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.
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.
Germany in the first half of 1919. Disgruntled soldiers trudge home from a war they cannot believe they have lost. The Kaiser is in exile. The reigning noble houses have vanished, swept into history by the so-called November Revolution. Coups d’etat are in open preparation. Violence is everywhere. In this volatile climate, Hermann Hesse’s ‘Demian’ found its first readers.
Whether it originated from police interrogations, from the febrile imaginations of anti-semitic journalists and priests, or from the murky thoughts of the conspirator, ‘Nubius’, the ‘Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita’ anticipated to a high degree what has become of the Roman Catholic Church.
“I always wanted only the best for Germany.” In the prison yard, the rifles of the firing squad were at the ready. The condemned man, seeing their nervousness, tried to calm them. They shouldn’t blame themselves, he said. They were only doing their duty. He himself stood strong. “Shoot well, comrades,” he finished, looking each of them in the eye.
Vogelschiss. Birdshit. A German politician used this word recently to describe the National Socialist regime which ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945. He was looking for a new perspective, one which would reduce the Nazi dictatorship to proportion in a thousand years of mostly successful German history. Elections were in the offing, and he may have felt that he needed the attention. Because I am reluctant to give him any, he will be referred to here as Mr. Bird, leaving out the second syllable.
Claude Lanzmann’s ‘Shoah’ is a memorable film. Not because of what it says. But because of its refusal to say anything at all. The theme of Shoah is the Holocaust, in which over six million Jews were murdered by National Socialist Germany. But to state the theme in this way is to already go beyond the film. ‘Shoah’ can be classed as a documentary, in that it is concerned with historical events and includes the testimony of eyewitnesses. But it does not document anything, or try to explain anything. If there is a message, it must be worked out by the viewer, in subjective imagination. Which puts the question to me.
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.