So it was with fear and trembling I approached Hesse’s oft recommended work. After having my proverbial fingers burnt at the hands of Mann’s mountain of magic, it seemed folly to attempt to wrestle with a book he considered sublime. My hatred of Mann aside (whose words from his foreword encouraging the reader to climb the Magic Mountain twice still mock my dreams), I had every reason to believe in Hesse. Afterall, in The Electric Koolaid Acid Trip it is Hesse which the Loonies turn to, and Siddhartha still appears on the occasional bookshelf in Backpacker haunts besides forgotten Lonely Planet guides.
When approaching new literature, I believe whole-heartedly in Barthes’ approach of allowing an author to die, so I have no preconceived notions. This has meant I read A Tale of Two Cities unhaunted from the ghost of The Pickwick Papers, and I loved On The Road despite it not being about Dharma Bums. So with preconceived notions dulled, and only the recommendation of a former contemporary burning in my ear, I picked up this tomb for a second time. At least, I imagine it was for a second time, however it appears to be for the first. Despite owning the text in a former life, it must have been adroit at gathering dust and walking with me down the alleys in my mind, as it became swiftly appart this book had never graced my presence.
Hesse writes with a defined style, rich with aphorism and poignant in its delivery. The ubiquitious life of the protagonist reveals before us a character of startling little complexity. Here is final the anti-hero to Dantes, a man of singular purpose not to destroy but to humble himself before the alter of his destiny. It’s striking that it is written so reflectively, and yet written as an account of this master – as if the literary detritus collected around his historical presence have an unquestionable truth for the narrator. Oh and of course, the interplay between a historical character dwelling in an alternative history can not be lost, even on the most casual reader.
For that is what I remain, a casual reader half-way through another literary classic after only two days. Whilst delighted at discovering a book which speaks so richly to the tortured academic I imagine all students are who graduate into the professions, it remains clear that this is a text to polemicize the issue of academia’s place alongside the professional world. As market forces increasingly dominate the higher-education world, and capital becomes the pursuit of academia (both from the often emails I receive from six separate universities’ requesting money – somewhat laughable given the fees they charge, and their own drive to expand overseas to the detriment of local institutions and scholars), the place of the Glass Bead Game as supported by the material world as its culmination, and its historical presence as a form of peaceful compromise to prevent further war, could hardly speak clearer. The purpose of academia appears to be spoken with a degree of introspection and reverence, and the place of the AHRC in relation to STEM funding almost pre-accepted. Yet here we see a game which prizes the lack of industry, as anti-productive as it comes as the existence of the game is to consume surplus capital (at a cost of only 10% of a conventional war, we are informed), rather than to reinvest it into a market.
There is no doubt much written in the last century on the meaning of the glass bead game, but I find myself loath to read it. To me, the game is a symbol of academia in its more philosophical form. As in the original days when Universities separated from the religious institutions slightly, and Paris and Oxford began to teach with a degree of autonomy, we have the Arts and Humanities receive an almost transcendental acceptance.
Yet, is this not what Ray was so intent on warning us of? With Fahrenheit’s four walls of TV, he was scared of the populace immersing itself fully into an artform (although in this case, perhaps the more banal variety). In The Glass Bead Game, we have a spectator sport, the role of Academia and academics shown in its largesse, and a master intent on showing the spiritual side of the game.
So studying with a spiritual dimension, possible? Meditation instead of Red Bull and prescription medicine, possible? Academics free from decentralised funding practises, possible?
Yet throughout the text, I can’t help but detect a hint of critique, almost distain for this approach of the Glass Bead Masters. In their removal from the politics and materiality their existence depends on, we see the protagonist’s friend deemed aloof and haunty by an aged monk, himself cloistered. We have the praise for his former sparring partner, now a man of the world with a degree of intellect – even if he is judged harshly for no longer playing the game to the same depth. It is here, perhaps, I find the most traction, It is in the role of the critic who was destined to attend the academic institution as an outsider, knowing he was always to leave, that most students will find themselves. Too little emphasis is put on the outsider’s decision to return each year, to continue to support the institution of intellect which helps him to make such an educated critique of the monastic institution. Here we have a man grappling with the commitments of the outside world, and yet still paying homage to the intellectual world.
Within the world of Inclusion, we have seen in recent years the burgeoning of higher education offerings. The Postgraduate qualification became online through Roehampton only last year, and now even the fractitious need to be physically present in England is gone. Yet you are still required to have a degree, and on a practical level, a PGCE always comes in handy. As the former generations desire for graduation gives way to the millennials desire for the post-graduate, maybe it’s inevitable that the widening access of higher education will mean an increasing number of individuals are able to retain the dual role of professional and academic.
So within this constraint, should the Inclusion professional seek to study their profession in it’s practice, or engage with its theory? Is the Edd preferable to the PhD, or vice versa? These are questions I wish I could give some answers, but I find myself asking them as I continue Hesse. Perhaps he will have some answers. I certainly can offer none, besides an ardent recommendation for all professionals within Inclusion to read Hesse’s Glass Bead Game, and think – is this me?