Herman Hesse, circa 1927
Hermann Hesse, author of 'Narcissus and Goldmund.' He was a Western man profoundly influenced by Indian spirituality.

A magnificent book I’ve been reading as of late is Narcissus and Goldmund by the fantastic German author Hermann Hesse. The book, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, deals with the conflict in the human soul between two elements or philosophies: the Apollonian and the Dionysian. The Apollonian, embodied by Narcissus, deals with ideas, internal thoughts and words and the barren languages of the mind, and with self-isolation, with chastity and purity, with settledness and home, with goals and work and philosophy, and with theology: per Hesse, the Apollonian’s great quest is to acquire more knowledge, to breathe out into the world his thoughts, to escape death by creating something permanent and enduring. Goldmund embodies the other side, the earthen side: Dionysian people worship the world and nature and anything they can feel, not what they think, and are essentially hedonists and naturalists, craving sex and food and physical pleasures and wandering, like Goldmund does, goalless across the land, savoring everything they see and never settling down.

Now, the central problem Hesse poses is that neither of these two sides is satisfactory; Narcissus spends his whole life cheating death and does so, becomes immortalized in words, and yet he dries up his whole life trying to do so, while Goldmund achieves boundless pleasure and ecstasy, but nothing will remain of him after his death, he has not accomplished anything with his life. Nota Bene: Hesse seems to believe that women do not have this problem, because their pursuit of physical pleasures (intercourse) naturally produces something that will in most cases outlast them: that is, a child. He believes that this informs their whole security of being, and how, to paraphrase Steinbeck, they move through life not in jerks but with the flow and ease of a river.

Now, surprisingly, this has some rudimentary applications to our present adolescent socioeducational society right here at Steinbrenner: the basic correlation being that the students who have more of Narcissus in them can internalize thoughts and information more and thus achieve more in the framework of the society, which, given its logical structure and sense of order (well, most of the time), was obviously constructed by Apollonian people, who have more tendency towards goals and edification, while those who resemble Goldmund tended to roam, never accomplishing anything. Now, every high school is just as ripe with potheads, partiers, et.al — the sensual, pleasure-driven people — as history whiz kids and math genii, and the purely creative kids who can’t turn their incredible imaginative power into good marks, but what the average observer will overlook is that these two types of people are essentially equal in their prowess in worth, regardless of any preconceptions one might have. Basically what I mean is that the reason Goldmundian folks don’t excel and why their grades drop as they spend their days roving around town and getting high is because they’re completely surrounded by a Narcissan society, unlike the medieval, loose-governed days in which Hesse’s characters lived. In this lies my proposition for this post: if Dionysians weren’t so conditioned into believing they were ne’er-do-wells by the Apollonian hierarchy around them from birth, they would be able to, like Goldmund, produce things (art is the union of both sides and the remedy for the conflict between the two, Hesse posits) that are truly beautiful, and would understand that in some ways they can appreciate feelings and beauty more than any clergyman or scholar ever could.

 

Terras Irradient.

Leave a Reply