Like all of Herman Hesse’s novels, after finishing it I sigh with despair and think to myself:
“There is nothing left for me to contribute to literature. My career is done before it had a chance to begin.”
Hesse is magnificent. I love him above all else. But I also hate him for capturing my essence so well in his novels.
Demian is an exploration of purpose and inner-truth. An exploration of our inner god-selves.
- Like Conrad’s Heart of Darkness I was too engrossed in this one to take notes. That says something.
- “There were stories of prodigal sons to whom that had happened; I had read them excitedly. Their return home to their father and a good life was always so satisfying and splendid; I realized keenly that that was the only proper, good, and desirable outcome, but the part of the story that took place among the wicked and the lost was by far the more appealing, and, if one were free to state and admit it, it was sometimes actually a downright shame that the prodigal repented and was found again. But one didn’t say that and didn’t even think it. The idea was merely somehow present as a premonition or possibility, deep down in your mind. When I visualized the Devil, I could quite easily imagine him down in the street, disguised or clearly identifiable, or else at the fair, or in a tavern, but never in our house.
- “Oh, I know it today: nothing in the world is more repugnant to a man than following the path that leads him to himself!
- “Everyone lives through this difficult period. For the average person it’s the point in his life when the demands of his own life clash most violently with the world around him, when his forward path must be fought for most bitterly. Many experience this death and rebirth, which are our destiny, only this once in their life, when childhood decays and slowly disintegrates, when all that has become dear to us is about to leave us and we suddenly feel the solitude and deathly chill of outer space around us. And very many are hung up for good on this reef and for the rest of their life cling painfully to the irretrievable past, to the dream of the lost paradise, which is the worst and most murderous of all dreams.
- “each of us must discover for himself what is permitted and what is forbidden—forbidden to him. It’s possible for someone never to do any forbidden thing, and yet be a thorough scoundrel.
- “Actually, it’s merely a question of convenience! Whoever is too comfort-loving to do his own thinking and be his own judge simply adapts to the pre-existing negative commandments.
- “But we’re comprised of everything that comprises the world, each of us, and just as our body bears within it the lines of evolutionary descent all the way back to the fish and even much farther beyond that, in the same way our soul contains everything that has ever dwelt in human souls. All the gods and devils that ever existed, whether among the Greeks, Chinese, or Zulus, are all inside us, they exist there as possibilities, as wishes, as ways of escape. If mankind died out except for a single halfway-gifted child that had received no education, that child would rediscover the whole course of events, it would be able to produce again the gods, demons, Edens, positive and negative commandments, the Old and the New Testament.”
- “that for me Christ is not an individual, but a hero, a myth, an enormous shadow in which mankind sees its own image cast onto the wall of eternity.
- “It was wrong to desire new gods, it was totally wrong to try and give the world anything! There was no duty for enlightened people, none, none, except this: to seek themselves, to become certain of themselves, to grope forward along their own path, wherever it might lead.—I
- “His business was to discover his own destiny, not just any destiny, and to live it totally and undividedly. Anything else was just a half-measure, an attempt to run away, an escape back to the ideal of the masses, an adaptation, fear of one’s own nature. Fearsome and sacred, the new image rose up before me; I had sensed it a hundred times, perhaps I had already enunciated it, but now I was experiencing it for the first time. I was a gamble of Nature, a throw of the dice into an uncertain realm, leading perhaps to something new, perhaps to nothing; and to let this throw from the primordial depths take effect, to feel its will inside myself and adopt it completely as my own will: that alone was my vocation. That alone!
- “It would be grander, it would be more proper, if I quite simply placed myself at the disposal of fate, making no claims. But I can’t; it’s the only thing I can’t do. Maybe you’ll be able to some day. It’s difficult, it’s the only really difficult thing that exists, my young friend. I’ve often dreamed of it, but I can’t do it, it terrifies me: I can’t stand there so completely naked and alone; I, too, am a poor, weak dog that needs a little warmth and food, and would occasionally like to feel the nearness of his own kind. The person who truly wants nothing except his destiny no longer has others of his own kind; he stands completely alone and has only the chill of outer space around him.
- “And why are they afraid? A person is afraid only when he isn’t at one with himself. They’re afraid because they have never accepted themselves. A community consisting exclusively of people afraid of the unknown in themselves! They all feel that the rules they live by are no longer valid, that they’re following outdated commandments; neither their religions nor their morality, nothing is suited to what we need.
- “Whether the workers kill the factory owners or Russia and Germany shoot at each other, that will only mean a change of ownership. But it won’t all be for nothing. It will show clearly just how worthless today’s ideals are; there will be a clearing out of Stone Age gods. This world, as it now is, wants to die, it wants to perish, and it will.”
- “I, who had been solitary for so long, became acquainted with the society that is possible among people who have experienced total isolation.
- “We who bore the mark might well be considered by the rest of the world as strange, even as insane and dangerous. We had awoken, or were awaking, and we were striving for an ever more perfect state of wakefulness, whereas the ambition and quest for happiness of the others consisted of linking their opinions, ideals, and duties, their life and happiness, ever more closely with those of the herd. They, too, strove; they, too, showed signs of strength and greatness. But, as we saw it, whereas we marked men represented Nature’s determination to create something new, individual, and forward-looking, the others lived in the determination to stay the same. For them mankind—which they loved as much as we did—was a fully formed entity that had to be preserved and protected. For us mankind was a distant future toward which we were all journeying, whose aspect no one knew, whose laws weren’t written down anywhere.
- “We in the narrower circle listened but accepted none of these doctrines as anything but symbols. We marked men were not at all worried about the shape the future would take. To us every credo, every doctrine of salvation seemed stillborn and useless. And there was only one thing we conceived as our duty and destiny: for each of us to become so completely himself, so completely in harmony with the creative germ of Nature within himself, living in accordance with its commands, that the uncertain future would find us ready for any eventuality, whatever it might bring.
- “Earlier I had thought a lot about why it was so extremely unusual for a person to be able to live for an ideal. Now I saw that many people, all in fact, are capable of dying for an ideal. Only, it mustn’t be a personal, freely chosen ideal, but one held in common and taken over from other people.
- “Those primal feelings, even the wildest of them, weren’t directed against the enemy; their bloody results were merely an outward materialization of people’s inner life, the split within their souls, which desired to rage and kill, destroy and die, so that they could be reborn. A gigantic bird was fighting its way out of the egg, and the egg was the world, and the world had to fall to pieces.”