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Hermann Hesse : Demian (Prologue)

Hermann Hesse




I cannot tell my story without going a long way back. If it were possible I would go back much farther still to the very earliest years of my childhood and beyond them to my family origins.

When poets write novels they are apt to behave as if they were gods, with the power to look beyond and comprehend any human story and serve it up as if the Almighty himself, omnipresent, were relating it in all its naked truth. That I am no more able to do than the poets. But my story is more important to me than any poet's story to him, for it is my own - and it is the story of a human being - not an invented, idealised person but a real, live, unique being.

What constitutes a real, live human being is more of a mystery than ever these days, and men - each one of whom is a valuable, unique experiment on the part of nature - are shot down wholesale. If, however, we were not something more than unique human beings and each man jack of us could really be dismissed from this world with a bullet, there would be no more point in relating stories at all. But every man is not only himself; he is also the unique, particular, always significant and remarkable point where the phenomena of the world intersect once and for all and never again.

That is why every man's story is important, eternal, sacred; and why every man, while he lives and fulfils the will of nature, is a wonderful creature deserving the utmost attention. In each individual the spirit is made flesh, in each one the whole of creation suffers, in each one a Saviour is crucified.

Few people nowadays know what man is. Many feel it intuitively and die more easily for that reason, just as I shall die more easily when I have completed this story.

I cannot call myself a scholar. I have always been and still am a seeker but I no longer do my seeking among the stars or in books. I am beginning to hear the lessons which whisper in my blood.

Mine is not a pleasant story, it does not possess the gentle harmony of invented tales; like the lives of all men who have given up trying to deceive themselves, it is a mixture of nonsense and chaos, madness and dreams. The life of every man is a way to himself, an attempt at a way, the suggestion of a path. No man has ever been utterly himself, yet every man strives to be so, the dull, the intelligent, each one as best he can.

Each man to the end of his days carries round with him vestiges of his birth - the slime and egg-shells of the primeval world. There are many who never become human; they remain frogs, lizards, ants. Many men are human beings above and fish below.

Yet each one represents an attempt on the part of nature to create a human being. We enjoy a common origin in our mothers; we all come from the same pit. But each individual, who is himself an experimental throw from the depths, strives towards his own goal. We can understand each other; but each person is able to interpret himself to himself alone.

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