Why a Requiem in the form of a Glass Bead Game?

Charles Cameron

My piece, "A Solemn Requiem for Sir Laurens van der Post" is modeled on Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game, and some readers may find the choice of format a little curious. I'd like to explain it...


Carl Gustav Jung on Game Design

I was emboldened to work in this particular form by the fact that Sir Laurens himself quotes Jung conversing on the topic of games:

One of the most difficult tasks men can perform, however much others may despise it, is the invention of good games...

Clearly, Jung felt that the invention of games was a matter of some interest, and van der Post must have shared that interest to some extent, or he wouldn't have quoted Jung's remark. Hesse and Jung knew each other, and it would be fascinating to learn what Jung himself thought of Hesse's great Game.

I think we can peer a little deeper into the spirit of Jung's comment by considering another remark, this one made by Nietzsche -- an author to whom Jung, Hesse and van der Post all refer in their writings. After suggesting in a celebrated passage that the world was by now culturally adrift from its moorings, Nietzsche asked:

What sacred games shall we have to invent?

I came across this question of Nietzsche's shortly after beginning my own work in Glass Bead Game design, and it struck me then and strikes me now as an important question for our times.

But to return to Jung... Here is Jung's remark, as quoted by van der Post, in full and in context:

One of the most striking testimonies to the quality of the English spirit is the English love of sport and games in a classical sense and their genius for inventing games. One of the most difficult tasks men can perform, however much others may despise it, is the invention of good games and it cannot be done by men out of touch with their instinctive values. The English did it and, by heaven, they even taught us Swiss how to climb our own mountains and make a sport of it that made us love them all the more. And their Wimbledon, did they but know it, is in sort a modern version of an ancient ritual.

It seems pretty clear from that last phrase that it's the "ritual" or "sacred" aspect of games and sports that interests Jung -- and, I would imagine, Sir Laurens van der Post as well.

The normal form for a Requiem is musical, to be sure, but Hesse's Game is in fact a "virtual music of ideas", and the "Solemn Game" played annually in his novel is a high ceremonial not unlike a Catholic Pontifical Mass. So I think it can be safely said that Hesse intended his Glass Bead Game to be a "sacred" game in Nietzsche's sense -- Nietzsche even features in Hesse's novel as the brilliant but temperamental player, Fritz Tegularius.

I find it thus offers an appropriate form in which to honor Sir Laurens van der Post, the friend and biographer of Jung, whose patient Hesse once was. I offer my game, then, as "in sort a modern version of an ancient ritual" -- a ludus sollemnis in Hesse's sense -- a Virtual Requiem in the music of ideas.


Appreciative thanks to Terence MacNamee for ideas concerning the liturgical presentation of Glass Bead Games.

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