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6 March 2011

The Falsification of Hermann Hesse

Miguel Serrano
(Translated by Alex Kurtagic)

I had the good fortune of being friends with the great German writer. Even after his death, and having left the diplomatic corps, I lived for ten years in the old Camuzzi house, in Montagnola, in the Italian Switzerland. It was Hesse’s first house in that mountain village, neighbouring Lugano.

It is absolutely absurd to believe that Hermann Hesse “went out of fashion”, as if a writer for the youth of forty years ago. In reality, Hesse was brought artificially “into fashion” and was used with precise aims to disorientate the new generations of the fifties and sixties. I remember very well that Suhrkamp Verlag, Hermann Hesse’s German publisher, was under obligation to sell forty thousand copies of Hesse’ oeuvre every month and, to that end, resorted to all forms of publicity and pressurising of the young generations of that time. It was thus that in the United States was transformed and falsified Hermann Hesse, making him appear a “hippie”, a proponent of drug abuse, et cetera.

One day Hermann Hesse’s sons sought me in Montagnola to ask me about the imminent cinematic adaptation of Steppenwolf . They wished to know my opinion on the matter. Accompanying Heiner Hesse was the film project’s producer and scriptwriter. I replied by telling them that I remembered very well a conversation with Ninon Ausländer, Hermann Hesse’s last wife, who revealed to me her husband’s position (which was also her’s) against any filming or televising of his work. Moreover, this was stipulated in Hermann Hesse’s will, with one consideration: he would only accept his sons’ adapting for the cinema one of his books if they were in a bad financial situation. I asked Hermann Hesse’s sons if this was the case. They replied that it was not, but that they accepted the filming in order to “help the world’s youth.” They bid farewell and left me with the manuscript of Steppenwolf film project. They charged me with giving them my opinion. I must mention that the script’s author was the same who directed James Joyce’s Ulyses, which was brought to the cinema.

I read the text and, with real surprise, I discovered the invention of long paragraphs that were never written by Hermann Hesse.

I telephoned Heiner Hesse and again we met with the scriptwriter in Montagnola. I made my opinion known to them. They accepted that the script was an elaboration, conscientiously done. Following that explanation there was nothing for me to do but return the script, stating that I was against the filming.

Steppenwolf was brought to the cinema without great success.

To Re-Read Hesse

Unfortunately, the deep writer and poet Hermann Hesse was falsified and vulgarised by a world in decline. He needs to be re-read today by the same who were formerly shaken by his mystery. Demian, for example, was always understood by the readers of that time to be a symbolic work, where, in addition, is reflected the Masonic legend of Eve and the “sons of the widow” (Demian, one of them), and of Sinclair (a name representative of the great hereditary masters of the Scottish Masonry), who also interprets the Jungian conception of the “Self” with the “anima” already linked to the Self; the Absolute Man. That is Demian’s character (the “Self” of Sinclair). Demian is also a follower of the Gnostic god, Abraxas, which unites opposites within him.

Now, Steppenwolf is a marvellous play on symbols along the lines of The Magic Flute , by Mozart (a musician admired by Hermann Hesse). Tamino and Pamina, Papageno and Papagena, in Hesse’s work are Hermann (Harrier) and Hermine, female for Hermann (unfortunately, in the Spanish translation Hermine’s name has been changed). That is to say, in this work is presented once again the mysterious and profound play on metaphysics of Mozart and Jung, of Orpheus and Plato: of the “anima” and the “animus”.

About Hesse’s transcendental work, The Glass Bead Game , declared the Secretary General of the United Nations during the sixties, Hammarskjöld, that were he confined to a desert island, the only thing he would want to have with him would be this marvellous work. And Henry Miller, author of Tropic of Cancer , wrote to me saying that for him Siddhartha was the most important book he had ever read, because it summarised in a few pages all of Zen Buddhism. And he told me, also, that on his headboard he always had the book C.G.Jung and Hermann Hesse: A Record of Two Friendships , about my conversations with the writer. Unfortunately, he had not been able personally to know Hermann Hesse, because, having gone to visit him in Montagnola, he found on the front gate to his house a sign in German that said “Bitte keine Besüche.” Miller knew German and was able to translate it: “Please, no visitors.” Fortunately, I knew not German, and was able to enter, be received by Hermann Hesse, and until today feel that I was graced, blessed by the gods, for having been able to know him and honour myself with his friendship.

In memory of those great times and that mystery, I have desired to write these lines, showing that Hermann Hesse is a writer for eternity, not for a particular time, but for immortality.

Yes! We must read his books again. And resurrect him…

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