Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youth

Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youth

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by Hermann Hesse
     
 

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In Demian, one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century tells the dramatic story of a young man's awakening to selfhood. Writing in the existential tradition of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, and employing the discoveries of Freud, Hermann Hesse portrays the turmoil of Emil Sinclair, a docile young man who is drawn by his schoolmates - and especially by the…  See more details below

Overview

In Demian, one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century tells the dramatic story of a young man's awakening to selfhood. Writing in the existential tradition of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, and employing the discoveries of Freud, Hermann Hesse portrays the turmoil of Emil Sinclair, a docile young man who is drawn by his schoolmates - and especially by the precocious Max Demian - into a secret and dangerous world of petty crime and revolt against convention.

Editorial Reviews

Saturday Review
An Existentialist intensity and a depth of understanding rare in contemporary fiction.
From the Publisher
“[An] excellent new translation.” —The Times Literary Supplement

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780553262469
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/01/1981

Read an Excerpt

I cannot tell my story without reaching a long way back. If it were possible I would reach back farther still-into the very first years of my childhood, and beyond them into distant ancestral past.Novelists when they write novels tend to take an almost godlike attitude toward their subject, pretending to a total comprehension of the story, a man's life, which they can therefore recount as GodHimself might, nothing standing between them and the naked truth, the entire story meaningful in every detail. I am as little able to do this as the novelist is, even though my story is more important to me than any novelist's is to biro for this is my story; it is the story of a man, not of an invented, or possible, or idealized, or otherwise absent figure, but of a unique being of flesh and blood. Yet, what a real living human being is made of seems to be less understood today than at any time before, and men—each one of whom represents a unique and valuable experiment on the part of nature—are therefore shot wholesale nowadays. If ire were not something more than unique human beings, if each one of us could really be done away with once and for all by a single bullet, storytelling would lose all purpose. But every man is more than just himself he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world's phenomena intersect, only once in this way and never again. That is why every man's story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every man, as long as he lives and fulfills the will of nature, is wondrous, and worthy of every consideration. In each individual the spirit has become flesh, in each man the creation suffers, withineach one a redeemer is nailed to the cross.

Few people nowadays know what man is. Many sense this ignorance and die the more easily because of it, the same way that I will die more easily once I have completed this story.

I do not consider myself less ignorant than most people. I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me. My story is not a pleasant one; it is neither sweet nor harmonious, as invented stories are; it has the taste of nonsense and chaos, of madness and dreams—like the lives of all men who stop deceiving themselves.

Each man's life represents a road toward himself, an attempt at such a road, the intimation of a path. No man has ever been entirely and completely himself. Yet each one strives to become that-one in an awkward, the other in a more intelligent way, each as best he can. Each man carries the vestiges of his birth—the slime and eggshells of his primeval past—with him to the end of his days. Some never become human, remaining frog, lizard, ant. Some are human above the waist, fish below. Each represents a gamble on the part of nature in creation of the human. We all share the same origin, our mothers; all of us come in at the same door. But each of us—experiments of the depths—strives toward his own destiny. We can understand one another; but each of us is able to interpret himself to himself alone.

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From the Publisher
“[An] excellent new translation.” —The Times Literary Supplement

Meet the Author

Hermann Hesse (1877­–1962) won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946. His many books include Siddhartha, Steppenwolf, and Narcissus and Goldmund.

Damion Searls has translated many classic twentieth-century authors, including Proust, Rilke, and Thomas Bernhard. His translation of Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key was a New York Times Notable Book and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. Searls lives in Brooklyn.

Ralph Freedman is a professor emeritus of comparative literature at Princeton University and the author of an acclaimed biography of Hermann Hesse. He lives in Decatur, Georgia.

James Franco is an Oscar-nominated actor and director. His writing has appeared in Esquire, the Wall Street Journal, and McSweeney’s. Franco lives in New York.

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Demian 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 51 reviews.
carlosmock More than 1 year ago
Hermann Hesse is without a doubt one of the most intriguing writers I have ever read.

This story considers the evolving, somewhat troubled psyche of a German youth, Sinclair, as he matures during the decade prior to WWI.

As a prepubescent boy, Sinclair recognizes the realm of good and light, symbolized by his God fearing parents and innocent younger sisters, as separate from the realm of evil and dark, symbolized by Franz Kromer, an older, opportunist who extorts Sinclair into fibbing and petty thievery. Another older boy, Demian, rescues Sinclair from Kromer's clutches, and then sows a new perception of the light and dark realms with an inverted interpretation of the parable of Cain and Abel. Demian perceives the mark on Cain's forehead not as a curse, but as a badge of courage, character and power.

Tainted by his experience with Kromer, Sinclair cannot entirely reject Demian's heroic characterization of Cain, and Demian nurtures this upset of clarity, muddling Sinclair's once clear distinction between the realms of good and evil. Demian then plants the alternative perception that the individual must delve into the self to discover his peculiar fate and destiny, a unique purpose apart from the mundane consensus, the mores of the hoard. Hesse then projects Sinclair's turmoil into a characterization of, or perhaps a reflection of, the mass psyche of prewar Europe.

I first read "Demian" forty two years ago, during my high scgool years. At the time I was struggling with my sexuality and was attracted to the homosexual undertones between Demian and Sinclair.

For some reason I saved "Demian," I forgot, long ago, why I saved "Demian," why I did not shuck it off along with my other old skins. Now that I am an outed homosexual, I believe that Sinclair, the main character, is not entering the normal world on any level. In fact he is leaving it. The first time he meets Demian, both know there is something different about him. As their friendship/relationship grows, it become smore and more clear that they should not be part of the normal world, where people to choose to be part of a group, to share a religion, to accept the truth as it is told to them. Demian shows sinclair a new world, where people of a higher intelligence, and by that I am referring to more than simply an academic intelligence, will find each other.¿
Guest More than 1 year ago
Demian enables the reader to see inside of himself. If you read only one book this year, please, let it be this masterpiece by Hesse. It will penetrate in ways that will astound you. For anyone who has felt the lonliness of being this is a must read.
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Transcending the learned religion of childhood, Hermann Hesse captures the angst of a young man examining his faith. At times, I felt as if I was reading my own biography.
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