Passing Time and The Glass Bead Game

18 May

Unlike my friend Simon who’s read the entire canon, Steppenwolf is the only work of Hermann Hesse’s that I’ve finished reading. It was for his novel, The Glass Bead Game that he won the Nobel Prize in Literature (an award of which I shall be a future recipient – well, according to my Twitter profile, at any rate). I started reading that book a long time ago. I got as far as page 110. Since games are featured in both of my current projects (see my recently posted game-related extract), I thought I might give it another look. I can’t now recall why I stopped reading it but I remember the precise moment that I did so. I was sitting on a picnic bench outside the Berney Arms, a pub in the middle of the Halvergate Marshes in Norfolk, which can only be reached by a long march on foot, by boat or via a railway halt at which trains stop a couple of times a day. Just like me, protagonist, Joseph Knecht was pursuing his studies and by page 110, had reached the same age that I was back then. I’ve just passed that point again. And in so doing I realised that I’d put that book down half a lifetime ago. It had been sitting unread on the shelf with its place marker while all of that time elapsed, as people and events have come and gone. I found the thought a little disconcerting. (Around the same time, I threw Titus Groan, the first book in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy on the rubbish tip, but that’s another story entirely…)

The game of the novel’s title has developed into a purely intellectual pursuit, of which Joseph Knecht is master. Players make connections between disparate intellectual and artistic disciplines. This got me thinking. Perhaps such a game might be played, starting with Joseph Knecht and linking him to three other fictional intellectuals, the inclusion of whom the players would have to justify. It would be called ‘Knecht Four’. I’ll get my coat… The novel actually appears to be a discussion of the validity of dedicating oneself to the life of the mind rather than partaking of the ‘real’ world. It’s a dilemma that you’ll recognise if you spend much time writing, as you look up from your desk and realise that yet another year has passed you by…

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Time has elapsed, people and events have come and gone…

‘The Rainbow’ was the opening track on Talk Talk’s sublime album, Spirit of Eden. And it happened to come out when I was reading The Glass Bead Game, the first time around. On first listening to it, I and the other members of The Jellymen were stunned. We loved that band. But this was like nothing else we’d ever heard. And then there were the lyrics. “Oh, yeah, the world’s turned upside down,” they ran, “Jimmy Finn is old. Well, how can that be fair at all?” Or so I thought. They were among the most profound words that I’d ever heard about the human condition, and all the more remarkable for being located within a rock song. As a young man, I projected myself forward to that moment. It’s the instant of recognition as you pick up the book again and register the decades that have passed since you last did so and that in the intervening years your youth has been stolen from you. In reality, the words ran, ‘Jimmy Finn is out’, which almost certainly has different connotations. Such are life’s disappointments… Incidentally, Talk Talk’s main songwriter, Mark Hollis wrote a beautiful song called ‘Such a Shame’, inspired by another book about a game, The Dice Man. Luke Rhinehart’s book has a fascinating central concept but is disturbingly amoral and rather shockingly written. I finished that book, nonetheless. Time will tell whether I shall finish Hermann Hesse’s, at the second attempt.

From time to time, we receive these rather terrifying reminders of the brevity of human existence. They should spur us on to get done those things that we wish to achieve, to participate in both the real and intellectual spheres, to live life to the full. It’s back to WIP No. 1, then, currently on page 151…

All text and image © PSR 2013

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2 Responses to “Passing Time and The Glass Bead Game”

  1. lionaroundwriting July 6, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    Just finished THE DICE MAN – what a crazy beautifully twisted exploration of repressed human emotion with plenty social commentary underneath.

  2. Paul Sutton Reeves July 6, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

    Hi there Mr Lion. Yes, that book’s totally bananas and a little dangerous, perhaps. It’s certainly not boring, at least. Apparently, he wrote several others in the same vein, but I think one is probably enough for me.

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