Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youthby Hermann Hesse
Hermann Hesse is best-known for Steppenwolf and Siddhartha, but his novella DEMIAN has been re-discovered and become very popular in its own right, exploring an individual's search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality. It's Hesse's brilliant coming-of-age novel about the spiritual and psychological growth of a young boy who detaches from
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Hermann Hesse is best-known for Steppenwolf and Siddhartha, but his novella DEMIAN has been re-discovered and become very popular in its own right, exploring an individual's search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality. It's Hesse's brilliant coming-of-age novel about the spiritual and psychological growth of a young boy who detaches from and revolts against this hell of superficial ideals of the world of appearances and eventually awakens into a realization of self.
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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 meneach one of whom represents a unique and valuable experiment on the part of natureare 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 dreamslike 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 birththe slime and eggshells of his primeval pastwith 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 usexperiments of the depthsstrives 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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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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