Be alert to miracles in your world. Isn’t everything suddenly more ?
Be alert to miracles in your world. Isn’t everything suddenly more ?
Words do not express thoughts very well. They always become a little different immediately after they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish. And yet it also pleases me and seems right that what is of value and wisdom to one man seems nonsense to another.
And yet he is a master with words, with meaning, a prize winner and a novelist and thinker praised by novelists and thinkers, and loved by milions. He could not have known how fascinating subsequent generations of readers would find his words.
That seems to be the way of things. Everyone takes, everyone gives. Life is like that.
Hesse was in his forties when Steppenwolf was first published, and a recognized literary figure after having previously published a volume of poetry and following it, a number of lyrical novels belonging to German Romanticism. It was 1927, Hesse had worked for the Red Cross during World War 1 and was greatly influenced by his visit to India in 1911. So this novel came from the pen of a middle aged poet who had been denounced by the country of his birth, an intellectual seeking to understand the place of man on earth. He went on to develop his philosophy, and further demonstrates his humanity in the novels Narzisss and Goldmund (1930) and The Glass Bead Game (1943). The body of these works have been understood to be a major contribution to philosophic literature, attempting to contemplate a vision of universality, an ability to combine cultural ideals with a search for personal perfection and social responsibility, Reading Steppenwolf today has gripped me, it’s poetry and its endeavour seem as fresh and as pertinent to this generation as it must have done when he wrote it. His preface to my text was written by Hesse himself in 1961 and clarifies that he felt misunderstood by many of his critics who saw it as an apology for suicides, as a deeply pessimistic book. In fact I finished it believing the final message to many of his readers would have been ‘lighten up’ in the lingo of today. It is a playful novel, illustrating the vanity and narcissism of man, simultaneously drawing on the heroism and strength of us all in simply living with the absurdity of life. In his words ‘ this book, no doubt, tells of griefs and needs; still it is not a book of a man despairing, but of a man believing.’ Hesse uses a technique of three perspectives, introducing the protagonist Harry Haller through the eyes of a third-party, the nephew of his landlady, and thus an observer. He then tells the story using Harry himself as the storyteller, and cleverly imposing a third ‘immortal’ narrator by inserting ‘The Treatise of Steppenwolf’. The story itself rattles along at a pace, engaging the reader on a trip reminiscent of a childs first merry-go-round. Discombobulating. I urge you to try it yourself just for the lyricism of writing, but notwithstanding the wisdom that he cleverly imparts without ever preaching. It demonstrates how much the West can learn from the mysticism of the East, how much we lose in the attempt to find ourselves through the culturally accepted routes of career achievement. In some ways it does link us back to a different age, but not one so different from our own that we cannot see ourselves in it. As the landlady’s nephew remarks at the end of his introduction to Harry Haller’s Records,
“ He said to me once when we were talking of the so-called horrors of the Middle ages: ‘These horrors were really non-existent. A man of the middle ages would detest the whole mode of our present day life as something far more horrible and cruel, far more barbarous. Every age, every culture,every custom and tradition has its own character, its own weakness and its own strength, its beauties and cruelties: it accepts certain sufferings as matters of course, puts up patiently with certain evils. Human life is reduced to real suffering, to hell,only when two ages, two cultures and religions overlap. … Now there are times when a whole generation is caught in this way between two ages, between two modes of life and thus loses the feeling for itself, for the self-evident, for all morals, for being safe and innocent. ‘ …”
From the mouth (or pen) of Harry himself;
“ Ah,it is hard to find this track of the divine in the midst of this life we lead, in this besotted humdrum age of spiritual blindness, with its architecture, its business, its politics, its men!”
From ‘The Treatise on the Steppenwolf’
“…to call suicides only those who actually destroy themselves is false…..the ‘suicide’ need not necessarily live in a peculiarly close relationship to death. What is peculiar to the suicide is that his ego, rightly or wrongly is felt to be extremely dangerous,dubious, and doomed germ of nature; that he is always in his own eyes exposed to an extraordinary risk, as though he stood with the slightest foothold on the peak of a crag whence a slight push from without or an instant’s weakness from within suffices to precipitate him into the void.’… For us they are suicides nonetheless; for they see death and not life as the releaser. They are ready to cast themselves away in surrender, to be extinguished and to go back to the beginning….”
“Man is an onion made up of a hundred integuments, a texture made up of many threads. …the human merry-go-round sees many changes: the illusion that cost India the efforts of thousands of years to unmask is the same illusion that the West has laboured just as hard to maintain and strengthen.”
These are tasters to encourage you to the main meal, it is worthy of any readers time in my mind. I want to go back and read it again, which is always the sign of a genius book. Of course I am somewhat of a Romantic and definitely a ‘suicide’ by Hesse’s definition, never understanding how death can be considered a threatening proposition, but more of a time to surrender. That doesn’t mean I look forward to it, but that it is an inevitable process, as life is. I spend quite a lot of time thinking in the abstract about the non-being of death , and the only fear I have of it is dealing with the deaths of people I love, or people I love dealing with mine. Life certainly holds more grief for me, learning to handle it in a manner which I can be at peace with, learning to accept tribulations and tragedies life holds for so many millions, understanding how important it is for individuals to hold a position on a myriad of things. Learning to belong to a community, and not in a bubble. Lots of learning still to do, lots of responsibility to come to terms with. Lots to do. In the meantime I make my escape and read books. Hmmm, somewhat of a problem there. I never said I was perfect. Which takes me back to Herman Hesse, I have to end my thoughts on this book with the congratulatory applause of the idolatrous, he has written what I want to read without subjecting me to a lecture or a sermon. Thankyou Hermann.
Photo taken from RSC Gallery Competition,Jennifer Hutchings: ‘The Tempest’ Out of the Book
How can I tell you, the love I have for a dead man? Or rather, the love I have for the work of a dead man? Like millions of people from every part of our globe my life has been altered by the scribblings of a 16th century poet and playwright, we all know our language is steeped in his. I am ashamed how much I have been taking him for granted lately, in the way we all take our loved ones for granted, so I took an online tour and reacquainted myself with some of the resources available to discover his bounty. That’s what I want you to do with me. I want you take a tour too, to dive into some of this amazing resource which is all free!!!! What can you lose? A few minutes? If you know his work already it still offers fresh insights, and if you have never dared to unlock the door – well chum, here’s the keys, it’s all yours.
William Shakespeare ‘was not of an age, but for all time’ according to Ben Johnson. That was some critique given that Germaine Greer , renown academic, punctuates Ben Johnson’s remark with the observation that Shakespeare was more modest than Johnson ‘in every way’ . If you want to hear more from Germaine, amongst others then go to the BBC archives of In Our Time and link here http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/p00546s8
For a more dynamic approach the British Museum are staging an exhibition and if you can’t make it , the website is worth a visit, the short video is a performance in itself. If you don’t try any of the other links, try this one!
I hope you did. Now you might want to go even further and check this website out. It is packed full of stuff people are doing and reading and getting excited about, all down to our friend Will. There’s even a free book you can download, WOW! ( Another tip, the Sally Vickers talk is worth hearing)
One of the greatest aspects of the bard is his psychological insight into the human condition. This was before we had all heard of Freud and Jung and CBT. He is just a brilliant observer of men and women and the interplay between them. We all know of the tragedy Romeo and Juliet; Juliet was fourteen when she fell under the spell of lurve, and he got the pitch spot on. Before Juliet’s speech, we hear the rubbish spouted from the adults ( her mother in particular!! ) The language transforms when Juliet speaks about her feelings. It is another dimension altogether. Isn’t that the way? Love transforms us all, the world is brighter, colours deeper, people kinder. I won’t go on. As always here in the UK, our trusted BBC come up trumps and there are links galore to frolic around here
We can see just on this tiny level that one man can influence generations of thinkers, artists, players, inspiring artworks and performances across the whole world. Wondrous!