The Journey to the East – Heinrich Hesse
When I started the book I expected from the description an allegory dressed as a story, it to be all one grand metaphor, reading Kafka’s The Castle, and me interpreting it all to be a metaphor for heaven, probably lead me to think like this, however even with me expecting to be tricked and mislead to a revelation, I still “fell for it”.
The book achieves this in multiple ways, even the preface lead me down this route, suggesting the book is a way to explain a psychedelic drug experience, so I was lead to believe this is a “journey” into the mind, and more accurately the eastern “nirvana” or at least a zen state of realisation. The book itself has very little story, it comes at even less than 100 pages, we see “H.H.” as a part of an illuminati for the liberal arts, “The League” acts as a secret sect of poets, philosophers, and generally those leading to what we would see as a greater understanding of the world. H.H., as part of an excursion in which each member has his own role, his being to marry the princess Fatima, travels across europe meeting other parts of the League and experiencing multiple surreal events, along the way a member, Leo, goes missing, and the group falls apart, we see H.H. as he attempts to sum up his part of the league, before finding Leo, who takes him on what we later discover are tests, ending with H.H. being judged by the League and being found guilty of multiple crimes in abandoning his search for enlightenment, his punishment ultimately being discovering his own worth as a man.
What really comes across to me from this book is the whole absurdity of the idea of us searching for this enlightenment, the League itself could stand as a metaphor for this, one must give up bureaucracy and become independant, whilst still being in giant sect?
H.H. represents many of us in our attempts to reach this “better human” form, the disillusions we face, giving up, feeling alone and finding that actually we’re part of a community of loneliness, our reliance on an easy way, and the circumstances we face taking away from our true goal, are all parts of the search within oneself. The phenomenon i find this book sums up the best however is how when searching for something one can become so caught up in their own opinion of the right way that they lead themselves completely off the path, this is addressed in the book as a main feature of the league being to always explore different routes, and to help those around you to reach their goal, as they will also help you indirectly.
What you take away from the book varies greatly, is it a guide? Are we to think we should try to be part of this league. Is it satirical? Are we, as students of the arts, to avoid becoming the League? The values I took away is that the book gives slight advice, it warns us how easy it is to fall away from our goals and stresses constant critical thinking about our decisions, through us learning the regrets of H.H., because of this it separated itself from any group, it’s not a religious guide, it doesn’t only pertain only to those who meditate daily with incense swinging from their dream catchers, we all continue to grow mentally throughout our lives, and “A journey to the East” sparks our minds about how we should control this.