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.
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.
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.