By Hermann Hesse
Hermann Hesse in his book Blick ins Chaos (1920) collected a number of his essays. See more at the webpage describing Blick ins Chaos.
This webpage contains an English translation of the one entitled "Gespräch über die Neutöner." The text of the essay starts below (the page numbers from the source are given as comments in the HTML markup.)
This website has English translations of three essays from Blick ins Chaos:
The above essays (the German versions ) were collected into the book Blick ins Chaos:
By Hermann Hesse
During the past few months I have read a large number of books by the latest German poets, with a view to forming some idea of the intellectual standing of young Germany. My labour, although instructive, has been no pleasure to me, and I do not intend to go on with it any longer. The mental picture of this recent literature which I have built up as a result of my reading is roughly the following.
The younger and most recent German poets--apart from those who, singing old melodies, are the decadent imitators of their elders--might be divided into two groups according to poetic form. The first group would be composed of those who fancy that they have replaced the old poetic forms by new. Here has grown up, during the last few years, a strange imitative orthodoxy and philistinism. The few forerunners and first leaders of the literary revolution, with Sternheim at their head, as imitated, in their grammatical and syntactical innovations and peculiarities, with more dogmatic faith, more slavishness, and far less taste than was ever shown by the "gilt-edged" lyric poet of the "eighties" who imitated the classics. The whole of this literature already breathes mildew and old age; it is dying before its poets have reached their majority.
The second group, however, which is stronger and to be taken more seriously, is moving lingeringly, but more or less consciously and determinedly, towards chaos. With the poets of this group, the feeling is present, though obscurely, that you cannot, in place of a broken-down culture and form, simply set another and a new one. These poets feel, or seem to feel, that there must first be disintegration and chaos, the bitter way must first be gone to the end, before new settings, new forms and new affinities are created. Many of these poets, out of indifference--because, in the general ruin, form can never matter--use the customary language and forms. Others drive impatiently forward, and seek consciously to hasten the disintegration of German literary language--some with the sullen grief of the man who breaks up his own house, others with reckless humour and in the somewhat shallow mood of complete indifference to the ruin of the world. The latter, since art offers no further satisfactions, want at least to have a little fun at the expense of the philistines and to laugh a while and make merry before the ground collapses beneath them. The whole of literary "Dadaism" belongs hereto.
But all these different groups close up immediately again into one uniform whole so soon as the rather fruitless search after new forms is abandoned and the spiritual content only is examined. This is always exactly the same. Two principal themes are everywhere predominant: rebellion against authority and against the culture of that authority in process of downfall; and eroticism. The further thrust against the wall and condemned by his son, and the youngster, hungry for love, who endeavours and truer forms: these are the two figures that are everywhere to be found. They will too constantly recur, for they indicate, in fact, the two central interests of youth.
The experience and impetus behind all these revolutions and innovations are clearly discernible in two powerful forces: the world-war, and the psychology of the unconscious founded by Sigmund Freud. The experience of the Great War, with the collapse of all the old forms and the breakdown of moral codes and cultures hitherto valid, appears to be incapable of interpretation except by psycho-analysis. Europe is seen by the youth of to-day as a very sick neurotic, who can be helped only by shattering the self-created complexes in which he is suffocating. And the otherwise tottering authority of the father, the teacher, the priest, the party, and of science finds a new and terrible antagonist in psycho-analysis, which projects so merciless a light into all the old modesties, apprehensions, and prudences. Those same professors who, during the war, distinguished themselves by their obsequiousness towards their Governments, and by their grotesque and senile outbreaks of nationalist infatuation, are now recognised by the young men of to-day as the men under whose leadership the bourgeoissie endeavoured to undo and destroy Freud's work, and to leave the world once more in its former darkness.
These two factors in the spiritual life of the young men of to-day--the break with the traditional culture (which with many takes the form of a mad hatred of German grammar), and the knowledge that it is possible to investigate scientifically our subconscious life and to influence it in a rational manner--these two factors govern all the recent work of young German writers. And with this there is no lack of what the psycho-analysts call "the abandonment to the doctor." It expresses itself in a blindly enthusiastic submission to the one who first append to the patient as a liberator, whether it be Freud or Sternheim. But although there may be a great deal of obscurity, impulsiveness, and even triviality mixed up with these two factors, they are there in the minds of the young men of to-day; and they are not a programme or a discipline either, but forces.
The knowledge of the collapse of pre-war culture and the eager acceptance of the new psychology as--at last--a science in the making, these are the foundations on which the young men of today are beginning to build. The foundations are good. But so far as can be judged by recent poetry nothing has yet been achieved. Neither the experience of the war nor the advent of Freud has led as yet to any very fruitful results. The prevailing mood is complacently revolutionary, very comprehensible in the circumstances, but incapable of long duration. it is more concerned with making a noise and the the assertion of self importance than with progress and the future. The large majority of these young men give one exactly the same impression as a half-analysed psychopath who knows indeed the first main results of his psycho-analysis, but is unaware of its consequences. With most of them, their breaking loose and enlargement go no further than a perception of their personality, and the assertion and proclamation of the rights of that personality. Beyond this, there is nothing but obscurity and aimlessness.
It is absurd to get excited, as many angrily do, about the disappearance of the article and the straightening-out of the syntax in the latest German novels. The articles, in so far as they are useful, will inevitably return. And there is nobody to prevent the upholder of the old grammar and the old beauty from continuing to read Goethe and to ignore the writings of the younger generation. But these young people have every right to youthful years of especial intensity, since they were torn away, at the ages of sixteen to twenty, from their toys and their school benches, to take part in the war. They themselves will understand that they cannot permanently thrust all the blame for their misfortune on us elders. They may be a thousand times right; but merely to be right has never yet advanced anything in the world. The more the younger generation understands this, the more they will also see how little they have so far made of, or appreciated, their two great experiences, have hitherto produced no other effect than a kind of half-crapulous, half-frenzied outburst of puberty.
I do not believe in a rapid recovery of German poetry. I do not believe in an immediate efflorescence. On the contrary. There are, however, other things to do than to write poetry, and you make make bad poems or none at all, and yet live sensibly and joyously.
The two revolutionary experiences of these young men have not yet produced their full effect, not by a long way.
The war will sooner or later, bring home to those who have returned from it the lesson that nothing is done by violence and gunplay, that war and violence are attempts to solve complicated and delicate problems in far too savage, far too stupid, and far too brutal a fashion.
And the new psychology, whose harbingers were Dostoievski and Nietzche, and whose first architect is Freud, will teach these young men that the emancipation of the personality, the canonisation of the natural instincts, are only the first steps on the way, and that this personal freedom is a poor thing and of no account in comparison with that highest of all freedoms of the individual: the freedom to regard oneself consciously and joyously as a part of humanity, and to serve it with liberated powers.