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Thoughts: Steppenwolf

25 Apr

SteppenwolfSteppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is everybody in? Is everybody in? Is everybody in? The ceremony’s about to begin…

Center the Steppenwolf in Times Square and watch him writhe, observe his bared teeth peel the flesh from his own body, destroy himself and maybe, if fate embraces him warmly, listen to his laughing.

The philosophical discourse of Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf is like a dark molasses, glacially penetrating your mind. But Hesse’s tone and style is melodious, enticing the average reader to continue his plunge into the realm of Harry Haller’s madness. There are three distinct narrative perspectives employed throughout the book. First, we are introduced to the inconsequential character of Harry’s tenant mate, the landlord’s nephew. His preface bids us welcome to Haller’s narrative when we would have otherwise passed it by without thinking of it again. Second, we delve into the meat of the pages composed by Haller himself, composing his own story and trip into peace. Then there’s “The Steppenwolf Treatise” whose author we do not know for certain. Each narrative has a distinct tone and style, a unique perspective on the character and turmoil of Harry Haller. How fortunate the reader.

Hesse devotes Steppenwolf to the realization and destruction of dualism. In the preface we are introduced to the idea of two overlapping generations and the sorrowful outcasts who don’t belong to one or the other, to the mix of human spirit and the Steppenwolf, the opposite and complimentary pairing of Harry and Hermine, Old Harry and New Harry…Real Harry and Fake Harry. And the unbearable suffering infecting and spreading in this story for Harry, who, with Hermine, are labeled as suicides, beings whose destiny cannot end under any other circumstance than death. In his isolation and denial of fickle trivialities of the present culture; in his abstinence from the Bourgeois Compromise of balance between saintliness and profligacy, he yearns for death, to discover the ultimate capacity of human endurance and to martyr himself at the alter of what is valuable.

I am the Steppenwolf – or maybe the American puppy. I related to Harry’s suffering but mostly in angst. I bark at advertisements for inconsequential trinkets, for transient fascinations and abhor how much of our resources, and our selves, we invest in them. Where is our escape? How can we reverse this absurdity? If Hesse is right, and the bliss of the middle class is in the contented compromise, afraid to brush the walls of happy extremities lining the corridor of our existence; for their sake there will be no reversal. How does Harry cope with this hopeless realization? How do we?

“You are to live and learn to laugh. You are to learn to listen to the cursed radio music of life and to reverence the spirit behind it and to laugh at its distortions.”

This is not a story of inevitable hell.

WAKE UP! You can’t remember where it was had this dream stopped?

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Hermann Hesse

 

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