C.G.Jung / Gnostic / Literature / Meditation

Blogsphere as Hesse’s Glass Bead Game against the ‘Feuilletonistic‘ world

In Herman Hesse’s final novel The Glass Bead Game, which won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946, he introduces essentially a hypothetical meta game, which has been compared with a  “neural network of cosmic mind”. This gave me the idea to probe today’s social and knowledge networks of the Internet as it were The Glass Bead Game, with two hypothesis:

  1. The book describes The Glass Bead Game as prophesy of interconnected knowledge and may be a remedy against todays ‘Feuilletonistic‘ world.
  2. The book is a prophesy of the disease, of todays ‘Feuilletonistic‘ world of whichInternet is part of.

    'feuilletonistic‘ media culture

    ‘feuilletonistic‘ media culture

The book, also published under the title ” Magister Ludi”, after its principal character, is a beautiful but not an easy read. Its length is not prohibitive but the paragraphs are all dense and descriptive.This essay will mainly focus on the  Glass Bead Game, which encompasses all intellectual and mental activity of humans within the worldly environment. It thus aims towards all those fields of the sciences and arts which are available as the inventory of human orientation. Hesse describes the rules as such: „These rules, the sign language and grammar of the game, represent a kind of highly developed secret language, in which several sciences and arts, in particular mathematics and music (or the science of music) participate which are able to express the contents and results of practically all of the sciences and relate them to each other.“   It occurred to me, that the purpose (or curiosity) of some my activities in the blogshhere is devoted to relate different topics too.

Prophesy of the ‘Feuilletonistic‘ world

The novel takes place in the distant the future, in a world that has passed beyond what is described as the feuilletonistic age (that is, of course the postmodern and post-metaphysical society) in which culture is trivialized and no difference exits between truth and lies anymore.

Alexander Shubin – The Glass Bead Game

The Book “Glass Bead Game” is a fascinating prophesy of modern life as well as a classic of Jungian influenced literature.  Its culture critic describes a world  ‘feuilletonistic‘ media culture contrasted by one of sterile scholarship without impact to real life.  Both can be found in our cultural landscape of  knowledge distribution networks and social media. There is probably less trivia in the blogsphere than in the mainstream media pages.But without any materiality of suitable existence how can one sustain responsibility for one‘s words, written or oral? How can people say what they mean and mean what they say? In short, to what does the global language of the Internet refer to?

The game

Lets go one step back. The first layer in the book consists of a chronicle after the chaos of the millennium wars in Castalia, a pedagogical province in the  country of Waldzell, a secular state enjoying peace and prosperity. As the title suggests, the book describes this hypothetical game known as the ‘Glass Bead Game’.Academic pursuit of pure knowledge has now become an aesthetic discipline, personified most significantly by a philosophical game in which glass beads are used to demonstrate the progress of the players . The goal is to find interconnectedness in the realms of arts and knowledge – for instance the precise mathematical notation of a Bach fugue or interdependencies of music and literature. In its purest manifestation a synthesis through which philosophy, art, music and scientific law are appreciated simultaneously, it is played by scholar-players in autonomous elite institution devoted wholly to the thinking and intuition (Note:  two of the four Jung Functions). The hypothetical place around 2500AD  idealizes a kind of inner harmony like a Benedictine monastery with wide-ranging cultural knowledge  to make those needed subtle connections but also like the Chinese Zen masters. Essentially,  the game can’t interpreted as an attempt to discover a grand unified theory of science (e.g. physics) and meaning (e.g. religion) where the lingua franca is music and mathematics.

Master Ludi

Master Ludi

Games are played according to strictly prescribed rules of an elite of trained experts under the leadership of the Magister Ludi, the Master of the game. Wittgenstein, they say, does more than most to underscore, that there is no set of hard-wired rules foundational to our language but there are language games. From Castalia to Wikipedia from WordPress to Facebook openness and closure in knowledge communities is determined by such a set of given rules.

C.G. Jung connections

Besides of the obvious structure of the four Jung Functions to the four biographic stories (the main and the three circular virtues in the second part, the metaphor of the Glass Bead Game in its culture critical representation stands for a sterile knowledge society. If you compared it  with a Christian text, however, the structure of Hesse’s novel reminds on the mystic (faintly gnostic) Gospel of John and reads almost like Gnostic and alchemist texts.  Many terms, concepts and techniques of C.G. Jung  like Typology, Archetypes and Collective Unconsciousness can be found in this book ( I suppose)Hesse was very fond of the concept of individuation and underwent psychoanalysis under Carl Jung’s assistant J.B. Lang. He has visited C.G.Jung several times 1921 for therapeutic discussions to overcome a creativity/ production crisis but canceled them. There are lots of biographic connections between C.G. Jung and Hesse. Both had similar upbringings, e.g. trouble with their (rigid religious) fathers (Hesse’s father was a Pietist missionary / C.G.Jung father a protestant priests), both struggled with their conservative foundation. In their spiritual search they were open to Western and Eastern religious thoughts and Gnostic ideas. Both at some point of times were criticized supporting the Nazi ideology. Even stronger felt is the Jungian influence felt in Hesse’s work.  I found C.G. Jung’s psychology indispensable for my understanding and appreciation of Hesse’s writings. To me Jungian symbols and Archetypes are strikingly evident in Hesse’s work. Both Jung, and Hesse seem noised out in today’s mainstream. Hesse was like C.G.Jung a seer, who was not afraid to look further. and dared to look to anything “which works” – Gnostic, Astrology, Alchemy, Eastern Philosophy – you name it.

Master of the Glass Bead Game

Master of the Glass Bead Game

Archetypal knowledge

This systematic approach to an universal game, conceptualized in a global manner, implies an important methodological consequence. Hesse states: „The glass bead game is thus a game with all the contents and the values of our culture, it plays with them, as in the heyday of the arts a painter may have played with the colours on his palette. What humankind has produced in its creative epochs in terms of knowledge, noble thoughts, and works of art, what the successive epochs of learnt reflexion have conceptualized and claimed as intellectual property, all of this extraordinary material of intellectual values is being played by the glass bead player like an organ is played by the organist, and this organ is of a hardly graspable perfection, its manuals and pedals are scanning the whole spiritual cosmos,spiritual cosmos, its registers are almost uncountable, theoretically, the complete intellectual contents of the world could be reproduced by playing.“
Today, the idea of such a playful virtualization of the world has become more common than this could have been the case in the time of Hesse himself. Our modern attitude to visualize the world in strict analogy with a network such as to utilize the concept of the social grid itself as a guiding paradigm of grasping the world. It facilitates as matrix as a meta language does to content.  It has been said, that vision of the future includes the possibility of the universal, or ‘global’ communication, which is independent of any regional cultural context. Hesse saw the approach in mathematics and art (music) coming together just like Kepler (who used already the term archetype). It occurred to me, ironically, our version of Hesse’s Glass Bead Game is the Internet and todays Kafkaesque transnational system and bodies. Aren’t we in Kastaliens’ administrative system in the year 2500 already, with its instances and administrative rules, with game commissions, game institutions, committees,game master office, game courses, game laws, game archives, controlled media and Orwell’s archivists? There are even the ordinary peasants (amateurs) in Plato’s cave, who see only the deceiving reflection of the game in todays media.

Conceptual view

The glass bead game itself is a very interesting mathematical, aesthetic, philosophical and mystic concept. To me, it lays the foundations for an artistic game, which integrates all fields of human and maybe spiritual knowledge through forms of symbolism. Herman Hesse: “How far back the historian wishes to place the origins and antecedents of the Glass Bead Game is, ultimately, a matter of his personal choice. For like every great idea it has no real beginning; rather, it has always been, at least the idea of it. We find it foreshadowed, as a dim anticipation and hope, in a good many earlier ages. There are hints of it in Pythagoras, for example, and then among Hellenistic Gnostic circles in the late period of classical civilization. We find it equally among the ancient Chinese, then again at the several pinnacles of Arabic-Moorish culture; and the path of its prehistory leads on through Scholasticism and Humanism to the academies of mathematicians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and on to the Romantic philosophies and the runes of Novalis’ hallucinatory visions.”

Te game could be interpreted from  C.G. Jung’s concepts. Or from some Western philosophers, i.e Wittgenstein’s language game. As pointed out by Wittgenstein, the kinds into which we organize the world of things by naming them tend to be defined by clusters of criterion properties, of which any given object need not possess all properties to qualify as one of them.  Also main tenants of Eastern thinking can be found there. Music is an very important element of the game, for instancethe  Bach fugue – with its ideal relation to mathematics (see  Douglas R. Hofstadter: Gödel, Escher, Bach – An Eternal Golden Braid, 1979).Fortunately and as on would expect from such an intuitive thinker, Hesse was not sufficiently explicit to offer unambiguous instructions for how to go about actually creating or playing the Game. This has vexed many. It is possible Hesse himself did not want to give a clear vision of the game, but instead a more or less ascetic framework.

Broad Bandwidth/Flattened World

To me the Glass Bead Game is metaphor to bring all relevant knowledge and art together. One example is how the inherent and direct feedback blogs are used to learn, improve and fine tune on a Glass Bead Board (or net). We are embracing three mega trends in the Brave New World of digital media, science, art and politics.

  • shift from presentation to participation by bidirectional communication
  • using technology to connect -or disconnect
  • using social media interaction to make the world better -or worse

The present (and future) seem like a net of interconnected social communication beyond AOL and Facebook trivia. Like any powerful change agent, social media interaction cannot only used to make the world better but also worse. It is not surprising that the blogging offers beyond knowledge a useful platform or medium for both serious and more trivial discussion about belief and belonging and distribution of self published art. In recent years this has taken place increasing on weblogs which may or may not have been established by single topic institutions, organisations or groups. Unlike those dedicated to sport and politics (to take two obvious examples) serious blogs frequently engender passions and psychodynamic energies which move significantly beyond the mere agenda of the targeted communities. Clearly the Internet provides (as it does, respectively, for almost every area of human knowledge) a much appreciated and used gateway for accessing and retrieving significant resources. However, it also offers at the same time a power-fully seductive arena in which belief systems do not merely get presented and convivially discussed but also baldly and repeatedly asserted.
Taken together, the bidirectional communication in Blogs constitute a more efficient technological platform for a contest that has been ongoing in the real world for millennia: the control, manipulation, and, most significantly, replication of symbolic resources – archetypes because of its theoretical ability to allow the opinions (and feedback)of anyone to be published without reference to tradition, canon or other relevant authority – past or present.  However, the Internet, or more specifically the blogosphere, puts these connections at greater risk by limiting the ways in which we can understand and essay the truthfulness of specific claims.
Blogging is, for many individuals, the main form in which the Internet ‘comes to life‘, offering the possibility of participation rather than mere perusal. Perhaps not surprisingly controversy are to be found predominantly (at least in terms of volume) on blog pages rather than inherently censored ‘official pages‘ or pages of ‘public record‘.  The slogan that the Internet makes ‘geography history‘ is correct but seriously at odds with fundamentalist belief or political systems rooted in particular times and places. Missing in the sometimes ‘flattened‘ world of the blogosphere is meaningful discourse and human rationality. The personal character of knowledge demands such an epistemology since when we know something for certain – in Wittgenstein‘s ‘animal‘ sense – there is an engagement of the whole person – both as a historical and social being. (Wittgenstein, Ludwig: On Certainty).

Castalia may have overcome the Feuilletonistic age, but to what end? It has become a dry, sterile, solipsistic world, inward ignorant of history and anything of practical value not breeding anymore. What represents the greatest good, Hesse asks. The greatest number living in the here and now?  When creating an environment of stately comfort for the majority, which  leads to decay and downfall at some stage in the near future, can this action still be categorised as good? Hesse’s novel firmly answers in the negative.

Real variants on Hesse’s Game

Generally I am not interested in playing  games (with the exception chess) but I became fascinated of its  psychoanalytic (C.G. Jung), religious ( i.e. meditative) and philosophical aspects ( in particular Wittgenstein). I got thoroughly expressed by the complex and many incarnations of this game which have been posted up today and will point out some of those games. What continues to strike me as I come across new games is the way in which different designers emphasize (“capture”) different aspects of the game.

Here a brief overview of a variety of current attempts to create playable variants on Hesse’s Game. The Game Hesse describes in his novel — and this is a very brief and dense overview — is played with ideas. The ideas themselves can be of any kind (musical, mathematical, verbal or visual), but the game draws its profound beauty from the nodes of those ideas: the symbols. The ideas played are linked to one another, Hesse tells us, in much the same way in which melodies are presented in a musical form such as a Bach fugue: in another metaphor, he compares the Games to games of chess in which symbolic meaning has somehow been added to every move in its own concise and beautiful calligraphy. This calligraphy in turn is inscribed on beads, and these are displayed on a board. The hieroglyphs and “meanings” of games of merit are then stored in a Games Archive, so that they can again be called into play in future games. The moves and links themselves become the subjects of formal meditation. And in the most lofty of games — the annual Solemn Games over which the Magister Ludi himself presides — the beads with their hieroglyphs are ceremoniously presented on a large board to an attentive and cultivated audience for their edification and contemplation. There is also a  form of Glass Bead Game which he describes in the title poem of his book, Hours in the Garden. In this (simple) form, the game consists in imagining the great minds and hearts of the past — “wise men and poets and scholars and artists” — meeting across the centuries and talking.

Exhibition I: Chess and I Ching

A reader who chanced to be ignorant of the Glass Bead Game might imagine such a Game pattern as rather similar to the pattern of a chess game, except that the significance of the pieces and the potentialities of their relationships to one another and their effect upon one another multiplied many fold and an actual content must be ascribed to each piece, each constellation, each chess move, of which this move, configuration, and so on is the symbol.

Intrachange: http://home.deds.nl/~spike/hesse…

William Horden’s Intrachange performs a skillful marriage of Chess and the I Ching, and thus provides the best current expression of the GBG as chess-like game. William takes brilliant advantage of the correspondences between the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching and 64 squares of the chess-board, the 8 trigrams of the I Ching and 8 files of the chessboard, the 6 lines of a hexagram and the 6 pieces in a chess set, and the two aspects — yin and yang — which form the basis of all lines in the I Ching, and the two sides in a game of chess.

Exhibition II  Language game

Joculator Basiliensis applied himself to the problem. He invented for the Glass Bead Game the principles of a new language, a language of symbols and formulas, in which mathematics and music played an equal part, so that it became possible to combine astronomical and musical formulas, to reduce mathematics and music to a common denominator, as it were.

Mark Line’s Waldzell  approach http://www36.pair.com/waldzell/G… includes the development of a “constructed language” for play, which allows players from different languages and cultures a common and unambiguous language in which to structure their moves.

Exhibit III: Symbols and Decipherments

Each country’s Commission possesses its Archive of the Game, that is the register of all hitherto examined and accepted symbols and decipherments, whose number long ago by far exceeded the number of the ancient Chinese ideographs.

Ron Hale-Evans Kennexions: http://kennexions.ludism.org/

The  Kenning Games can indeed be played now — but in some sense they will come into their own as their respective Archives expand to cover a far wider range of ideas than at present.

Exhibit IV: Meditative game

Every transition from major to minor in a sonata, every transformation of a myth or a religious cult, every classical or artistic formulation was, I realized in that flashing moment, if seen with a truly meditative mind, nothing but a direct route into the interior of the cosmic mystery, where in the alternation between inhaling and exhaling, between heaven and earth, between Yin and Yang, holiness is forever being created.

The game played by email give their players a direct experience of  the counterpoint of ego idea with shadow idea, whether those ideas be musical, mathematical, verbal, or visual. Players name and quote the ideas themselves without recourse to a “hieroglyphic language”, placing them on a spatial board in a way which allows players to “see” and meditate on the correspondences between them.

Terence MacNamee’s Ludus Solemnis, http://home.earthlink.net/~hipbo…

It is the knowledge of liturgical drama which Terence MacNamee brings to bear on his games which seem to afford us a clearer insight into an aspect of Hesse’s Game which offers a mystical and dramatic ritual presentation of his games, and thus strikes me as Jungian game.

Joshua Fost’s paper, Toward the Glass Bead Game – a rhetorical invention


Dunbar Aitkens’s The Glass Plate Game: A Cooperative Thinking Game


Interesting in this context is Christopher Alexander’s book Pattern Language and Nobel laureate Manfred Eigen and Ruthild Winkler’s Laws of the Game, together with Anthony Judge’s work at Laetus in Praesens and at UIA on The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential.




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