In Sight of Chaos by Mark Harris

In Sight of Chaos by Mark Harris, 1999
In Sight of Chaos by Hermann Hesse, 1923

In Sight of Chaos index of books pdf

This book was made in 1999 without any accompanying explanation. However, after it had been exhibited a couple of times it became clear that viewers were challenged to figure out its premise without having some additional explanation. This short text is a response to that need.

In Sight of Chaos by Mark Harris is a compilation of the first and last facsimile pages of a hundred books. It’s a profile of chaos but is indirectly also a self-portrait set in adolescence. I had read most of Hesse’s writing while still at high school but I’d never looked at this non-fiction work of his called In Sight of Chaos. I was really more interested in his novels. I now remember Hesse as a sentimental writer interested in expressive subjectivities and narratives of self-discovery. Perfect for adolescence. Insofar as it focuses on expression and transformation, In Sight of Chaos has a similar outlook to Hesse’s novels but in the end it turns out to have been one of the more prescient of his books. In the extreme economic and political disorder of post-war Germany Hesse predicts an even more traumatized future. He advises those who want to know about the imminent maelstrom and its perpetrators to read Dostoevsky’s The Bothers Karamazov. Hesse uses terms reminiscent of Nietzsche’s writing to describe the brothers’ extreme involvement in life: “He reaches forth beyond prohibitions, beyond natural instincts, beyond morality.” The change will be devastating, he says, but it will also renew Europe.

I had read The Brothers Karamazov when I was young and as I set about making this book I began to wonder whether as a teenager I had had a proclivity for narratives of violence. If Hesse thought Dostoevsky presaged disaster then what about all the other material I’d been reading? I began assembling all the books I could remember that might be concerned with chaos, choosing the first and last pages of each for what ended up being a compilation of a hundred volumes. The title In Sight of Chaos by Mark Harris simply acknowledges the appropriation of the Hesse and makes it clear that this is a subjective selection. The collection remains idiosyncratic since it isn’t the result of objective research into the most appropriate books. It’s only what I was able to remember or root out during its production. Although it was always meant to be about the recent past, at some point I decided to include earlier texts which had helped form my ideas about the twentieth century. The first of these are by Voltaire and Sade which are then followed by nearly thirty nineteenth-century books. I also included about twenty-five publications which I’ve found memorable, postdating the Second World War.

Besides the novels, the book includes poetry (Cavafy, Mandelstam), philosophy (Hegel, Nietzsche), drama (Brecht, Beckett), autobiography (Shklovsky, Cleaver), and political writing (Kraus, Gramsci). One of the few texts about an historical event is The Wreck of the Medusa by Corréard and Savingy, two of those who survived abandonment on the raft in that early nineteenth-century disaster visualized so vividly in Géricault’s painting. Corréard’s and Savigny’s account of official incompetence, class rivalry, desertion, and violence provides a most pessimistic prelude to the plight of the following two-hundred years. The compilation ends in 1969 with Lessing’s The Four Gated City, the last in her Children of Violence series.

The paper and typeface used for the cover and spine of the book reproduce the appearance of the Hesse original. As an A4 or letter-sized book it provides adequate space for the largest of the facsimile pages.