The Glass Bead Game

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A book of fiction written by Hermann Hesse (1877-1962), entitled Das Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game), published in Switzerland in 1943. It is sometimes incorrectly titled "Magister Ludi" because the full subtitle is "A tentative sketch of the life of Magister Ludi Joseph Knecht together with Knecht's posthumous writings edited by Hermann Hesse". Hesse received the Nobel prize for Literature in 1946 and this book was a major reason why.

The Glass Bead game is a metaphor inspired by the game of Go. The book carefully avoids describing a physical manifestion, though it ascribes its origins to beads on wires arranged like lines on musical notation. Many sets of Go stones are made out of glass. It was first mentioned by Hesse in an idyllic poem ''Hours in the Garden'' (1936), composed during the same period he was writing the book. "The Glass Bead Game is an act of mental synthesis through which the spiritual values of all ages are perceived as simultaneously present and vitally alive" (Theodore Ziolkowski). Hesse was a seeker of enlightenment much influenced by Eastern philosophy.

The book is written as though by a scholar writing in the 25th century. There is a good translation into English by Richard and Clara Winston that captures some of the ironic sense Hesse had in pretending to be a pedantic future scholar. The book has been translated into many languages.

(See also The Master of Go by Kawabata, who also received the Nobel Prize for Literature).

Adamzero: Whether or not it was inspired by go, the Glass Bead Game, as it is represented in the story, bears basically no resemblance to it. While the brief history of the game notes that it was originally played with glass stones, unless my memory is faulty, by the time of Joseph Knecht the game was a complex set of ideograms to be drawn in complex arrangments on paper. It is not clear how the game worked. Apparently the players would introduce forms and concepts from mathematics, music, philosophy, etc. and then illustrate their relations via more signs, creating something of a symphony or flow of meanings. Its almost funny how much Hesse was a product of his philosophical mindset and milieu: the emphasis on purely formal relationships, and purely formal subjects draws so heavily from Kant and his pervasive thought. However, its interesting in that this book, while seemingly less directly inspired by German Romanticism in his earlier works (cf. Narcissus and Goldmund), could be read as the triumph of Romanticism over formalistic idealism: Knecht eventually leaves the game to reengage with the world and its beauties.

Anyway, great book, go read it. I love it. Also, as the above reviewer mentioned, get the translation entitled "The Glass Bead Game", the earlier translation under the title "Magister Ludi" is inferior.

It bears mention that "The Net of Indra" is a great rectangular network of lines bearing polished spheres at the intersections; the idea being that the spheres, like Leibniz' monads, are individual beings or entities which know nothing of themselves, yet which, by each reflecting each in each, bring forth the universe as a vast collaborative illusion. Indra's net is a metaphor the Internet, sometimes commercially and overtly, sometimes not. The concept is ancient, probably as old as Cro Magnon shamanistic wall gazing (or Bodhidharma's wall gazing ;) So, there is probably an even older stratum in atavistic human culture in which all these concepts can find a common root.

I recently started a blog ( to discuss different topics in the context of Go. Since Go is the closest thing we have to the glass bead game we can use it to display the universality of knowledge. I have read all of Hesse's novels and believe that when he wrote the Steppenwolf and The Glass Bead Game he was thinking of Go (He loved asian culture). -KGS: Tianzi 4k

The Glass Bead Game last edited by on October 8, 2009 - 06:07
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