Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hermann Hesse & Thomas Mann

I'm currently reading a book entitled "The Hesse/Mann Letters", which is a book of correspondence exchanged between the German authors Hermann Hesse and Thomas Mann from 1910 to 1955. In the book's forward it states that Thomas Mann wrote more than twenty thousand letters during his lifetime and Hermann Hesse wrote more than thirty-five thousand letters, not to mention their collective contribution to literature, both fiction and belles lettres. Can you imagine writing twenty thousand letters in your lifetime? A truly amazing feat, even five thousand letters would impress. I've read a great deal of Hermann Hesse's work: Siddharta, Steppenwolf, Demian, Narcissus and Goldmund to name but a few of his novels. I've also read a great deal of Hesse's autobiographical writings during my college years. Hesse's essays provided me with comfort and stability during my twenties especially after I abandoned the existentialists who I love dearly. I've yet to read any of Mann's works (Buddenbrooks, Doctor Faustus, The Magic Mountain, Death in Venice) aside from his correspondence to Hesse in the aforementioned book.

I realize that it is possible to send the equivalent amount of email or text messages in one's lifetime, however it's not simply the quantity of messages but their quality. And who knows, those numerous letters written by Hesse and Mann may have been written with a typewriter a new technology that I'm sure some people rebelled against when it first made its appearance in the early 1800's. I've raised this issue in previous blogs where I suggested that the quality of one's writing may be affected by the medium used to write the words. I always start with a fountain pen and notebook, unless my thoughts are so pregnant that they spring forth from a shortened gestation period.

I see a lot of young people text messaging each other incessantly. This could be a good thing, as it means that there is communication happening however, I'm afraid that the quality of those text messages is not of a literary quality, certainly not on a par with Hesse and Mann.

I truly hope that the art of the hand written letter does not become a thing of the past. It even feels awkward to refer to handwritten letters as an "art" since for centuries it was the de rigueur form of communication.

Renes Descartes wrote "Cogito, ergo sum - I think therefore I am". Another philosopher observed that thinking alone is not proof of existence, even animals are capable of something resembling thought. Said philosopher posed this "Cogito, cogito ergo sum - I think that I think, therefore I am" the idea being that only humans can think about the act of thinking thus proving one's existence. And so, I've added Scribo ergo sum to the canon, I write therefore I am or perhaps Scribo Cogito ergo sum - I write about thinking, therefore I am.

Have Pen, Will Write

Clifford Jake Jacobs


Sheihan said...

These fellows remind me of Harold Van Buren Voorhis & Dr. William G. Peacher who sometimes wrote as many as 3 letters to each other in a single day, not counting postcards. They got along like two school girls one might say, and Voorhis typed copies of each reply and letter that he sent out, and often CC:'d other parties as well. It was a mix of pen and old typewriter though...not entirely penned by any stretch. However, Dr. William W. Westcott wrote in beautiful handwriting, and he probably wrote more letters than Harold and Peacher combined in his capacity as Supreme Magus of the SRIA.

marcus said...

I think you'll like Mann; some regard him as rather dense, but he's interested in the life of the mind, and no writer explores it like he does. Start with A Death in Venice (which is short and powerful) and then Buddenbrook. Or, if you are the type to jump in head first, dive into The Magic Mountain. What atmosphere! Strange mix of medical and romantic imagery. War hovers just beyond their sight. Sublime.



Clifford Jacobs (Jake) said...

Dear Marcus,
Thank you for visiting my little corner of the Internet universe. I still haven't gotten around to reading Mann yet, but when I do I'll take your suggestion of starting with Death in Venice. I'm also very interested in Doktor Faustus.

Thanks for visiting my site.