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Demian

by Rob Friesel

DemianSince you asked: yes, I did finish Hesse’s Demian.

I was… It was OK. I found the novel slow to start, difficult to deliver its theme, and a bit pale in the spectrum of existentialist literature. I have a feeling that I may have enjoyed it more at age 17 but it held no new revelations for me nor did I find the style particularly captivating. That said, I was intrigued by one particular passage:

Always, you must think of these things in evolutionary, in historical terms! When the upheavals of the earth’s surface flung the creatures of the sea onto the land and the land creatures into the sea, the specimens of the various orders that were ready to follow their destiny were the ones that accomplished the new and unprecedented; by making new biological adjustments they were able to save their species from destruction. We do not know whether these were the same speciments that had previously distinguished themselves among their fellows as conservative, upholders of the status quo, or rather as eccentrics, revolutionaries; but we do know they were ready, and could therefore lead their species into new phases of evolution. That is why we want to be ready.

…Hesse as a pre-Kurzweillian proto-Singularity transhumanist? Or Hesse attempting to appeal to us that we are otherwise base, animal creatures that seem capable only of destruction? I’m uncomfortable by his use of “evolution” here because he appears to be couching it transcendentalist terms. The passage suggests that evolution is a goal-oriented process and that we need merely to make adjustments (biological, spiritual, or otherwise) to rid ourselves of these destructive tendencies that lead us to war. While he spends so much of the earlier portions of the novel dismantling Christianity (or at least dissociating it with righteousness), he does not disconnect from spirituality. And while I do not necessarily find spirituality to be incompatible with evolution, it seems dangerous to include evolution as a critical component of your spiritual belief system — after all, the agenda of your memes may ultimately be disappointed by your genes.

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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