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Narcissus and Goldmund – A Study of Psychological Types

Hesse And His Typewriter by Qtea

Hesse And His Typewriter by Qtea via Flickr

Narcissus and Goldmund is a novel by Hermann Hesse set in Medieval Germany. It’s about a Christian monk, Goldmund, who one day wanders in the fields a bit too far while gathering herbs and encounters a gypsy woman who asks him to make love.

At this point Goldmund realizes he has an eye for the ladies and was never meant to be a monk. He departs from monastic life, saying goodbye to his close friend and teacher Narcissus, to discover truth through lived experience. In his travels he has several romantic affairs, trains to be a master carver and encounters the horror of the Black Death.

Narcissus represents a stereotypical – or in the Jungian sense archetypal – clergyman bound by rules and regulations whereas Goldmund is a free-thinking, creative seeker.

At the end of the novel the two characters, although estranged throughout most of the narrative, meet up and are reconciled. They reflect on their different paths, the spiritual artist and the theological thinker, and discuss philosophy and science in a way that has been criticized as “too modern” for a historical novel.

English: Carl Gustav Jung, full-length portrai...

Carl Gustav Jung, full-length portrait, standing in front of building in Burghölzi, Zurich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I personally didn’t mind this, probably because I read the book as a teenager. Had I read it today, I might have found the lack of historical accuracy a detriment. But as a youth, I wasn’t overly concerned with historicity.

Hesse was a friend of the depth psychiatrist C. G. Jung, the former once saying that they belonged within a secret circle of mystics.¹ Hesse has always been a psychological, philosophical and spiritual author, so to try to make him into something like Umberto Eco² is misguided. It’s like comparing Drake to Frank Sinatra, saying one should have been more like the other.

On the Web:

To this GradstudentCCC adds:

Hajo Smit’s summary contains an error about the ending. He says:

“Goldmund was so deeply disappointed that he gave up his trip and returned to the monastery, pretending that he had an accident.”

This isn’t the case at all. In the end of the book Goldmund *did* have an accident, in which he broke his ribs. He didn’t return to the monastery until much later (even after staying in a hospital for a while). He was very ill from the accident and returned to the monastery in time to die.

¹ (a) See footnote 2, p. 288 in my doctoral thesis (search “Hesse”): http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk3/ftp04/nq21958.pdf

(b) At that time I was just embarking on the inner life – hardly realizing it at first – and thinkers and novelists like Jung and Hesse provided some kind of road map, however imperfect, to help make sense of my experience.

² I talk a little bit about Eco at earthpages.ca < https://earthpages.wordpress.com/?s=Umberto+Eco+ > but the best place to get a feel for him is from one of his more knowledgeable admirers >> https://stuffjeffreads.wordpress.com/?s=Eco 

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Steppenwolf

Steppenwolf is a Canadian rock band popular in the 1960s and early 1970s, credited with being the first heavy metal band because the single, “Born to be Wild,” included in its lyrics the phrase heavy metal thunder.

Hesse, Hermann: Der Steppenwolf. Berlin: S. Fi...

Hesse, Hermann: Der Steppenwolf. Berlin: S. Fischer 1927, 289 Seiten. Erstausgabe (Wilpert/Gühring² 155) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other hits include “Magic Carpet Ride,” which describes a sort of psychedelic mysticism, and a slow moving song called “The Pusher” that seems to condone marijuana use but condemns heavier, addictive drugs, such as heroine. In the “The Pusher” addicts are described as “walkin round with tombstones in their eyes.”

The band still tours and has sold 25 million records worldwide. Steppenwolf’s music has been used in about 50 movies.

Steppenwolf is also an introspective novel by Hermann Hesse that explores the Jungian idea of the shadow, and to which the rock band most likely owes its name.

 


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Hermann Hesse

Hermann-Hesse-Monument in Calw

Hermann-Hesse-Monument in Calw via Wikipedia

Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) was a former bookseller and antiquary, born in Württemberg, who became an influential writer and friend of the Swiss psychiartrist Carl Jung.

Hesse’s themes are mostly about his understanding of psychological and spiritual development, outlining how intertwining individual paths play off against and influence one another.

His novels Steppenwolf and Demian deal with Jung’s idea of the shadow. Narcissus and Goldmund contrasts the creative free spirit with the structured cleric. Siddhartha is based on the life of the Buddha. The Glass Bead Game portrays a game in which parallel themes from mathematics, the arts and philosophy creatively connect.

The Chilean diplomat Miguel Serrano says that he, Carl Jung and Hermann Hesse belonged to an “inner circle” of Gnostic-style knowers.¹ If Serrano is implying, as seems to be the case, that only three people would belong to an exclusive “inner circle,” this would indicate a kind of underdeveloped, self-aggrandized mysticism. Surely the ordinary person can be just as, if not more, mystically inclined than these public men of letters.

Hesse, being German, had to deal with the Nazi scourge in one way or another. His initial approach was to detach himself from politics, but it’s clear that he was  against the Nazis. His third wife was, in fact, Jewish. And he spoke out against the dark regime long before he married her. Hesse’s publications came to be banned by the Nazis.²

He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946.

¹ http://www.amazon.com/C-G-Hermann-Hesse-Miguel-Serrano/dp/3856305580

² http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermann_Hesse#Later_life_and_death

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