Beneath the Wheel, Hermann Hesse (1906)
Petticoat, copper wire, origami.
“I saw ships like that," he went on, “on the Rhine during vacation. One Sunday there was music on the ship, at night, and colored lanterns. The lights were reflected in the water and we sailed downstream with the music. Everyone was drinking Rhine wine and the girls wore white dresses."
Hans listened without replying but he had closed his eyes and saw the ship sail through the night with music and red lights and girls in white dresses.
I first read Beneath the Wheel in my early twenties, as I sat in a hospital room with my grandfather who had suffered what would prove to be a fatal stroke. Like me, my grandfather was prone to brooding, but also delighted in bits of joy found amid the challenges. At the time, it seemed very meaningful that I was reading the book during this difficult time. I think in some ways, I felt that my grandpa would know and understand the tension Hans felt, and perhaps that our relationship paralleled Hans and Hermann’s in some ways.
In response to Michele and Bill’s invitation, I took the opportunity to revisit the philosophical novel. I don’t know an academic that hasn’t felt beneath the wheel at some point in their career, and I am no different. As a creative, I struggle when promising ideas with proven results get lost in the labyrinth of approvals. After many years of tireless work, I’m finally finding time to make stuff on a regular basis, and thankfully, this joy balances the challenges. I am a grind and a creative, and I think for me, that’s the key to not just surviving but prospering in a highly structured environment ruled by constraints, riddled with disappointments, and full of endless potential.
Marnie Powers-Torrey holds an MFA in Photography from the University of Utah and a BA in English and Philosophy from Boston College. Marnie is a librarian at the Marriott Library where she serves as Director of the Book Arts Program & Red Butte Press. She is the faculty mentor for book arts designations and teaches letterpress, bookmaking, artists’ books, and other courses for the Book Arts Program and elsewhere. Marnie identifies primarily as a book artist, and her book work is held in collections across the nation.