Friday, 6 March 2015

Universitas Litterarum

In an exalted moment, at the end of a training course of teachers of beginners in the Game, he once declared: "Castalia is a small state in itself, and our Vicus Lusorum a miniature state within the state, a small, but ancient and proud republic, equal in rights and dignities to its sisters, but with its sense of mission lifted and strengthened by the special artistic and virtually sacramental function it performs. For our distinction is to cherish the true sanctuary of Castalia, its unique mystery and symbol, the Glass Bead Game. Castalia rears pre-eminent musicians and art historians, philologists, mathematicians, and other scholars. Every Castalian institute and every Castalian should hold to only two goals and ideals: to attain to the utmost command of his subject, and to keep himself and his subject vital and flexible by forever recognising its ties with all other disciplines and by maintaining amicable relations with all. This second ideal, the conception of the inner unity of all man's cultural efforts, the idea of universality, has found perfect expression in our illustrious Game. It may be that the physicist, the musicologist, or other scholar will at times have to steep himself entirely in his own discipline, that renouncing the idea of universal culture will further some momentary maximum performance in a special field. But we, at any rate, we Glass Bead Game players, must need allow ourselves such specialisation. We must neither approve nor practice it, for our own special mission, as you know, is the idea of Universitas Literrarum. Ours to foster its supreme expression, the noble Game and repeatedly to save the various disciplines from their tendency to self-sufficiency. But how can we save anything that does not have the desire to be saved? And how can we make the archaeologists, the pedagogues, the astronomers, and so forth, eschew self-sufficient specialisation and throw open their windows to all the other disciplines? We cannot do it by compulsory means, say by making the Glass Bead Game an official subject in the lower schools, nor can we do it by invoking what our predecessors meant this Game to be. We can prove only that our Game and we ourselves are indispensable by keeping the Game ever at the summit of our entire cultural life, by incorporating into it each new achievement, each new approach, and each new complex of problems from the scholarly disciplines. We must shape and cultivate our universality, our noble and perilous sport with the idea of unity, endowing it with such perennial freshness and loveliness, such persuasiveness and charm, that even the soberest researcher and most diligent specialist will ever and again feel its message, its temptation and allure.

"Let us imagine for the moment that we players were to slacken in our zeal for a time, that the Game courses for beginners became dull and superficial, that in the Games for advanced players specialists of other disciplines looked in vain for vital, pulsating life, for intellectual contemporaneity and interest. Suppose that two or three times in a row our great annual Game were to strike the guests as an empty ceremony, a lifeless, old-fashioned formalistic relic of the past. How quickly, then, the Game and we ourselves would be done for. Already we are no longer on those shining heights where the Glass Bead Game stood a generation ago, when the annual Game lasted not one or two but three or four weeks, and was the climax of the year not only for Castalia but for the entire country. Today, a representative of the government still attends this annual Game, but all too often as a somewhat bored guest, and a few cities and professions still send envoys. Toward the end of the Game days these representatives of the secular powers occasionally deign to suggest that the length of the festival deters many other cities from sending envoys, and that perhaps it would be more in keeping with the contemporary word either to shorten the festival considerably or else to hold it only every other year, or every third year.

"Well now, we cannot check this development, or if you will, decadence. It may well be that before long our Game will meet with no understanding at all out in the world. Perhaps we shall no longer be able to celebrate it. But what of the Game in its own home, in our Province. Here our struggle is hopeful, and has repeatedly led to victory. Every day we witness the phenomenon: young elite pupils who have signed up for their Game course without any special ardour, and who have completed it dutifully, but without enthusiasm, are suddenly seized by the spirit of the Game, but its intellectual potentialities, its venerable tradition, its soul-stirring forces, and become our passionate adherents and partisans. And every year at the Ludus sollemnis we can see scholars of distinction who rather looked down on us Glass Bead Game players during their work-filled year, and who have not always wished our institutions well. In the course of the great Game we see them falling more and more under the spell of our art; we see them growing eased and exalted, rejuvenated and fired, until at last, their hearts strengthened and deeply stirred, they bid good-by with words of almost abashed gratitude.

"Let us consider for a moment the means at our command for carrying out our mission. We see a rich, well-ordered apparatus whose heart and core is the Game Archive, which we gratefully make use of every hour of the day and which all of us serve, from Magister and Archivist down to the humblest errand boy. The best and most vital aspect of our institution is the old Castallian principle of selection of the best, the elite. The schools of Castalia collect the best pupils form the entire country and educate them. Similarly, we in the Players' Village try to select the best among those endowed by nature with a love for the Game. We train them to an ever-higher standard of perfection. Our courses and seminars take in hundreds, who then go their ways again; but we go on training the best until they become genuine players, artists of the Game. You all know that in ours as in every art, there is no end to development, that each of us, once he belongs to the elite will work away all his life at the further development, refinement, and deepening of himself and our art, whether or not he belongs to our corps of officials.

"The existence of our elite has sometimes been denounced as a luxury. It has been argued that we ought to train no more elite players than are required to fill the ranks of our officialdom. But in the first place, our corps of officials is not an institution sufficient unto itself, and in the second place, not everyone is suited for an official post, any more than every good philologist is suited for teaching. We officials, at any rate, feel certain that the tutors are more than a reservoir of talented and experienced players from which we fill our vacancies and draw our successors. I am almost tempted to say that this is only a subsidiary function of the players' elite, even though we greatly stress it to the uninitiated as soon as the meaning and justification of our institute is brought up.

"No, the tutors are not primarily future Masters, course directors, Archive officials. They are an end in themselves, their little band is the real home and future of the Glass Bead Game. Here, in these few dozen hearts and heads the developments, modifications, advances, and confrontations of our Game with the spirit of the age, and with the various disciplines take place. Only here is our Game played properly and correctly, to its hilt, and with full commitment, Only within our elite is it an end in itself and a sacred mission, shorn of all dilettantism, cultural vanity, self-importance, or superstition. The future of the Game lies with you, the Waldzell tutors. And since it is the heart and soul of Castalia, and you are the soul and vital spark of Waldzell, you are truly the salt of the Province, its spirit, its dynamism. There is no danger that your numbers could grow too large, your zeal too hot, your passion for the glorious Game too great. Increase it, increase it! For you, as for all Castalians, there is at bottom only a single peril, which we must guard against every single day. The spirit of our Province and our Order is founded on two principles: on objectivity and love of truth in study, and on the cultivation of meditative wisdom and harmony. Keeping these two principles in balance means for us being wise and worthy of our Order. We love the sciences and scholarly disciplines, each his own, and yet we know that devotion to a discipline does not necessarily preserve a man from selfishness, vice, and absurdity. History is full of examples of that, and folklore has given us the figure of Doctor Faust to represent this danger.

"Other centuries sought safety in the union of reason and religion, research and asceticism. In their Universitas Literrarum, theology ruled. Among us we use meditation, the fine gradations of yoga technique, in our efforts to exorcise the beast within us and the diabolus dwelling in every branch of knowledge. Now you know as well as I that the Glass Bead Game also has its hidden diabolus, that it can lead to empty virtuosity, to artistic vanity, to self-advancement, to the seeking of power over others, and then to the abuse of that power. This is why we need another kind of education beside the intellectual and submit ourselves to the morality of the Order, not in order to reshape our mentally active life into a psychically vegetative dream-life, but on the contrary to make ourselves fit for the summit of intellectual achievement. We do not intend to flee from the vita activa to the vita contemplativa, nor vice versa, but to keep moving forward while alternating between the two, being at home, in both, partaking of both.

(The words of Magister Ludi, Joseph Knecht, the Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse)

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