Why Hesse Was Relevant to 1960’s Youth

“I live in my dreams — that’s what you sense. Other people live in dreams, but not in their own. That’s the difference.” ~Herman Hesse, Demian

When I began reading Herman Hesse in college I was immediately drawn to the man’s writings, identifying with his characters and their struggles. Demian was the first book of his that I picked up and flew through. Others followed including Narcissus and Goldmund, Siddhartha, Beneath the Wheel, Steppenwolf, and his masterwork The Glass Bead Game.

I wasn’t the only one of my peers so moved. The question is, however, what was it in this early twentieth century German writer that so resonated with young people in 1960’s America? The answer, my friend, isn’t blowing in the wind.

As I wrote in this 2014 blog post, the Sixties were a time of unprecedented upheaval in this country. In addition to everything else going on (Cold War, Viet Nam, riots in the streets, assassinations) there was a conflict of world views and crisis of faith about the future, or a loss of faith in the prospects of modernist beliefs about the world becoming ever better and better.

When Hesse published Demian in 1919 Europe had just completed its First World War, a continental trauma with unprecedented horrors. Despite the involvement of our Doughboys, the average American felt a much lesser impact. It was not our land that was ravaged. Afterwards, those whom we sent had a difficult time knowing how to process what they experienced so they were dubbed “the Lost Generation.” Hemingway became a voice for these with his stories and early books.

Hesse likewise voiced the inner insecurities and alienation that many youth felt, that I felt acutely at the Sixties. A wedge had been inserted between our generation and that of our parents’ world. Our parents didn’t understand what was happening to us, perhaps in part because we didn’t know how to articulate it. What follows are several Herman Hesse quotes that spoke to me and, I believe, to my peers.

“Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way, and never again. That is why every man’s story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every man, as long as he lives and fulfills the will of nature, is wondrous, and worthy of consideration. In each individual the spirit has become flesh, in each man the creation suffers, within each one a redeemer is nailed to the cross.” ~Demian

“Whoever wants music instead of noise, joy instead of pleasure, soul instead of gold, creative work instead of business, passion instead of foolery, finds no home in this trivial world of ours.”

“Words do not express thoughts very well. They always become a little different immediately after they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish.”

“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.” ~ Siddhartha

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong but sometimes it is letting go”

“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”

There are more than 35 pages of Hesse quotes at Goodreads, though personally, I recommend the books, so you gain context. And if you’re a young person, I’d especially like to know… does Hesse still connect with this generation as he did with mine?

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Embrace it!

Originally published at pioneerproductions.blogspot.com
Illustrations on this page by the author.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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