Friday, 21 August 2009

Review of Hesse’s Journey to the East


Journey to the East by Hesse is one of those books that will stick to you like glue for your whole life. Siddhartha is the same. Hesse has this way of writing about incredibly complex things in a totally accessible and clear style. And I think that’s the whole point. This stuff is not meant to be elitist and confounding, this is meant to be truth, clarity, spirituality. I mean, you can really tell how uncomfortable Hesse is in trying to relate this stuff using words. In Buddhism the idea is that you reach a state of communication that transcends the awkward limitations of words. That’s what koans are all about.
But Hesse was a writer, and therefore was compelled to use language despite the limitations, and I very much relate to that. I don’t think he could have done a better job. This story is allegorical, it’s mysterious and open-ended. If you haven’t read other Hesse stories then it’s possible you’ll get stuck at some point and wonder what this is all really trying to get at.
All different people probably read into it in all different ways, but to me personally the main thrust of this story seems to me to be about the death of the author, as discussed by both Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. It’s depressing when your readers don’t understand your work, but you have to let this go, stay happy and accept that the work you create will overpower you, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Just give into it, let your own ideas die and be replaced by other ideas. This is also similar to ego-death, to let the ego die so that you feed into the one consciousness and become part of a larger, happier thing. You are no longer important, but you are happy, you are part of something larger.

The particular edition I read was beautifully designed, the cover and the feel of the book felt nice in my hands. In Tony Wheeler’s foreword he puts across a totally different reading to my own; a reading that seems to accept the journey as a literal trip to Asia, which I personally disagree with.

There was a song that popped into my head when reading the last couple of chapters, and that song is H. by Tool. Go listen to it; read the lyrics. I’ll be damned if this song is not about the last two chapters of Journey to the East. This song H., this album Aenima; even if you hate this kind of music it is impossible to deny the intelligence of it. This is Hesse in musical form…

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