Friday, October 12, 2012

Hesse on Reality in Writing

After reading many of Hermann Hesse's novels, as well as two biographies about him and the short collection of his poetry translated by James Wright, I have finally gotten around to reading this collection of Hesse's Autobiographical Writings, first published in 1973.

I just finished "Life story briefly told," in which Hesse turns the autobiography genre on its head by infusing it with surrealism, particularly at the end where there is also a hint of Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading in the story line.

But the entire short piece also seems to be a treatise on why he writes about what he writes about. The following passage, in particular, conveys his perspective on reality in writing:

People say that I have no sense of reality. The poems I write as well as the little pictures I paint do not correspond with reality. When I write I frequently forget the demands that cultivated readers make of a proper book, and more important still, I really do lack respect for reality. I consider reality to be the last thing one need concern oneself about, for it is, tediously enough, always present, while more beautiful and necessary things demand our attention and care. Reality is what one must not under any circumstances be satisfied with, what one must not under any circumstances worship and revere, for it is accidental, the offal of life. And it is in no wise to be changed, this shabby, consistently disappointing and barren reality, except by our denying it and proving in the process that we are stronger than it is.

If you love a dose of the surreal in the novels you read, I highly recommend Hesse's novels -- particularly Steppenwolf and The Glass Bead Game. Other books you might want to check out include the above-mentioned Invitation to a Beheading, by Nabokov; If on a winter's night a traveler, by Italo Calvino; and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's collection Leaf Storm and Other Stories.

What are your favorite "surreal" novels?

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