And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
—Eliot / Four Quartets / East Coker
Once upon a time, in the Gone World of 1943, Herman Hesse wrote The Glass Bead Game. It’s a very long, very literary and, frankly, very tedious novel about a far future in “a fictional province of central Europe called Castalia, which was reserved by political decision for the life of the mind; technology and economic life are kept to a strict minimum.” It’s a book of vision and a book of literary indulgences, many of which are fortunately lost in translation. The Glass Bead Game is a deep book that, deep down, is boring to our modern teeny-tiny TikTok tastes. Much of the book centers on and predicts our “modern tastes” and the slow-rolling decadence that is pulling down statues, smearing great paintings with soup, and mangling words, families, and friends; all in a great grist mill determined to grind us all down into a compostable powder. Yes, “all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death” and come to this — the “Age of the Feuilleton.”
The Age of the Feuilleton has now gone beyond the point where this descent into the vile, the average, the mundane can be reversed. We shall have to get used to the idea that a large number of our fellow citizens have minds that are either colonized, stupefied, or Satanic. Our “arts” are degraded smears and lumps, our educational institutions overrun with Wokeism, and our “culture” is, of necessity, about to be transformed into “Gun Culture” (with a side of “kind words.”)
All because of the Internet and its constant tsunami of feuilletons such as Twitter and TikTok. The “Age of the Feuilleton” is our age and it becomes less beautiful by the second. It is an age obsessed with “Starting a Conversation” as if having conversations rather than debates somehow humanizes our increasing animalistic estrangement from each other. I always have a slight inward cringe when I read or hear the word “conversation.” It always brings to mind the line from John Cage, “We no longer have time for the ‘good’, the ‘beautiful,’ or whether or not something is ‘true.’ We have only time for conversation.” We have time for Taylor Swift, but no time for Bach.
We have become increasingly more stupid and there seems to be no bottom to such stupidity since we have, evidently, decided to lionize the Stupids.
Here is, I apologize in advance, the number-one song on Planet Earth in the Stupid Year of 2022:
Stunning in its stupidity, “Shape of You” is a moron’s masterpiece made for the marching morons and has made the forgettable Sheeran a formidable presence on this dying planet right down to his Sumo fat suit.
We can’t reverse this global slide into imbecility, but we can — for a moment — hear the echo of the greatness of Bach across a three-hundred-year gulf as we reflect on how we came to be mired in our swamp of stupidity. It began quite simply with the feuilleton and continued to deepen our innate simple-mindedness. Here Herman Hesse explains it all to us . . . after a bit of explaining about what it is that Hesse is explaining.
The Age of Us, as Seen by Herman Hesse Hesse’s book is credited to be the first and only science fiction novel to receive the Nobel Prize (for Literature — wouldn’t it be cool if it won for chemistry?). The book takes place in a distant future where people take perfecting art, particularly music, to be the only true and worthwhile calling. According to the premise of the book, “the Age of Feuilleton” is essentially what we live in now at the end of the 20th century.