Tuesday, August 14, 2007

July/August: Narcissus and Goldmund

"You should not envy me, Goldmund. There is no peace of the sort you imagine. Oh, there is peace of course, but not anything that lives within us constantly and never leaves us. There is only the peace that must be won again and again, each new day of our lives."- Narcissus

This beautiful story has easily found its way into my favorite books of all time and undoubtedly, has earned a favorite place in my soul. As with Hesse's Siddhartha, Narcissus and Goldmund is a tale that one would benefit from reading annually...as a touchstone for the soul. There are many profoundly simple philosophies tied into this narrative but two of the most powerful themes for me are: acceptance and awareness. Narcissus and Goldmund seem to be opposites. Narcissus is a reserved and highly intellectual monk. He governs his actions with utmost discipline. Yet, he is so beautifully accepting and loving. Goldmund is a creative wanderer. He does not govern his actions but is rather, highly feeling and free in his explorations. He is so aware and loving and a tremendous beauty emerges in that awareness.

The story primarily follows Goldmund's journey but Narcissus is very integral and thus very "present" in all that Goldmund feels and does. The distinctive natures of the two friends serves as the great binding force of the story. Their love for each other is magnificent despite strong differences of character and a great lapse of time in which they are physically separated from one another. They each teach the other so much about life and in that sense, complement what the other seems to be lacking. Goldmund's journey is one of self-discovery. So many of his general thoughts and struggles with life resonate with my own, and likely with that of most humans, for the story effortlessly embodies humanity as a whole. Here is one such moment:

"The childlike life of the wanderer, its mother-origin, its turning away from law and mind, its openness and constant secret intimacy with death had long since deeply impregnated and molded Goldmund's soul. But mind and will lived within him nevertheless; he was an artist, and this made his life rich and difficult. Any life expands and flowers only through division and contradiction. What are reason and sobriety without the knowledge of intoxication? What is sensuality without death standing behind it? What is love without the eternal mortal enmity of the sexes?"

Truly, this story is such a profound one and the themes of awareness and acceptance undeniably shake the reader's own awareness and acceptance. No review can do this work justice, as it is the soul's work and thus, for the soul to absorb. As we know, the soul transcends all that is explicable in words.


Richard said...

I’ve requested a copy from the library.

I read Perfume as recommended by runaroundparis. It was pretty good. A few slow spots, but I loved the descriptive language – especially the first few opening pages. I also read The Devil and Miss Prym based on Pretty Tin's recommendation. I liked it as well. So, who knows, maybe I will like this book. I will let you know.

b said...

richard...i'm so happy to hear that you will be reading this and eager to hear your thoughts!

Manifesting Jack said...

So glad you got it! In truth, an awesome book, to be passed down from generation to generation.

My favourite part comes just a few pages from the end, when Narcissus expresses himself to Goldmund. I read that and cried. It's the part that begins 'Goldmund', the abbot whispered in his ear, 'Forgive me for not being able to tell you earlier'.

The following paragraph, finishing 'that a place within me has remained open to grace' is, for me, is the most powerful I have ever read...


Richard said...

I started reading it last night. I have gotten through the first 8 chapters. So far, it is pretty good. I like the language and style. Although, it tends to break a cardinal rule of writing which is to show instead of to tell. Quite similar in feel to Perfume - makes me wonder if German literature has a tendency to be Faulknereque in its language (or that is just the translator).

b said...

MJ...That is an exceptionally profound moment, when Narcissus opens himself completely to Goldmund. Throughout the book, I often found tears welling in my eyes and a swelling in my soul. Incredibly beautiful and certainly something to reread and yes, pass down generation to generation.

Richard...I don't know how I feel about the telling versus showing aspect of this book. For me, it seems to transcend both as I feel the message in my soul more than my heart or head. That sounds really "out there," I realize but that is the best way I can think to describe it right now. Somehow, for me, Hesse's narrative style has this philosophical voice to it and that makes me feel more than see. Does that make any sense at all?!

There is always that element of translation to consider but I am really good at setting technical issues aside to fully enjoy a book on my own terms. Interesting that you mention Faulkner. I read a lot of Faulkner in my undergraduate days and have been wanting to reread some of his work lately to see how I perceive of it at this point in my life. Do you like Faulkner's style?

Manifesting Jack said...

Richard - interesting comment. Recently I have been putting a lot into detachment - as in emotional detachment. I find if I am attached, as in I get a physical 'pang', when thinking about something I want to see manifest in my life, it seems to get further and further away. Thus, detachment is more effective - i.e. if I am simply committed to having something in my life (happiness, romance, travel, for instance), and visualising it clearly on a regular basis, it c comes to me. This is detachment.

But if I really yearn for something, and make it mean a great deal, and suffer a physical desire for it, it gets further away, because my attachment demonstrates my selfishness around the situation.

I've read quite a bit of Hesse: Siddartha, Steppenwolf, Beneath the Wheel, N&G. And he is usually very detached in his writing style – take Siddartha for instance, the whole book seems to be very matter of fact and unemotional in a way – it’s not about feeling it’s about being, probably necessarily considering the subject matter. But to me, Hesse feels attached to both Narcissus and Goldmund, and attached to the book as a whole. It is recognised as his greatest work (certainly by me, although I have yet to read Journey to the East), if not the best known (Siddhartha is the big seller) . And I can totally get when reading it that he really loved both characters. I think he had both characters inside of him and wanted to let neither go. But don’t worry I won’t ruin it for you.

You will experience much joy in finding hesse's own take on whether the traveller or the scholar burned brightest inside his soul...

B - you're a just a great human being you know that?

MJ x

Manifesting Jack said...

I meant to add -

Hesse's attachment to the bok and the characters really comes through in the feeling of struggle and search and desire throughout the book - and no more so than at the very end, when N&G experience what many of us realise at very the end of ife - that self expression is just so, so important, and should not be postponed.

Here's to the blogosphere! x

b said...

MJ...First of all, your approach with detachment and description here was such an "aha" moment for me and I've been thinking about it all day.

Secondly, I appreciate your take on Hesse. For me, as a reader, I felt so much deep within my soul while reading this. But I do agree that Hesse writes from a place of detachment. The two seem to contradict one another but they actually don't. Hesse certainly does seem attached to both Narcissus and Goldmund, however. It is interesting that you mention Hesse possessing both Narcissus and Goldmund within him and not wanting to let them go. As I was reading this and particularly when I neared the end, I couldn't help but feel that I had both N & G within me and that maybe, we all do to varying degrees.

I am also happy to read your mention of self expression. I too picked up on that at the very end.

Thanks for sharing your perspective and for recommending this book to me, MJ. You are a great human being yourself and always so very inspiring!

Richard said...

breal: I don't mean to imply that he does not evoke images. It was just an observation of the style. Definitely it is a reflective book, driven by ideas and not action. I like a variety of styles of writing. By a Faulkner style, I principally meant lo-o-ong sentences. It cuts my reading speed in half. I have spent about 6 hours reading it and am little less than two-thirds through it. Normally, I would be finished by now. I have read a number of Faulkner's short stories and enjoyed them,

mj: Do you mean detachment or indifference? I think Seneca covers it pretty well in one of his letters (Seneca was a Stoic, the other school of thought he refers to is the Cynics):

"This is the objection raised by Epicurus against Stilbo and those who believe that the Supreme Good is a soul which is insensible to feeling.

We are bound to meet with a double meaning if we try to express the Greek term "lack of feeling" summarily, in a single word, rendering it by the Latin word impatientia. For it may be understood in the meaning the opposite to that which we wish it to have. What we mean to express is, a soul which rejects any sensation of evil; but people will interpret the idea as that of a soul which can endure no evil. Consider, therefore, whether it is not better to say "a soul that cannot be harmed," or "a soul entirely beyond the realm of suffering." There is this difference between ourselves and the other school : our ideal wise man feels his troubles, but overcomes them; their wise man does not even feel them. But we and they alike hold this idea,-that the wise man is self-sufficient. Nevertheless, he desires friends, neighbors, and associates, no matter how much he is sufficient unto himself. And mark how self-sufficient he is; for on occasion he can be content with a part of himself. If he lose a hand through disease or war, or if some accident puts out one or both of his eyes, he will be satisfied with what is left, taking as much pleasure in his impaired and maimed body as he took when it was sound. But while he does not pine for these parts if they are missing, he prefers not to lose them. In this sense the wise man is self-sufficient, that he can do without friends, not that he desires to do without them. When I say "can," I mean this : he endures the loss of a friend with equanimity."

You can pick up the whole letter here.

Two books which had much meaning for me are: Seneca's Letters from a Stoic and Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. Get a modern translation (Penguin books sells them) because the ancient translations on the web are pretty hard to read. Meditations has a new translation and I considered picking it up, but it is not sufficiently different from my older copy that I didn't.

Richard said...

I finished reading Narcissus and Goldmund last Thursday.

The book is pretty good. I am sure it would have had more of an effect on me 3 or 4 years ago when I was rather down.

I found Narcissus' and Goldmund's conversation at the end similar in tone to Socratic dialogues.

I started enjoying the book more from the time Goldmund encounters the plague. While I am much more like Narcissus in my asceticism, I can easily empathize with Goldmund's realization that he is no longer youthful (hence my post about The Death of The Immortal). Goldmund's description of his mother pulling out his heart was pretty close to home because of the death of my mother earlier this year. I think the book would have ended better without the last line (which went something like "and the words were seared Narcissus' heart").

b said...

richard...i can see how this book is more impactful for a person in a highly contemplative place in life, such as i have been. i hope it was a worthwhile read for you, nevertheless. yes, i too found myself more deeply engaged when goldmund encounters the plague.

i think what makes that last line, "goldmund's last words burned like fire in his heart," so apt is the fact that narcissus had predominantly never ruled from his heart. so, goldmund instilled a deep feeling in a place he had never allowed such depth.

Richard said...

I see you got a different translation. Mine definitely said "seared" not burned. Either way, I still think it would have ended better without that line - it seemed too much of an author intrusion.

La Belette Rouge said...

I have never read this story. Adding it to my library list. Have you read the Glass Bead Game? Love that book. Life changing,even.

b said...

LBR... Oh, this is such a lovely story. And no, I haven't read The Glass Bead Game yet but I am adding it to my library list right now. Siddhartha was definitely life changing for me, as this was (but in a different way). Looking forward to reading The Glass Bead Game. I've heard so much about it... thanks for mentioning it!