Aphorisms in Hermann Hesse’s Demian
Aphorisms in Hermann Hesse’s Demian
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  • 승인 2022.09.20 09:39
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By the time you read this article, the second semester will have begun after almost three months of summer vacation, or office workers will have returned to their work after recharging themselves with their vacations. I have done something worthwhile and meaningful during the summer vacation. I have just finished editing the customized textbook for Demian by Hermann Hesse, which I plan to use for the Reading Instruction course of graduate school next semester.

It is actually difficult for an English major to read an English literary work without a dictionary. In order to help students who take graduate courses while working full-time or raising children enjoy studying at the same time, I started this tedious work of editing Demian , providing English on the left column, and on the right column, explanations of grammar and interpretation of the lines as well as introduction of new words. Why do you think I did this hard and boring task? It was not just because I love my students but because I like the book Demian and I love this kind of work.

Demian is very well-known to most Korean readers. Therefore, most parents encourage their children in secondary school to read it. I also remember reading it when in middle school. However, to be honest with you, I could hardly understand the deep meanings which it delivers. It seems that the book is too difficult for secondary school students to understand. Meanwhile, Arete Classic Reading was selected as a compulsory course in Kyungnam University, a very prestigious college for Liberal Arts and Humanity Education. I opened two Arete courses: Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra and Goethe's Faust. As I studied these two classics, I came to know that Demian was a book greatly influenced by Nietzsche. Here are the comments that I found in Demian that support my words:

“Even later in life I have rarely experienced a book more intensely, except perhaps Nietzsche.”(85); “On my table lay a few volumes of Nietzsche. I lived with him, sensed the loneliness of his soul, perceived the fate that had propelled him on inexorably; I suff ered with him, and rejoiced that there had been one man who had followed his destiny so relentlessly.”(133)

To give you a brief summary of Demian: Sinclair, a 10-year-old boy at a Latin school, grows up in a world of light where faith and intelligence are harmonized. He realizes that there is another world around him, to which the maids and neighbors belong and in which sin, lies, and violence coexist. He becomes more interested in this world of evil and creates a heroic tale of stealing apples from an orchard to avoid being ostracized by a local play group. His story provides an excuse for a rogue boy named Franz Kromer to bully him. Finally, a precocious and wise boy named Demian appears and solves the problem. He releases the snare that is snatching Sinclair. Since then, Sinclair constantly wanders to find his true self. Eventually, war breaks out, Demian dies, and Sinclair knows how to break the egg on his own and comes out into the world without Demian's help. Now, I would like to introduce some passages from Demian, hoping that they would help you to find your true self and what you are fond of.

Demian explains to Sinclair who the master of oneself is:

“We only need to concentrate our will fi rmly on some end in order to achieve it. It doesn't make sense. If I'm not master of my own will, then I'm in no position to direct it as I please.”(27); “Clever talk is absolutely worthless. All you do in the process is lose yourself. And to lose yourself is a sin. One has to be able to crawl completely inside oneself, like a tortoise.”(32)

Demian compares the world where we live to an egg. He tells how difficult it is for us to break the egg and come out of it:

"The bird fl ights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must first destroy a world. “The bird flies to God. That God's name is Abraxas."(45)

Sinclair is aware that there is only one certain thing, which is the voice within oneself. He also feels how difficult it is to obey that inner voice:

“I felt the duty to follow this voice blindly wherever it might lead me. But it was diffi cult and each day I rebelled against it anew.”(47); “I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self.”(47)

There must be few of us who know how to live our lives and what we can give to this world. The following shows how deeply Sinclair pondered about this matter:

“I was always preoccupied with myself. And I longed desperately to really live for once, to give something of myself to the world, to enter into a relationship and battle with it.”(48)

Even after Sinclair loses contact with Demian, he keeps wandering without finding his true self. Then, he happens to meet a church organist named Pistorius, who replaces Demian as his mentor. According to him, there is a big difference between simply carrying the world within us and being aware of it, and the things we see are the same things that are within us. What he means is that we cannot know the reality if we do not realize who we are and just follow others:

“They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself. You can be happy that way. But once you know the other interpretation you no longer have the choice of following the crowd. Sinclair, the majority's path is an easy one, ours is diffi cult.” (56)

Lastly, I would like to finish this article by saying words which touched me regarding love. Demian’s mother, Lady Eva, toward whom Sinclair fell in unrequited love, talks about love as follows:

“Love must not entreat or demand. Love must have the strength to become certain within itself. Then it ceases merely to be attracted and begins to attract.” (75)

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