Much of the plot for Glass Bead Game centers on the biographical sketch of Joseph Knecht, a typical Hessian-styled child prodigy turned intellectual tour-de-force whose pursuit of inner enlightenment means overcoming obstacles of both perception and understanding. One might recall the line from Hesse’s other well-known (and much shorter) work, Demian: “I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?” The story follows Knecht from his childhood, where he fast becomes a virtuoso with the Violin, to his admission and development as an intellectual in the Order of Castalia, a sort-of utopian realm created in the aftermath of a terrible war in order to cultivate both learning and greater development of the highest expression of said learning, that being the aforementioned Glass Bead Game. Knecht eventually becomes “Magister Ludi,” or the head administrator in charge of the Glass Bead Game that, despite being the book’s title and one of the more important themes surrounding the plot’s development, finds description only in vague terms.
Antley explains that the rules of the game are never explained, the closest we get is an explanation of how the game was applied to the evolution of various disciplines. He quotes from the book:
At various times the Game was taken up and imitated by nearly all the scientific and scholarly disciplines, that is, adapted to special fields… The analytical study of musical values had led to the reduction of musical events to physical and mathematical formulas. Soon afterward philology borrowed this method and began to measure linguistic configurations as physics measures processes in nature. The visual arts soon followed suit, architecture having already led the way in establishing the links between visual art and mathematics. Thereafter more and more new relations, analogies and correspondences were discovered among the abstract formulas obtained in this way. Each discipline which seized upon the Game developed its own language of formulas, abbreviations and possible combinations.
Full Story: The Media Res: Glass Bead Meme