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Rosshalde by Hermann Hesse

God what a relief after drudging through that awful Heidegger crap.

Hesse writes in two voices. One is the almost medieval voice of Siddhartha, Narcissus and Goldmund, and Peter Camenzind — and the other is the more contemporary voice of Steppenwolf, Magister Ludi and Rosshalde. Rosshalde is not really a novel so much as a gesture — it should almost be a painting, and in it a painter contemplates a single fact — which is his inability to have a normal life. I say normal, but I should say mundane — the gesture is that of recognition of the state of being an artist. An ordinary man is allowed certain things, and certain things are expected of him. An artist, or saint — more to the point — a philosopher in the sense in which Nietzsche uses the word when he does not use it with scorn, is not capable of those things.

At the beginning of Rosshalde we have a manor house novel, where the lord of the manor has become estranged from his family who neither understand nor appreciate him. We see him first as desperate and scorned, and later as strong and distant — but what he is not is a capable husband and father. And what his wife and children are not are significant friends. Through the intervention of his friend, and fate, he recognizes the futility of his situation and leaves it. It is a single gesture — there is no struggle, which is why it is really a painting and not a novel. It must be a confusing book to read for someone who does not already understand it, because it makes no argument.

I have heard it said that ‘just because something has happened does not make it a fit subject for art’ — but this novel feels as if this is exactly what happened — I suspect that Hesse lived through the truth of these emotions (if not the actual events) and wrote this down as a way of explaining it to himself. You could see either Siddhartha or Harry Haller writing this in their notebook as a way of dealing with the pain of losing their earthly attachments before coming to their different philosophical positions on it. This book would make a good companion piece to “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin — as it deals with the inadequate environment of social convention to satisfy an awakening human soul.

This is not a book which should be meaningful to an ordinary man who wishes to remain ordinary and find meaning in his family and profession. This is a book about the ruthlessness required of those who are called on to a different kind of life.

While I deeply love it, I don’t know that I would recommend it as easily as I would recommend Demian, or Steppenwolf — even though it speaks to that same transformation. I think that if someone has read Demian and Steppanwolf, and has been moved by them — if the character of Harry Haller particularly moves you — if you can see why he is the way he is, then Rosshalde is a further meaningful meditation on the subject which you might find to be bracing — something to give you courage.

November 15, 2008 Posted by | 40th Birthday Project | Leave a comment