Considerations for those who would build variants on Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game

<TEXT size=“large”>Considerations

for those who would build variants on Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game

Charles Cameron

posted to Magister-L, 9 July 1996

It is a laudable project, it seems to me, and one which is only now becoming possible: to build a playable variant on the fabulous (ie both fictive and marvelous) Game described by Hermann Hesse in his book, Glasperlenspiel.

And yet the serious reader of Hesse's book has some major hurdles to surmount before attempting such a task. The first has to do with the very question of whether such an attempt is not entirely beside the point; a second has to do with Hesse's irony, and the way in which he pictures Castalia as a province that is out of touch with the world around it, and the Game as an effete substitute for the arts; while a third concerns the nature of the Game as Hesse describes it, and in particular with the “hieroglyphic language” in which it is supposedly written, and the glass beads on which the hieroglyphs are to be displayed.

Is the Glass Bead Game inherently unsuited to translation into a “playable” Game?

One cannot read Theodore Ziolkowski's Foreword to the Richard and Clara Winston translation of the book without confronting this first issue. Ziolkowski writes:

It was with full artistic consciousness that Hesse described the Game in such a way as to make it seem vividly real within the novel and yet to defy any specific imitation in reality. The humorless readers who complained to Hesse that they had invented the Game before he put it into his novel – Hesse actually received letters asserting this! – completely missed the point. For the Game is of course purely a symbol of the human imagination and emphatically not a patentable “Monopoly” of the mind.

This is a fairly daunting paragraph, and one that should give any game designer pause. And yet, and yet… Hesse himself claimed to have played the Game… To quote Ziolkowski again:

In the idyllic poem “Hours in the Garden” (1936), which he wrote during the composition of his novel, Hesse speaks of “a game of thoughts called the Glass Bead Game” that he practiced while burning leaves in his garden. As the ashes filter down through the grate, he says, “I hear music and see men of the past and future. I see wise men and poets and scholars and artists harmoniously building the hundred-gated cathedral of Mind.” These lines depict as personal experience that intellectual pastime that Hesse, in his novel, was to define as “the *unio mystica* of all separate members of the *Universitas Litterarum*” and that he bodied out symbolically in the form of an elaborate Game performed according to the strictest rules and with supreme virtuosity by the mandarins of his spiritual province.

The Game, then, is playable in at least this sense. Furthermore, Hesse himself apparently based his description of the Game in *Das Glasperlenspiel* to some extent on a “game of ideas” involving optics, mathematics and music devised by his friend the painter Max Bucherer, incorporating the work of Bucherer's wife, Als Feustel – whose theory of the correspondences between the musical and color scales Hesse mentions in the passage where Knecht reviews his first game in depth:

…he spent year after year sitting in lecture halls and libraries, studying Froberger and Alessandro Scarlatti, fugues and sonata form, reviewing mathematics, learning Chinese, working through a system of tonal figuration and the Feustelian theory of the correspondence between the scale of colors and the musical keys.

So there are two “playable” Games which we can think of as standing behind the Glass Bead Game as described in the book. In some way, Hesse managed to conflate his own meditative exercise, in which he visualized “wise men and poets and scholars and artists harmoniously building the hundred-gated cathedral of Mind”, with the Fuestel-Bucherer Game.

Furthermore, it seems probable that both these “games” struck an aesthetic chord with him – for the GBG as described in the book does give one a real sense of *form*. It is clear that at some very fundamental level, the Game is a matter of making a fugal or polyphonic music, with *ideas* in place of *melodies*.

There's something almost Pythegorean about all this, of course, since in the stream of thought which runs from Pythagoras via the neoplatonists to the Renaissance, the “music of the (planetary) spheres” is also the song of the angelic choirs, the patterning of astrological influences, the tuning of the monochord and thus of all earthly music, the mathematics of ratio, and the cosmic harmony… So that astronomy, theology, astrology, music, mathematics, and a life lived “in tune with” the macrocosm are all present in the simplest formulations about number or music.


What I'm getting at is that once the idea of “making a music of ideas” is proposed, ie the concept of an art form in which text, image, number and melody can be juxtaposed, it's almost inevitable that artists of one sort or another will want to try a hand at it – it's a natural extension of the kinds of thinking about “color organs” and synaesthesia which interested Scriabin, the “gesamtkunstwerke” idea which preoccupied Wagner, and perhaps even of the “total poem” concept which fascinated Mallarme…

Hesse was interested in these ideas for their symbolic power, as illustrating the unity of the “universe of letters”, no doubt, and the Glasperlenspiel in his book functions as an incredibly evocative symbolic device for discussing this imaginative ideal: but it also defines a multi-media art – the “virtual music of ideas” to coin a phrase – and with the advent of the world wide web, this art begs to be implemented in tems of actual forms, which will bear the same relationship to the glasperlenspiel that the sonnet and sonata do to poetry and music…

My sense, therefore, is that the attempt to “translate” Hesse's own GBG into playable form is fruitless, because Hesse's Game is not a playable game – but that the design of *variants*, art forms whose range of expression is as wide as that described by Hesse, whose formal and structural properties are akin to those Hesse intuited from the combination of his own meditative “game” in the garden and the Feustel-Bucherer game, *does* seem to be both possible and inevitable.

Hesse's Game itself cannot be played: but variants upon it can be devised. Hesse presents us with the promise of a new kind of music, and describes the organ on which it is to be performed:

All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number.

The possibility that is open to us, his readers, is that we should devise the forms – fugue, passacaglia, chorale prelude, organ symphony, etc – which are playable on such an organ, that we should devise them well, and that we should honor Hesse as we go.


As an aside:

There is in fact another answer to this question of whether it's possible to devise a Glass Bead Game worthy of the name, though it takes us outside the realm of games as such – for both Hesse's novel and Mann's *Doctor Faustus* have been described as Glass Bead Games by a Magister.

Thomas Mann – which is to say, the Magister Ludi “Thomas von der Trave” – called Hesse's novel itself a glass bead game (Anni Carlsson and Volker Michels, eds, *The Hesse-Mann Letters*, Harper, 1975, p 92):

Undoubtedly the book itself is in many respects a glass bead game, played most magnificently “with the total contents and values of our culture” at a stage in the development of the game when “the capacity for universality, for hovering over all the disciplines” has been attained.

and also (Carlsson and Michels, p 126 n 1) inscribed a presentation copy of his own novel, *Doctor Faustus* to Herman Hesse with the words:

To Hermann Hesse, this glass bead game with black beads, from his friend Thomas Mann, Pacific Palisades, January 15, 1948.

This makes it clear that in Mann's mind at least, any work of art which encompasses a sufficient range of human culture within an overarching theme can be considered a Glass Bead Game – and the term is far from deprecatory, it is being affectionately used.


All of which leads us to the question of what other works of literature, art and music might be fairly so described…

I think of Italo Calvino's ingenious use of two tarot spreads to reconstruct half the major stories of western civilization in his *The Castle of Crossed Destinies* is clearly a work of this sort, as is Melville's *Mardi* as interpreted in Maxine Moore's *That Lonely Game: Melville, Mardi, and the Almanac*.

The figure of Pierre Sogol (ie *logos*) in Rene Daumal's novel *Mount Analog* is clearly a Game Player. Sogol lives in an attic studio in Paris, and a pebbled path leads through shrubs and bushes and catcus plants around this studio:

Along the path, glued to the windowpanes or hung on the bushes or dangling from the ceiling, so that all free space was put to maximum use, hundreds of little placards were displayed. Each one carried a drawing, a photograph, or an inscription, and the whole constituted a veritable encyclopedia of what we call 'human knowledge.' A diagram of a plant cell, Mendeleieff's periodic table of the elements, a key to Chinese writing, a cross-section of the human heart, Lorentz's transformation formulae, each planet and its characteristics, fossil remains of the horse species in series, Mayan hieroglyphics, economic and demographic statistics, musical phrases, samples of the principal plant and animal families, crystal specimens, the ground plan of the Great Pyramid, brain diagrams, logistic equations, phonetic charts of the sounds employed in all languages, maps, genealogies – everything in short which would fill the brain of a twentieth-century Pico della Mirandola…

Among works of scholarship, Erwin Panofsky's *Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism* deserves a mention, consisting as it does of a detailed exploration of the isomorphism bewteen Gothic Cathedrals and the Scholastic Logic of the same period…

And then there are the musical compositions which pay hommage to Hesse's Game:

Olav Anton Thommessen, “A Glass Bead Game (part one)“
Claude Baker, “The Glass bead game”
Ernst Helmut Flammer, “Glasperlenspiel, eine Schulmusik”

The Glass Bead Game, then, is playable in this sense: and if playable, then the quest to design a playable form must surely be something of a grail for artists and game designers…

And yet there is a second level of doubt and reluctance to be encountered here – not a doubt about the feasibility of making a game under the inspiration of Hesse's Glasperlenspiel, but a doubt engendered by Hesse's own ambivalence about his Game. The issue is one of Hesse's irony, and the way in which he pictures Castalia as a province that is out of touch with the world around it, and the Game as an effete substitute for the arts.

It would be perfectly possible to ignore this issue, and to proceed directly with game design: but this would be to dodge some of the most important points about the arts which Hesse raises in his book, and would represent a failure of *honor* in my view.


Is Hesse's Game inherently uncreative?

Within the ironic fabric of Hesse's text, the Glasperlenspiel is presented both as something wonderful, and as a sterile “escape” from reality. Were it not the first, we should hardly be able to admire Knecht in his rise to the office of Magister Ludi as we do, and were it not the second, we could hardly follow him out of office, out of Castalia and into his sacrificial death by drowning…

An ambiguity about the Game and Castalia is present in an early note in which Hesse describes the book he hopes to write:

The intellectuals have stopped writing books instead are only preoccupied with the bead game. They have likewise also renounced well-being and success, and live only for their beautiful lifelong game, very content and without wants.


However, those suffering, and the cultureless have had their fill, they shatter everything (rightly so); they consider the bead players ridiculous, and hate them.

From very early on in the book itself, Knecht himself is portrayed as having some ambivalence about Castalia and the Game. Thus when Plinio debates Joseph at Waldzell, Joseph writes to the Magister Musicae:

… to be perfectly frank with you, dear Master, there is something in Plinio's point of view that I cannot gainsay; he appeals to a voice within me which sometimes strongly seconds what he says…

He continues:

Presumably it is the voice of nature, and it runs utterly counter to my education and the outlook customary among us. When Plinio calls our teachers and Masters a priestly caste and us a pack of spoon-fed eunuchs, he is of course using coarse and exaggerated language, but there may well be some truth to what he says, for otherwise I would hardly be so upset by it.

Plinio is not holding back his punches:

Plinio can say the most startling and discouraging things. For example, he contends that the Glass Bead Game is a retrogression to the Age of the Feuilleton, sheer irresponsible playing around with an alphabet into which we have broken down the languages of the different arts and sciences. It's nothing but associations and toying with analogies, he says. Or again he declares that our resigned sterility proves the worthlessness of our whole culture and our intellectual attitudes. We analyze the laws and techniques of all the styles and periods of music, he points out, but produce no new music ourselves. We read and exposit Pindar or Goethe and are ashamed to create verse ourselves. Here then are Plinio's accusations against the Game: (i) that it is in its way as far from the mark in regards to the arts as the feuilletonists' essays on “The Composer Rossini's Favourite Dishes” – which does indeed sound like a fairly trivial topic, although *Tournedos Rossini* may be worth an opus number! – or “The Role of the Lapdog in the Lives of Great Courtesans”… and (ii) more seriously, because it analyzes what it cannot create…

And insult is added to injury when Plinio, “toying with analogies” himself, ties this artistic sterility to the physical sterility which is one of the byproducts of the Castalians' quasi-monastic existence…

Joseph then remarks that these particular accusations “are not the worst; they are not the ones that wound me most.” The most wounding accusations, apparently, are directed not at the Game itself but at Castalia:

when he says, for example, that we Castalians lead the lives of artificially reared songbirds, do not earn our bread ourselves, never face necessity and the struggle for existence, neither know or wish to know anything about that portion of humanity whose labor and poverty provide the base for our lives of luxury…

Father Jacobus is more temperate in his presentation of Castalia's weakness, telling a somewhat older and wiser Joseph:

You are great scholars and aesthetes, you Castalians. You measure the weight of vowels in an old poem and relate the resulting formula to that of a planet's orbit. That is delightful, but it is a game. And indeed your supreme mystery and symbol, the Glass Bead Game, is also a game. I grant that you try to exalt this pretty game into something akin to a sacrament, or at least to a device for edification. But sacraments do not spring from such endeavors. The game remains a game.

Father Jacobus, of course, is both priest and historian: as priest he is compelled to view even the Ludus Sollemnis as a poor substitute for a sacrament, and as a historian he is very far from the “state of political innocence and naivete” of the Castalians.

In his formal farewell discussion with the President of the Order, the Magister Alexander, Joseph Knecht sounds some of the same notes. He describes his initial reluctance to enter the Vicus Lusorum:

Some naive feeling for simplicity, for wholeness and soundness, warned me against the spirit of the Waldzell Vicus Lusorum. I sensed in it a spirit of specialism and virtuosity, certainly highly cultivated, certainly richly elaborated, but nevertheless isolated from humanity and the whole of life – a spirit that had soared too high into haughty solitariness…

It is in these passages that we can witness Hesse's own doubts about Castalia and the Game – or about the questions of intellect for intellect's sake and art for art's sake. And what we see here is Hesse, ever a man striving for the reconciliation of opposites, torn by the same choice Yeats is forced to make:

The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life or of the work.

If there is a “moral” to Hesse's tale, it lies in the Magister Ludi's letter to the Board: Hesse is here sounding a warning to those he loves: the arts, intellect and high culture of mankind are threatened by forces from “the real world” around them – and thus also the psychic lives of those who become totally absorbed in these things risk isolation in “haughty solitariness”.


The question thus faces any would-be game designer attracted to Hesse's Game, but also to Hesse's insight as manifested in the novel as a whole: is the successful design of a variant on the Glass Bead Game inherently “isolated from humanity and the whole of life”, and more particularly, is the Game itself necessarily uncreative, the song of an “artificially reared songbird”?

It seems clear that Hesse is not intrinsically opposed to the Glass Bead Game as such, that – as we have seen – even his own novel and that of Magister von der Trave can be viewed as Glass Bead Games in their own right, and appreciatively so described. But is there nonetheless an inbuilt “sterility” to any attempt to devise further Games? I believe that this issue can – from the point of view of a prospective Game designer – be further broken down into several points:

Is the Game necessarily a matter of analysis without fresh creation?
Is the Game necessarily a failed attempt at the creation of a sacrament?
Is the Game necessarily distant from political realities?


Is the Game necessarily a matter of analysis without fresh creation?

It is clear that Hesse himself intensely disliked the work of critics who analyze without creating. In a letter of January 9th, 1956, he writes that a writer “depicts the dreams and visions of his lonely, difficult life” and that it is:

these dreams and visions alone that should preoccupy us, and not the interpretations that sharp-witted interpreters can give these writings. This “interpreting” is an intellectual sport… good for clever people… who can read and write books about Black sculpture or twelve-tone music but who never get to the heart of a work of art because they stand at the gate fumbling…

The simple answer to the question raised above is that if our Games are themselves works of art – which I take to mean tight formal vehicles for the expression of intensities of the heart and mind – then the problem does not arise. It would be when game designers moved into an exclusive concentration on writing “materials for the Archives”, it seems to me, that this issue *would* come to the fore – when they came to examine “the rhythmic structure of Julius Caesar's Latin and discovered the most striking congruences with the results of well-known studies of the intervals in Byzantine hymns”, for instance.

But even this is an appropriate exercise in scholarship, surely – as we can see from the strikingly similar work of Jane-Marie Luecke, OSB, _Measuring Old English Rhythm: an Application of the Principles of Gregorian Chant Rhythm to the Meter of *Beowulf*_, Literary Monographs, vol 9, U Wisconsin Press, 1978.

If there is a warning here, it is that we should keep our games creative, playing them always in the spirit which Hesse lovingly described:

The artistically inclined delight in the Game because it provides opportunities for improvisation and fantasy.

Played in this sense, the Game is not a dry exercise in “interpreting” the works of others but an act of fresh creation.


Is the Game necessarily a failed attempt at the creation of a sacrament?

Again, the simple answer here is that to Father Jacobus, it must be just that – but this surely is due to the doctrinal restraints imposed on the good Father's thinking by his Catholicism.

Perhaps we can rephrase the question to ask whether the Game can reasonably aspire to be *sacramental* – and avoid the question of sacraments entirely – at least for the present.

Again, Hesse should be our guide. He writes of a time when Joseph was “picking apart a problem in linguistic history and, as it were, examining close up the peak period of glory in the history of language”. It was during this task – itself potentially an example of “arid” scholarship of the sort discussed above – that Joseph has an awakening:

I suddenly realized that in the language, or at any rate in the spirit of the Glass Bead Game, everything actually was all-meaningful, that every symbol and combination of symbols led not hither and yon, not to single examples, experiments, and proofs, but into the center, the mystery and innermost heart of the world, into primal knowledge. Every transition from major to minor in a sonata, every transformation of a myth or a religious cult, every classical or artistic formulation was, I realized in that flashing moment, if seen with a truly meditative mind, nothing but a direct route into the interior of the cosmic mystery, where in the alternation between inhaling and exhaling, between heaven and earth, between Yin and Yang, holiness is forever being created.

The clue here is in the phrase, “if seen with a truly meditative mind”. If our Games are devised and played “with a meditative mind”, they will be sacramental in intent and effect…

And lastly, we may ask…


Is the Game necessarily distant from political realities?

The simple answer, again, is that our Games will be distant from political realities if we make them so, and engaged if we so choose… But perhaps a small “fugue of ideas” would be appropriate at this point.

Hesse's situation in the late thirties and early forties is in a strange way iconic of the dangers of art as an “ivory tower” set apart from the world and its alarums, just as Yeats' situation before and after the Easter Uprising on 1916 is iconic of the dangers of art which is politically engaged. In some ways, the two men's work can be seen as answering each other, forming a “sonata movement on two themes” such as that which Hesse perceives in the dialogue between the young Joseph Knecht and the young Plinio Designori…

If further evidence of their commonality were needed, it can be found in their joint imagery of artificial birds.

Yeats had been thinking about bird-artefacts at least since “The Wanderings of Oisin”, in which he writes:

…as they sang the painted birds
Kept time with their bright wings and feet

but the theme culminates in his great poem:


That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unaging intellect.


An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.


O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.


Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

–William Butler Yeats

with its accompanying note that reads:

I have read somewhere that in the Emperor's palace at Byzantium was a tree made of gold and silver, and artificial birds that sang…

and the later diary note “Subject for a Poem”, which he wrote in preparation for that great poem's great sequel, “Byzantium”:

birds of hammered gold singing in the golden trees, in the harbour, offering their backs to the wailing dead that they may carry them to paradise…

I would place these images of artificial birds from Yeats in juxtaposition to that remark of Plinio's which I quoted above:

Castalians lead the lives of artificially reared songbirds…


What do we see here?

Yeats witnesses the “sensual music” of youth and of his own youth, and from the Platonic perspective of his old age, still “sick with desire / And fastened to a dying animal”, turns to the “artifice of eternity” – to the song of the soul, whose only singing school is “studying / Monuments of its own magnificence”… turns from the body, in effect, to Castalia, the realm of disembodied spirit.

And if life in “ivory towers” can have its dangers for the artist, it is also true that “engaged” artists can live to rue their engagement.

The cultural historian William Irwin Thompson has characterized both the “Irish literary renaissance” – of which William Butler Yeats was a leading light – and the Easter Uprising of 1916 which followed it, perceptively in his book, *Imagination of an Insurrection*. He views the literary renaissance as a “nativistic” movement formed around the myth of the “tribal archetypal hero” Cuchulain, and describes the participants in the Uprising in these striking terms:

The Irish revolutionaries lived as if they were in a work of art, and this inability to tell the difference between sober reality and the realm of the imagination is perhaps one very important characteristic of a revolutionary.

It is in this context of a literary movement giving birth to revolution, then, that Yeats asks his dark and terrible question:

Did that play of mine send out
Certain men the English shot?

Hesse, then, represents the artist who tends to shy away from all political engagement – “I consider every would-be intellectual action… on the part of intellectuals vis-a-vis the masters of this earth to be wrong, a further damaging and degrading of the intellect” he wrote to Max Brod – while by contrast, Yeats is the artist who exercises political influence and even takes political office.

And each man nevertheless feels pulled to the “antitetical” approach, as Yeats might term it – Hesse lamenting at times the isolation of Castalia, Yeats lamenting the possibility that words he wrote may have sent men to their deaths…


We have examined three possible ways in which our Games might reasonably be criticized – for lacking the creativity of true art, for falling short of the spirituality of a true sacrament, and for isolating its players and readers from the social realities. In each case, there seems to be no reason why this *should* be so, but we have nevertheless been warned.

If we proceed to the design of Games nonetheless, it is with Hesse's words once again ringing in our ears:

There is no doubt that the Game has its dangers. For that very reason we love it; only the weak are sent out on paths without perils.

The third quandary facing the designer of a potential Glass Bead Game concerns the nature of the Game as Hesse describes it, and in particular the “hieroglyphic language” in which it is supposedly written, and the glass beads on which the hieroglyphs are to be displayed.

Essentially, our argument moves here from the moral issues surrounding such an attempt to the practical ones.


At first blush, it seems that making a successful variant on Hesse's Game depends on the invention of a “hieroglyphic language” of the sort of which Hesse wrote, a language in which the deep structures not only of the sciences but of the arts can be prepresented. Hesse's description of the Game calls for such a language, calls indeed also for the language to be presentable in terms of 10 rows of beads…

Hesse describes the Game in terms that make it vivid for the reader of his book. And yet in that first brief account he gave of his idea, he wrote:

Highest culture: the bead game in many categories, embraces music, history, space, *mathematics*. X is now the highest of bead game players, plays the world symphony, varies it according to Plato, to Bach, to Mozart, expresses the most complicated of things in 10 lines of beads, is completely understood by three or four, half-understood by 1000s.

And in his poem “The Last Glass Bead Game Player”, he writes of:

Those hieroglyphs once so significant
That now are only colored bits of glass…

and describes how:

The old man tallies up his colored beads;
He fits a blue one here, a white one there,
Makes sure a large one, or a small, precedes,
And shapes his Game ring with devoted care…

How important is the hieroglyphic language to a reconstucted Glass Bead Game?

From Hesse's point of view, the hieroglyphic language is a masterstroke: it is not present, presumably, in his own playing of a Glass Bead Game in the garden while burning leaves, it is part of the elaboration by which that actual, playable Game becomes the enormously more complex Castalian Game of the novel.

There are certainly a number of “pictorial” languages – Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphics, Chinese ideograms spring to mind – but Hesse's genius is to describe as “hieroglyphic” something which is in fact analytic: a language in the grammar and terms of which any body of human knowledge can be analyzed and expressed.

Ideal languages have been a concern to thinkers for a long time: Bishop John Wilkins' 1668 book, *An Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language*, is a notable precursor Hesse's Game. Two great languages of roughly this sort do of course exist in our world: mathematics and logic. But it took the combined genius of Bertrand Russell and AN Whitehead in the *Principia Mathematica* to show their equivalence (following Frege) and lay even a rough approximation to their foundations.

It is this same Russell who wrote in his introduction to Wittgenstein's *Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus*:

The first requisite of an ideal language would be that there should be one name for every simple, and never the same name for two different simples. A name is a simple symbol in the sense that it has no parts which are themselves symbols. In a logically perfect language nothing that is not simple will have a simple symbol.

Mathematics serves as the analytic language into which the data of the various sciences can be resolved, though it utterly fails to serve the same function with respect to the arts and humanities.

Indeed, we can appreciate the interplay of analytic language and games in the life of the mathematician John von Neumann, whose *Quantum Mechanics* provided a tight formalization of the more arcane aspects of early modern physics, while his later *Theory of Games and Economic Behavior* laid the foundations of modern Games Theory. Interestingly enough, this same John von Neumann was also father to the modern computer…

Mathematics, then, is at once a model of the analytic language of the Bead Game, and inadequate to the task of *being* that language.


In my own approach to the design of playable variants on Hesse's Game, I at first entirely avoided the issue of an analytic language. I preferred to work in natural language, and was thus able to express the ideas which were the “themes” of my contrapuntal music of ideas by naming them. But I wished to represent them directly, and naming, say, the recurring bass motif of Bach's Passacaglia was only a stop-gap: my ideal was to embed the Passacaglia in the Game itself. And this, it was clear, could be achieved if my Games were played on the World Wide Web.

The Web allows the direct, digitized display of textual, musical, numerical and pictorial content, and thus provides the Game designer with a medium in which – to take an example from one of my own Games – TS Eliot's lyric “The dove descending” can be directly juxtaposed with Vaughan William's lovely piece, “The lark ascending”. The counterpoint I am after is not simply between the two forms of words, although that is present, but also between the poem as it may be read aloud and the music as it may be played – and beyond that, to the descent of the Paraclete on the disciples' heads in the form of flame and the rain of incindiary bombs on London during the Blitz, and to the English meadow lark and its prior celebration by Shakespeare and others.

I tend to think, then, of the Web as a kind of “board” on which the Glass Bead Game or its variants can be played, not simply in natural language but by the direct juxtaposition of ideas – verbal, musical, numerical, pictorial – in their own nature.

But in fact this is not what is going on. My presentation of Vaughan Williams' “The lark ascending” on the web is no more the piece itself as played than the Vaughan Williams piece is the lark itself as it ascends. On the web, a performance of the Vaughan Williams and a reading of the Eliot poem can be juxtaposed by rendering them into a common *digital* language… And it is this digital language which I suggest is in practice the appropriate analytic language for the design of Glass Bead Games.

Leibniz is the grandfather of the binary logic which underlies all computing, whatever specific architecture may be used, but again it is interesting to note that behind Leibniz lies the I Ching, which he mentions in his *Theodicy*, and discusses in some detail in:

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. *Zwei Briefe “uber das bin”are Zahlensystem und die chinesische Philosophie*. Edited, translated, and commentary by Renate Loosen and Franz Vonessen. Stuttgart: Belser Verlag, 1968.

[See also Helmut Wilhelm, “Leibniz and the I Ching”, in *Collectanea Commissionis Synodalis in Sinis*, 1948, 16, 205.]

And at once we are back beside the goldfish pool in the garden of Elber Brother…


So the *Mutationum Liber* stands at the threshold of binary thinking, and hence of the computer age – or to put it another way, the “digital language” of the computer itself hearkens back to the hexagrams, with their broken and unbroken lines… as presumably, does another quasi-universal langauge, Morse Code.

There is much to expand on here, taking us into the realms of cryptography, espionage, and kaballah, linking Hesse's Game with the Art of Memory, the combinatorial wheels of Ramon Lull – themselves arguably precursors of Babbage's Difference Engine and thus the modern computer – the genetic code and so forth: but this is not the place for such an elaboration.

Suffice it to say that binary logic *is* a language into which the arts, sciences and humanities can be reduced, and the computer an abacus on which this language can be used to represent musical, poetic, mathematical, astronomical, astrological and theological ideas alike…

In this sense, an analytic language already exists, ready to our purpose. The difference between this language and the one Hesse envisions, of course, is that Hesse's hieroglyphic language is inscribed on the beads of the Game, and refers to mathematical, musical or other ideas, whereas the binary language of the computer directly presents them on screen to the viewer / listener.

In some ways, this is an enormous advantage – and Hesse cannot be “blamed” for not forseeing the advent of computing back in the 1930s, although he has been praised for just this piece of foresight by, for instance, Tim Leary:

In the avant garde, cyber-hip frontiers of the computer culture, around Mass. Ave. in Cambridge, around Palo Alto, in the Carnegie Mellon AI labs, in the backrooms of the computer graphics labs in Southern California, even in the Austin labs of MCC, a Hesse comeback seems to be happening. However. This revival is not connected with Hermann's mystical, eastern writings. It's based on his last, and least understood, work, Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game. This book, which earned Hesse the Expense-Paid Brain Ride to Stockholm, is positioned a few decades in the future when human intelligence is enhanced and human culture elevated by a device for thought-processing called The Glass Bead Game. Up here in the Electronic '80s we can appreciate what Hesse did, back down there (1931-1942).


In recognizing the potentially intimate connection between Hesse's Game and the development of the computer and of the World Wide Web in particular, and exploring the possibility of the Web as an “organ” whose “manuals and pedals” can indeed range “over the entire intellectual cosmos”, we should not, I think, overlook the possibility of exploring formal languages of the kind which Hesse envisoned when he wrote:

Each discipline which seized upon the Game created its own language of formulas, abbreviations, and possible combinations.

It is this approach which my colleague Terence MacNamee is currently pursuing, searching in his own field of specialty, linguistics, for “a more formal kind of game where there really are structural isomorphisms that are purely intellectual and have nothing to do with events” by converting his old Master's thesis – which is about the foundations of historical linguistics in the 19th century – into formal structures for use in games.

I can see that the analysis of syntagms in language could establish isomorphisms between phenomena that are not otherwise related, such as:

(1) Ablaut in Germanic (“speak” vs. “spoke”) (2) vowel harmony in languages like Turkish (a word must have all front vowels or all back vowels in it) (3) Semitic roots (“kitab - katab - ktab” - “writes - wrote - book”).

The ramifications of this make me dizzy.

I intend, then, to work on these formal correspondences, both paradigmatic and syntagmatic, in the context of linguistics from Grimm to Saussure. The result will be a scholarly monograph which I hope to publish, and a series of games derived therefrom.

I think there is much to be gained from attempts of this sort, and look forward to the fruits of Terence's work.

The points I am trying to make here are these: (i) that it is entirely feasible to devise a variant on Hesse's Game written in natural language, without recourse to an analytic language: this is the approach which I take in my own games, and it has the advantage of allowing the “ideas in play” to speak for themselves; (ii) that it is also possible to view the binary logic of computers as “the” analytical language which Hesse sought; and (iii) that the attempt to formulate analytical languages for individual disciplines – particularly in the arts and humanities – is nevertheless a fascinating one, and one that Game designers following in Hesse's footsteps are peculiarly well-placed to attempt.

If such a language is devised, the formulation of a “hieroglyphic” mode of representing it should follow quite naturally: it is essentially a matter of calligraphy.


How important are the glass beads themselves to a reconstructed Game?

My sense is that the answer to this question falls into place naturally when the previous question has been answered: in the same way that variant Games can be designed without recourse to an analytic – let alone a hieroglyphic – language, they can also be designed without the use of real or represented “glass beads”; while on the other hand, a variant Game which represented the ideas in play in an analytic form would presumably benefit from going the whole distance, and including provision for an abacus-like board on which its hieroglyphics could be inscribed.

Utter faithfulness to Hesse's Game as he describes it, in other words, will inevitably lead to attempts to devise boards with “ten lines of beads”, or having the form of a “Game ring”…

But the ambiguity I sense when I juxtapose those two descriptions – “lines” and “ring” – illustrates neatly what I imagine to be the central fact at issue in all this; the fact that Hesse is attempting to describe something which he has not entirely thought through at a visual level.

What Hesse is giving us, it seems to me, both in his description of the hierglyphic language and of the small and large, blue and white beads, is a vivid way of conceiving of the Game *as we read the novel* – something which from the first he knew was going to be a difficult task, as his early note so clearly showed:

Description of the game: “not easy to render it visible, since it is very complicated, and has furthermore not yet been invented.”

Our obligation as Game designers, it seems to me, is to honor the details of the fictitious Game Hesse describes in the book as far as we can, while according primacy to the experience of meditative insight through the juxtaposition of ideas which characterizes the far simpler Game Hesse himself played while burning those leaves.


Which brings me back around to the issue of beads from another, more symbolic angle.

There are many Bead Games. Go, with its black and white “stones” can be considered a bead game, I have a game of solitaire bside my desk which is played with marbles (ie glass beads), and there is in fact a genre of games known as “mancala-type games” which uses beads… By and large, however, these games – including one which can be downloaded from the Word Wide Web and which actually styles itself “The Glass Bead Game” – use their beads essentially as place-markers.

I am tempted to say that Hesse's Game is far more like the rosary than any of these.

Yet I have the impression that the passage in the book which I as an English reader of Hesse am familiar with, and which carries this analogy, does not in fact refer to the rosary in the original German: Richard and Clara Winston have interpolated this implication in their translation of the last of the poems included in the book:

The pattern sings like crystal constellations,
And when we tell our beads, we serve the whole,
And cannot be dislodged or misdirected,
Held in the orbit of the Cosmic Soul.

Hesse's own German text (I think) includes no phrase equivalent to “when we tell our beads”:

Sternbildern gleich ertönen sie kristallen,
In ihrem Dienst ward unserm Leben Sinn,
Und keiner kann aus ihren Kreisen fallen,
Als nach der heiligen Mitte hin.

The analogy, then, is not Hesse's but the Winston's. And yet I think it is a fruitful one – particularly in view of another phrase from one of the poems, cited above, “shapes his Game ring with devoted care”…

Rosaries are meditative devices which use beads to represent a series of prayers on a sequence of given topics known collectively as the “joyful”, the “sorrowful” and the “glorious” mysteries. Putting this another way, a rosary is a string of prayers – and indeed this is the force of the perhaps fanciful etymology by which the word “bead” itself is traced back to the Old Saxon word “bede” (a prayer) – which becomes transferred later to the instrument used in reciting the prayer… Another example, it would seem, of false etymology conveying poetic verity.

By analogy, the Glass Bead Game is an abacus of prayer… More specifically, it is a stringing together of ideas drawn from the whole range of human culture, within a formal meditative structure, to engender in its players, Hesse tells us, a state “virtually equivalent to worship”, a “direct route into the interior of the cosmic mystery”.

It is above all in this metaphorical sense, I believe, that we should view Hesse's Glass Bead Game as a Game played with glass beads…

Charles Cameron

HipBone Games rules, boards, sample games and other materials are copyright © Charles Cameron 1995, 96, 97.
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