February 5, 2015

The Bead Game, Part I

Hermann Hesse

Hermann Hesse

Today, I’d like to share with you some information about a book I am reading.

The book is not a manual, a political biography, an as-told-to, or the latest economic exegesis.

It is actual literature, Das Glasperlenspiel [The Glass Bead Game] by Hermann Hesse, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946.

This particular edition was published by Henry Holt in 1990 and features a foreword by Theodore Ziolkowski. I say features because the foreword is so fact- and analysis-filled that I very nearly put the book away, convinced that I already knew all I needed to know about it. (Google Ziolkowski and you discover that he has had a distinguished academic career, is now Professor Emeritus at Princeton and has written extensively on Hesse.)

But the most interesting factoid in the foreword, for me personally at any rate, is his reference to the edition available in the 60’s, when Hesse was a hot ticket among hippies, mostly for Siddhartha and Steppenwolf. He describes it as a poor translation, the translators seemingly unaware that it is a parody of the ponderous school of biography, filled with irony and inside jokes.

(Additionally, according to Ziolkowski, the title of Magister Ludi used for that early edition is somewhat misleading.)

That’s about the time I first read it and his criticism goes a long way toward explaining why it left an impression of being mind-numbingly boring.

Yet, over many, many years, the subject of the book – The Bead Game – remained burned in memory and often seemed an appropriate metaphor for any number of human endeavors.

So. I wanted to read a real book and I wanted to know what the Bead Game is really about. I prevailed upon two other book lovers to read it along with me and so we are a book club of three. And, I hope to resuscitate an old practice – to spend an entire day reading a book.

That may not happen because I see now that I live in what Hesse calls the Age of Feuilletons, a time in the past (the book takes place centuries in the future) when society was obsessed with gossip. My attention span may be severely compromised.

Curiously, Hesse in the early 1940s, describes exactly what is happening now, not in terms of the form of course, but absolutely in terms of content.

Which reminds us that humanity has always been obsessed with gossip – one of the meanings of feuilletons – but not perhaps so utterly drowning in it as we are at the moment.

[Hmmm – I see my prose is becoming every bit as ponderous as Hesse’s, but I swear I hadn’t meant it to be parody….]

– Next, more about the Age of Feuilletons –



  1. all good to you Ponderous Person.


    Comment by carol oneal — February 5, 2015 @ 8:58 am | Reply

  2. Love hesse what a great book thank you i just moved my collect to a new bookcase, thinking could always read any of hesses works again with pleasure.


    Comment by avery zia — February 6, 2015 @ 8:10 am | Reply

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