In the rather enigmatic novel that Hermann Hesse published in Switzerland in 1943 under the title ‘The Glass Bead Game,’ we encounter the name Castalia from the very first lines. It designates, at the same time, a place, a citadel, but also a utopian organization. It is, simultaneously, a space and a social bond that tend to coincide.

Why Castalia

The name

The events of the novel are set in 2400 and Castalia, despite being the place where the rites of the initiates of the game of glass pearls are carried out, it is also the unattainable goal (because the goal – they teach the novels of Hesse – is always the beginning) to which the Pilgrims of the East also tend of a coeval story, entitled The Pilgrimage in the East, set in Ticino (precisely in Morbio Inferiore).

The place

Castalia, the place where the initiates to the game of glass pearls reside, is wrapped in a halo of utopia and, from a literary point of view, is the contamination of some literary suggestions and the projection of an ideal desire, which has as a positive aspect the concretization of a game-based practice – a fantastic, but not chaotic game, based on strict mathematical-musical rules – which is the game of writing. Castalia is the place where the initiates of the game keep the cultural memory alive, those who simply combining the pearl-ideas according to tradition, who instead giving life to new combinations.

The change

From the point of view of the historical genesis of Hermann Hesse’s novel, Castalia (which literally means Country of chastity) opposes Nazi Germany, a symbol of barbarism; but in the author’s intentions it is the East, it is the Dappertutto and the In-no-place; the utopian projection of those spiritual values, where opposites coexist, where, through play (the ritual element) and invention (the creative element) one can take the way to feel part of a cosmic order.

The protagonist of the novel Joseph Knecht, studying the story, realizes that Castalia and the game of glass beads are destined to disappear, so great is the contrast between the changing external world and the perfect but static world of Castalia.

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