Monday, April 27, 2015

Steppenwolf - Hermann Hesse

Absolutely brilliant..!!!

Harry Haller notebooks found with a headline..""Not for every one ---  For mad people only"..

For me,'Steppenwolf' is Hesse's second novel after 'Siddhartha'..The later was a haunting read,but after reading this,that work seems like a tiny tale..I picked up this book taking Siddhartha's lighter tone in to account,but it turned out to be absolutely complex and abstruse philosophy..Yes you heard me right,philosophy again..'Steppenwolf' was written by the German-Swiss Noble laureate,Hermann Hesse,who was immensely influenced by the mysticism of Eastern philosophy..

Courtesy Google
This work is an autobiographical work of Hesse himself as the protagonist Harry Haller,a fifty year old man's inwards journey,which explains the phenomenon of mid-life crisis..Abandoned by his wife he vanishes from society in to deep isolation with suicidal instincts..He would ready to test the limits of human suffering while staying in an attic with his books,away from bourgeoisie life...Inability to 'play the game of life' is something that characterizes Haller from the outset of the novel..Harry finds his dual personality as a human being and a wolf(wolf of steppes)..'The human' is a world of ideas, feelings, culture, domesticated and sublimated nature where as 'a wolf' is a dark world of instincts,savagery, cruelty, nature unsublimated and raw..A pamphlet that comes into his hands after a night out drinking,entirely changes his perspective of life..With the help of people like,Hermione-His ideal woman of love,Pablo-The musician and Maria-The prostitute,Harry comes out as a changed man,full of life after the Magic theater (a metaphor) sequence..

A prominent genre in German literature is the 'Bildungsroman' or novel of education...In contrast to the broadly realist novel traditions of England and France it focuses on the development of a central character from inexperienced youth to eventual maturity.Wider social concerns, while by no means ignored, tend to play a subordinate role to this process of personal education, in which philosophical ideas also often have a major role to play..We can say,Hesse’s Steppenwolf is a ‘Bildungsroman’,but with a variation in that Harry is at the outset already a highly educated man,a great author and sophisticated connoisseur of literature and classical music.

""Two souls, alas, dwell in my breast!’ Such crude dualism is still central to Western thought, it is argued, despite the fact that Indian philosophy long ago exposed it as a delusion, since in reality human beings consist of multiple souls.""

The author says,'Of all my works Steppenwolf seems to me to be the one that has been more frequently and more drastically misunderstood than any other'...The writing appears to be partly pathological, partly beautiful fantasies rich in ideas,but slowly evokes the positive,serene world of peace..Harry's discussions regarding 'Lord Krishna' reveals that the author was greatly influenced by Indian philosophy and 'Karma Siddhantha'...In one or the other way we all could  relate and identify ourselves with the 'Steppenwolf' image..Unlike my earlier reads it took long time to fully digest the content..Even after finishing this book,I feel like staying in Hesse's world for some more time...This book is strictly for people who are very familiar with the paths of isolation..Definitely not an easy read,you need to be cent percent there,while reading..Although Steppenwolf’s story is one of sickness and crisis, these do not end in death or destruction. On the contrary: they result in a cure...Being a Gemini I could easily relate myself to Harry's dual nature which is always in conflict..There are also few parts I failed to understand..But I loved the book to the core that I would definitely give it a second read some time.

Here are few more interesting lines from the book,

As a body every human being is a single entity, as a soul never. Traditionally literature too, even at its most sophisticated, operates with ostensibly whole, ostensibly unified characters. In literature as we know it so far, the genre most highly regarded by experts and connoisseurs is drama. Rightly so, for drama offers the greatest opportunity to represent the self as multiple, or might do so, if only outward appearances didn’t contradict this impression, each individual character being deceptively portrayed as a unity because he or she is inevitably encased in a unique, unified and self-contained body.

“Most people have no desire to swim until they are able to.” Isn’t that a laugh? Of course they don’t want to swim! After all, they were born to live on dry land, not in water. Nor, of course, do they want to think. They weren’t made to think, but to live! It’s true, and anyone who makes thinking his priority may well go far as a thinker, but when all’s said and done he has just mistaken water for dry land, and one of these days he’ll drown.’

What we think of as acts of cruelty are in reality nothing of the kind. Someone from the Middle Ages would still find the whole style of our present-day life abhorrent, but cruel, horrifying and barbaric in a quite different way. Every age, every culture, every ethos and tradition has a style of its own, has the varieties of gentleness and harshness, of beauty and cruelty that are appropriate to it. Each age will take certain kinds of suffering for granted, will patiently accept certain wrongs. Human life becomes a real hell of suffering only when two ages, two cultures and religions overlap. Required to live in the Middle Ages, someone from the Graeco-Roman period would have died a wretched death by suffocation, just as a savage inevitably would in the midst our civilization.

Now, there are times when a whole generation gets caught to such an extent between two eras, two styles of life, that nothing comes naturally to it since it has lost all sense of morality, security and innocence. A man of Nietzsche’s mettle had to endure our present misery more than a generation in advance. Today, thousands are enduring what he had to suffer alone and without being understood.

Harry’s case, on the other hand, was different. In him the human being and the wolf went their own separate ways. Far from helping one another, they were like mortal enemies in constant conflict, each causing the other nothing but grief. When two mortal enemies are locked in one mind and body, life is a miserable business. Well, to each his lot. None of us has it easy.

Just as there are exceptions to every rule, and one lone sinner may under certain circumstances be more pleasing to God than ninety-nine righteous people.

Every human type has its hallmarks, its personal signatures. Each has its virtues and vices, its own deadly sin.

Those who live for power are destroyed by power, those who live for money by money; service is the ruin of the servile, pleasure the ruin of the pleasure-seeker. Thus it was Steppenwolf’s independence that proved his downfall.


Members of the bourgeoisie are therefore essentially creatures weak in vital energy,timid  individuals, afraid ever to abandon themselves, easy to govern. That is why they have replaced power by majority rule, replaced force by the rule of law, and replaced responsibility by the ballot box.

My life may have been arduous, wayward and unhappy, my experience of humankind’s bitter fate causing me to renounce and reject a great deal, but it had been rich, proud and rich, a life – even its misery – fit for a king. No matter how pitifully I might waste what little time was left to me before finally going under, my life was essentially a noble one. It had a profile and pedigree. Not content with cheap rewards, I had aimed for the stars.

What we here term the art of reconstruction is a way of filling in the gaps in science’s inadequate view of human psychology. To those people who have experienced the disintegration of their selves, we demonstrate that they can reassemble the pieces in a new order of their own choosing whenever they like. They are thus in a position to master the infinite variety of moves in life’s game. Just as writers create a drama from a handful of characters, we are forever able to regroup the separate pieces of our dismantled selves and thus offer them new roles to play, new excitements, situations that are constantly fresh. Look what I mean!

Published  Penguin Modern Classics

Paperback, 222 pages

3 comments:

Abhijit Ray said...

Nice review.

Archana Chaurasia Kapoor said...

I loved Siddhartha... and your wonderfully written review makes me want to pick up this book as well. Thanks for sharing :-)

Do read my latest post on books when you can:
http://drishti.co/2015/04/27/books-are-a-uniquely-portable-magic/

Cheers, Archana

Ravish Mani said...

Very well written review. I'm huge fan of his philosophical understanding :)