Unreal Nature

April 12, 2015

The Brother, The Enemy

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

“… I could … write a melody of two voices … capable of responding to each other, of completing each other, of fighting each other and of holding each other, at each instant and in each point of the series, in the liveliest and most intimate relationship of exchange and opposition.”

This is from the essay ‘H.H.’ found in The Book to Come by Maurice Blanchot (1959; 2003). The first paragraph given is a single sentence. Take a deep breath before diving into it:

… The relationship he forms between literature and himself, between each of his books and the serious crises of his life; the need to write that is linked in him to the anxiety not to sink down, victim of his divided mind; the effort he makes to welcome anomaly and neurosis and to understand it as a normal state in an abnormal time; the psychoanalytic therapy to which he submits and which gives birth to one of his finest novels; that freedom that nonetheless does not free him, but that he would like to deepen by replacing psychoanalysis with meditation, Jung with yoga exercises, and then trying to situate himself in relation with the great interpreters of Taoism, and despite that, despite this wisdom to which he feels allied, the despair that seizes him and that makes him write in 1926 with tremendous literary passion one of the key novels of his time, Steppenwolf, in which Expressionism would recognize one of its masterpieces; all that — this linking of literature with a vital quest, the recourse to psychoanalysis, the call of India and China, even the magical and, at least once, expressionist violence that his art could attain — all this should have made his work a representative body of modern literature.

[ … ]

he tells himself that if he thinks apart from everyone else, that proves that there is in him a dangerous discord, for which he will someday have to pay. And, in fact, one day, when circumstances are aggravated, something in him breaks; it is this 1916 crisis that will bring him to psychoanalysis and will painfully but powerfully transform him, in his mind and in his art.

This crisis, though a sort of second spiritual birth, is in fact only a secondary one. The most serious event of his inner life occurs when he is fourteen, the day when he turns away from the Maulbronn seminary and when he also tries to run away from the family fate, from the rigor of pious disciplines, from the ministerial future in which he was supposed to follow his father and his grandfather. For two days he hides in the forest and almost dies of cold; a gamekeeper finds him and brings him back. How surprised his pious family is. They entrust him to a sort of exorcist who thinks he is possessed but fails to deliver him from his demon, which, according to Hesse, was nothing but the wicked poetic spirit.

One would be tempted to evoke André Gide, also divided by contradictions in ancestry and tendency. But everything is quite different. Hesse’s rupture is more painful and more involuntary. What happens to him, that obligation to free himself, is like an incomprehensible unhappiness he will need many years to master and understand. He is not a triumphant rebel. He is linked to what he rejects just as much as he is to the spirit of independence. Not much would be necessary for him, in becoming a poet, to become a gentle, bucolic poet happy with finding in vague romantic effusion the forgetfulness of his difficulties. And this is indeed what is manifested during the first part of his life; only the dreaming part is expressed, forgetful and at peace with himself, the one that establishes his fame with Peter Camenzind. In the history of rebellious adolescents, [this] is peculiar to him. Having succeeded in freeing himself violently in order to make himself a poet, far from giving expression to this rebellion or to the violence of his conflicts, he on the contrary does everything he can to lose sight of them and to reach, through his art, an ideal reconciliation of which Romanticism — for which he has only too many leanings — provides him with obliging examples.

1905 portrait of Hesse by Ernst Würtenberger [image from Wikipedia]

Moving on to Hesse’s second, later ‘crisis’:

Hesse accepts the discipline of psychoanalysis while at roughly the same time Rilke and Kafka reject it, although, to overcome their problems, both of them had also considered this method. Rilke fears waking up cured, and cured of poetry: simplified excessively. For Hesse, things never become simpler. On the contrary, he only becomes aware of his complex division, of the necessity he feels of contradicting himself and not renouncing his contradictions. He always wants unity. As a young man, it is a vague unity, of semblance and unconsciousness, that he sought in nature by closing his eyes to himself. Now he sees that this happy unity was built only of his ignorance. During the years that follow, great years of material and moral ordeal (he broke all ties, lived alone in Montagnola in conditions of painful destitution, often having nothing except chestnuts gathered in the forest for a meal), what he wants to attain, to hear and make heard, is the double melody, the fluctuation between two poles, the come-and-go between the pillars of the two principles of the world.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] “If I were a musician, I could without difficulty write a melody of two voices, that would consist of two lines, in two sequences of sounds and notes, capable of responding to each other, of completing each other, of fighting each other and of holding each other, at each instant and in each point of the series, in the liveliest and most intimate relationship of exchange and opposition. And whoever knew how to read the notes could read my double melody, see and hear in each sound the counter-sound, the brother, the enemy, the antipode. Well, this double voice, this eternal movement of antithesis — that is what I want to express with my words, but I try in vain, I do not succeed.”




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