>Steppenwolf

You are a being of infinite dimensions, so: learn to dance & develop a sense of humor. Trim the waste from your soul & be light, for the unbearable heaviness you carry is only what you choose to identify yourself with and eventually it will lead to your existential despair. Cultivate your laughter to match that of the immortals. And, if you haven’t a place to sit among those whom dine in the halls of honors & false graces then return to your true home, within, outside of time, & feast on eternity.

 

Do you feel split in two, as if your life were the battle ground of two horrible warring beasts? Do you hear the duality in your own thoughts? Are you unable to decisively attach yourself to “this” or “that” nor find a balance in-between? Are you struggling to take control of your shifting hungers & find some certainty of your innocence as a human being? Are there more entities than two in your head? Hundreds? Thousands?! Who, then, are these fragments that speak through you? Who is the you that recognizes (or cannot recognize) the identity of these shadows? If these questions echo within you & you’re interested in finding concrete answers, you should be reading Herman Hesse’s “Steppenwolf” (1927).

“As a body everyone is single, as a soul never.”

There is the man, the sleek thinking machine whom admires his own reflection, praises his own charitable hand, & separates himself from every thing he sees with the magical justification of logic: “that person is not my person, that thing is not me.” But the man is not alone in himself, he senses all his efforts subjugated by some darkness within himself. The man turns the lens of scientific introspection on his own psychologies & finds an opposing entity: all that is wretched, vicious, & cunning in his nature wears the hide of a wolf from the steppes. This man cannot divide himself from his wolf because the wolf has no desire to divide itself from this man. The man builds his entire life around the dueling identities within, and submits his expressions to the contradictory natures that share the space of his spirit & wrestle for domination. He has surrendered his peace for a personal war. Here is the essence of your ‘Steppenwolf’ & here is the essence of our protagonist, Harry Haller.

The introduction is given over to the nephew of the woman whom rents a room to Harry Haller and we’re given some perceptive notes about the peculiarities of the man. We’re given a tour of the environment in which Harry keeps himself & learn that there is nothing especially strange about him although it is noted that Harry is a man of great suffering & intellect. An instance is recalled in which Harry shared some thoughts, read out of his books, in which it is hinted that he suffers because of his intellect & seems to believe that it will lead to his doom. Therein lies the key theme of ‘Steppenwolf’, that a man whom uses his intellect to guard him through life is defenseless against suffering, but that he must hold to his suffering & find redemption within it – or drown trying. This is the struggle you have to look forward to as you enter, ‘the records of Harry Haller’ which are, as the introductory narrator deftly puts it, “partly diseased, partly beautiful, and thoughtful fantasies.”

Narration assumes the eyes of our Steppenwolf & we’re immediately led to sympathize with Harry’s despair as he outlines his displacement in this world, his social tortures, his fleeting happiness, & the existential dilemma which is not so estranged from anybody else’s. His flaws are apparent & common: Harry Haller is a man whom takes himself too seriously. He has found the “golden thread” of other-worldly inspiration in the music of Mozart & the words of Goethe, but can’t grasp the wisdom within them for himself, for his intellect has led him to believe that he is wise enough to speak equally with them & to know the source of their wisdom. This is an illustrative lesson as to how the power of his intellect has already failed him. It’s his stance that makes him less of a child, closed off to life, & prone to howl at the cold winds that constantly blow through him. He is a counterfeit man, torn in two, wasting his energy on fighting himself; and as such, he is alone because of it, unable to know how to cope with other people & less capable of dealing with his own nature. As the story goes, late one evening he espies a “Magic Theater” – for madmen only! – but cannot find his way in, when a stranger shoves a pamphlet into his hands, “Treatise on the Steppenwolf.” This pamphlet is a guide that seems to have been written specifically for him, provoking him like a bad joke by calling out the futility of his mind’s dualistic patterns…

The perspective shifts, yet again, to the hand of the enlightened writer – perhaps that of a more reflective Harry Haller as he sets down words to paper – as the story is interrupted to explore Harry’s relation to the bourgeoise, how it holds his character in stalemate, & where his salvation may be salvaged: the destruction of the ego & the cultivation of spiritual awareness. Hesse speaks very directly – this makes for delicious reading – proposing clear postulates before expertly exploring their answers. There are quite a lot of quotes I’d like to cut from the text, and if I could I would lay out the bulk of Hesse’s thesis, but as there are too many brilliant addresses within, I want to focus on the ones that take an axe, expressly, to the ego.

“[The bourgeoise] will never be a martyr or agree to his own destruction. On the contrary, his ideal is not to give up but to maintain his own identity. He strives neither for the saintly nor its opposite. The absolute is his abhorrence. He may be ready to serve God, but not by giving up his fleshpots. He is ready to be virtuous, but likes to be easy and comfortable in this world as well. In short, his aim, is to make a home for himself between two extremes in a temperate zone without violent storms and tempests; and in this he succeeds though it be at the cost of that intensity of life and feeling which an extreme life afford. A man cannot live intensely except at the cost of the self.”
“Instead of narrowing your world and simplifying your soul, you will have to absorb more and more of the world and at last take all of it up in your painfully expanded soul, if ever you are to find peace…All birth means separation from the All, the confinement within limitation, the separation from God, the pangs of being born ever anew. The return into the All, the dissolution of painful individuation, the reunion with God means the expansion of the soul until it is able once more to embrace the All.”

I do not wish to lay out the entire structure of the story, because if you are inspired to take this book into your hands & read, at least, up to these considerations, you’ll be entranced to follow along into the madness. You’ll witness Kafka-esque dreams, become involved in androgynous affairs, discuss sincere forms of suicide, be laughed at by Mozart, dance up a sweat, fall in folds of sexual sheets, and at last enter into the “Magic Theater” – where it is warned, the only price of admission is your mind. Trust me, there’s much more golden counsel to be harvested throughout, & Steppenwolf is the kind of book that will howl within your soul & stay with you, all your days.

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