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I'm currently reading Demian and came across the following paragraph:

Novelists when they write novels tend to take an almost godlike attitude toward their subject, pretending to a total comprehension of the story, a man's life, which they can therefore recount as God Himself might, nothing standing between them and the naked truth, the entire story meaningful in every detail. I am as little able to do this as the novelist is, even though my story is more important to me than any novelist's is to him -- for this is my story; it is the story of a man, not of an invented, or possible, or idealized, or otherwise absent figure.

I'm finding it a little difficult to full understand what Hesse means. It seems like he's trying to say that novelists have a total comprehension of the story, but he does not. And then he says "I am as little able to do this as the novelist is," suggesting that novelists also have little comprehension of the story (much like Hesse)?

What does he actually mean?

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    As I haven't read Demian and so am unfamiliar with the narrator's characteristics, I'll confine my thoughts to this comment rather than presenting them as an answer per se. — Anyway, I take the narrator to be saying that novelists behave as if they know everything about their characters, even though they actually don't; meanwhile, the narrator faces the same limitation in describing or relating his own story, but at least he is aware of the fact that he is affected by this limitation. "I am as little able to do this as the novelist is" = "I am as unable to do this as the novelist is". – Erik Kowal Sep 15 '14 at 9:21
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"I am as X as Y is" means that the speaker and Y are both equally X. So "I am as little able to do this as the novelist is" means the speaker and the novelist are both equally little able to do this, just as "I am as tired as Jeff is" means that the speaker and Jeff are both equally tired.

  • I was aware of this but couldn't understand the paragraph still. But thanks for help. – jeebface Sep 17 '14 at 1:24

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