The following contribution discusses the second extended reference to the Bible in Hermann Hesse’s ‘Demian’: the Story of the Good and Bad Thieves from the Gospel of Saint Luke.
Emil Sinclair’s exemplary coming-of-age, as portrayed in ‘Demian’, requires the disruption of the well-ordered world of Christian morality. One of the narrative ploys used by Hesse to this end is the counter-reading of passages from the Bible.
After 1965, when a new English translation was published, Hermann Hesse’s ‘Demian’, together with ‘Siddartha’ and ‘Der Steppenwolf’, came to be associated with America’s burgeoning counterculture. There followed a surge of interest in Hesse which lasted well into the 1970s. In exploring this phenomenon, the Christian notion of ‘conscience’ is of great help.
In Demian, Hermann Hesse draws on a wide range of cultural allusions. One of the most recognizable is the figure of Beatrice, the heavenly beloved familiar from the works of Dante Alighieri. Less recognisable, because carefully hidden, is what Hesse, through his protagonist, makes of the beloved. Strange as it may seem, Emil Sinclair’s quest for himself, which is the theme and purpose of the novel, requires her murder.
The Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Gustav Jung, straddled an uneasy divide between science and mysticism. One of his most enigmatic texts carries the title ‘Septem Sermones ad Mortuos and Basilides’ (Seven Sermons to the Dead and Basilides). Jungians see in ‘Septem Sermones’ the prefiguration of all of the master’s later work. What strikes me most of all is its nihilism.
Five hundred years ago, the German reformer, Martin Luther, confronted the awesome power of the Roman Church, and discovered that he was free. Not only that, he discovered that every Christian is free, because freedom is what is taught by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His argument is presented in the Tract, ‘On the Freedom of a Christian’. The following is an attempt by an interested non-specialist, myself, to read this work and consider some of its meaning.
Gomorrah is the title Roberto Saviano chose for his well-known book on the Camorra, the network of criminal organisations that have dominated Naples and Italy’s Campania region for generations. A revelatory choice. Gomorrah and Camorra sound alike. And are alike. The land of the Camorra is a lost place, ruined by greed, hubris, and the vilest excesses. A Biblical place. A place of the damned.
It must be quite a challenge to represent the message of Easter in a painting. Spanish artist Raúl Berzosa, whose ‘Christ Resurrected’ is featured on the new Vatican City 95c postage stamp, tries it with physical beauty. The result, though interesting, fails to convince.
The ‘Our Father,’ the prayer that Jesus taught us, booms around our churches with hearty maleness, bringing the liturgy down an octave or two. The congregation may or may not believe in God, but the men among them, it seems, believe strongly, and viscerally, that God, if He exists, is male.