Saturday, November 12, 2011

Glass Bead Game

To be filed under the heading of "rather weird but intriguing:" Hermann Hesse's Magister Ludi or Das Glasperlenspiel is a strange novel about an intellectual or cultural game that is never made quite explicit in the book itself. It had a weird hold on me when I was eighteen or nineteen (and I hope it had nothing to do with the implicit decision I made about that time to pursue "philosophy").

The idea is vague to enough lend itself to all kinds of interpretations and adaptations. Lewis H. Lapham wrote in 1997 for Harper Magazine an essay called "The Spanish Armadillo" in which he exulted its virtues in an age of cultural forgetfulness and illiteracy, claiming it "lends itself so obviously to the transcendental aspirations of the Internet" that it probably would only be "a matter of months before Microsoft" would buy the rights to the name for one of its software titles. Microsoft didn't, of course. Neither did Apple. Their HyperCard Program was perhaps closer to this idea than anything  Microsoft had developed at that or any time.[1]

Lapham also referred to Charles Cameron, a game developer, interested in developing the game for the computer. I am not sure whether anything came of this, but the Website is still there: What Lapham said, Explaining the Glass Bead Game and Approaches. It's all interesting in a weird way. The reference to Michael Heim's The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality does not help. In fact, it spoils it for me.

1. Hesse: "This same eternal idea, which for us has been embodied in the Glass Bead Game, has underlain every movement of Mind toward the ideal goal of a universitatis litterarum, every Platonic academy, every league of an intellectual elite, every rapprochement between the exact and the more liberal disciplines, every effort toward reconciliation between science and art or science and religion." If Lapham and Cameron are right, it also underlies some Hypertext. Now, a transcendental wiki ... that's an idea.

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