies of knowledge (e.g. chemistry and music), played with enthusiasm for centuries and which brings (at least to the most erudite) a sort of insight into the human condition. This game is somewhat like a vision of the Internet - a bringing together and sharing of all knowledge, only more rigid and static.

It's a tedious read for its sustained lack of conflict if the novel's central questions don't grab you. Hermann Hesse explored the quest for perfect knowledge and being in his fiction, and this last novel is the culminating expression of that quest, but it results in a rather different conclusion than the insular view he previously espoused. In this instance the spotlight falls on determining whether such personal epiphany should be put in service to practical application. Does a man of knowledge bears any responsibility towards influencing the course of the world in which he is raised and has achieved insight? To put it still another way: must we remember our roots?

Others have pointed out that Hesse comes closest here to detailing how our inner and outer lives must ideally intersect, but still falls short. Is this failure or done on purpose? From a scene in the novel where one character admires another's work: "Each of these Games moved with such gravity and sincerity toward solution, only at the last to so nobly forgo the attempt at solution, that it was like a perfect elegy upon the transitoriness inherent in all beautiful things and the ultimate dubiety immanent in all soaring flights of the intellect."

Note, this novel is unusually structured; my edition, at least, features three short stories as appendices purportedly written by the central character during his student days. At the point they were mentioned I put the novel on pause and read them before continuing. Given the foreshadowing that resulted, I'd recommend that approach to other readers. ( )
1 vote Cecrow | Nov 10, 2014 |
This novel is about the human tendency to game reality and try to understand the consequences of the process in the World of David Hume's social truths. Read this book when young, spend some years trying to develop computer role-playing games and then reread. It will seem less dull, and you won't even forget the first reading.

This book was written in 1943 in Switzerland. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Oct 6, 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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Epigraph
. . . 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).
Dedication
dedicated to the Journeyers to the East
First words
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.
Quotations
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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:37 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

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)

(summary from another edition)

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