hermann hesse on steiner

Hesse wrote that the individual ‘has as well in the deeper recesses of his being the need to see meaning attached to all that he does and strives for, to his existence, his life, and the inevitability of death. This religious or metaphysical need, as old and as important as the need for food, love, and shelter, is satisfied in calm, culturally secure times by the churches and the systems of itinerant thinkers. In times like the present a general impatience and disillusion with both received religious creeds and scholarly philosophies grow; the demand for new formulations, new interpretations, new symbols, new explanations is infinitely great. These are the signs of the mental life of our times: a weakening of received systems, a wild searching for new interpretations of human life, a flourishing of popular sects, prophets, communities, and a blossoming of the most fantastic superstitions.’ 

Later he continued: ‘That there is no shortage of tasteless, silly, even dangerous and bad substitute candidates is obvious. We are teeming with seers and founders; charlatans and quacks are mistaken for saints; vanity and greed leap at this new, promising area—but we must not allow these facts alone to fool us. In itself this awakening of the soul, this burning resurgence of longings for the divine, this fever heightened by war and distress, is a phenomenon of marvelous power and intensity that cannot be taken seriously enough. That there lurks alongside this mighty current of desire flowing through the souls of all the peoples a crowd of industrious entrepreneurs making a business of religion must not be allowed to confuse us as to the greatness, dignity, and importance of the movement. In a thousand different forms and degrees, from a naïve belief in ghosts to genuine philosophical speculation, from primitive county-fair ersatz religion to the presentiment of truly new interpretations of life, a gigantic wave is surging over the earth; it encompasses American Christian Science and English theosophy, Mazdaznan [neo-Zoroastrian cult] and neo-Sufism [Muslim sect], [Rudolf] Steiner’s anthroposophy, and a hundred similar creeds; it takes Count Keyserling around the world and leads him to his Darmstadt experiments [a spiritual School of Wisdom], supplies him with such a serious and important collaborator as Richard Wilhelm, and concurrently gives rise to a whole host of necromancers, sharpers, and clowns.’

On the second page of the article, Hesse says that to him the intellectualism of philosophies like that of Steiner ‘too rational, too little bold, too little prepared to enter upon the chaos, upon the underworld’. 

The article is well worth reading in its entirety, perhaps in particular for his analysis of his and Steiner’s times. There’s, by the way, an older article in Info3 which contains some interesting stuff on Hesse’s relationship to anthroposophy (he once claims: none). Listening to one of Steiner’s lectures seems to have left him cold and wondering wherein the reason for Steiner’s sucessess lies. He admits to having tried to read some Steiner books, but gave up as he found them unenjoyable, in particular the language.

(Via Peter S on the waldorf critics list.)

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7 comments

  1. I have always liked Hesse. Thanks for finding this.

  2. I like Hesse too. Although a while ago I started to read Peter Camenzind and oddly I didn’t like it as I liked the other works I’ve read by him, so it’s been lying around unfinished.

  3. I think Camenzind was one of the books I never got into. I enjoyed Steppenwolf’, and ‘Narziss and Goldmund’. I liked ‘Siddartha’ very much, and found ‘Demian’ was interesting, but my favourite was a little book called in English,’Journey to the East’.
    I never managed to read his last book – ‘The Glass-bead Game’ – too long and heavy.

    heavy!

  4. The comment box is playing up again!

  5. Comment box, yes. Highly annoying. It’s not as bad as it was during a time, though, when it auto-collapsed. Now you can place your marker in the box, press enter many times, until the box is sufficiently expanded — it will then stay that way. But if you don’t do this, you get an annoyingly small box to write in. (I hope this helps… it helps on my computer.)

    Yes — I very much liked Steppenwolf, Siddartha and Demian. When ordering Camenzind I chose between that one and Narziss and Goldmund and went with the former. I probably shouldn’t have. I have The Glass-bead Game in Swedish, but the text is SO small. Haven’t read it.

  6. benne.de@gmx.de · ·

    I strongly dislike Hesse, because for me he’s too closely connected to teenage-anthro subculture.
    Back when I was sixteen, my class-mates started to discover Hesse and I can tell you it was no fun listenig to them quoting long passages of Steppenwolf about a butterfly in and out the cocoon.
    This trend went along their discovery of annoying reggae-music, smoking weed and this uptight sense of teenage humour which was just a little bit too homophobic for me.
    Later on when I started to read Hesse for myself, I realized that it’s in fact not that wrong, but I still can’t detach it from this waldorf-subculture.

  7. Luckily, I was out of waldorf by that time. Also, in Sweden I suspect you’d be more likely to find Hesse-reading teens outside waldorf, among teens interested in literature and culture.

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