regret I have come upon Herman Hesse, the German Nobel prize winner for
literature this late. I should have read him at 18, even 24, because it
would have given my rebellious adolescence and youthful womanhood,
would have given the stamp of literary approval to the slamming of doors,
the risks of taking a fast, lonely train at night to an unknown
destination in a continent where I didn’t speak the language, the often
defiant, but ultimately, thoroughly predictable rebellious period of every
could have precociously held up Hesse as a defence to my parents who were
often worried about what I would do next that my exploration of the
unknown is a shield against a “toneless, flat, normal and sterile
yet, Hesse’s character, Harry in The Steppenwolf, is drawn to the lives
imagine a home full of shining mahogany, and life full of sound
respectability which smell of turpentine and soap and where there is a
panic if you bang the door or come in with dirty shoes - early rising,
attention to duty, restrained but cheerful family gatherings, Sunday
church-going, early to bed.
love of this atmosphere comes, no doubt from the days of my childhood, and
a secret yearning I have for something home-like drives me, down the same
old stupid road.”
throws open the door of human psyche as a thing that stretches endlessly
through his character, Harry, who struggles to reconcile the wild primeval
wolf and the rational man within himself. The division into wolf and man,
flesh and spirit, by means of which Harry tries to make his destiny more
comprehensible to himself, is a very great simplification.
consists of a hundred or a thousand selves, not of two.
His life oscillates, as everyone’s does, not merely between two
poles, such as the body and the spirit, the saint and the sinner, but
between thousands and thousands.
(overstuffed BWIA flights) have brought me to the unfamiliar in the form
of isolation in a hotel room near JFK airport.
My view as I write, is opaque gray skies dripping like dirty tap
water onto concrete structures, parking lots, brittle, brown, skeletal
trees, parched grass, electricity poles - the debris of a metropolis
accompanied by incessant machine noises, the drone of aircraft overhead,
vehicles swishing beneath. It makes me long for home.
is now deriding the ‘bourgeois’. Did I say I long for home?
man cannot live intensely except at the cost of the self. Now the
bourgeois treasures nothing more highly than the self.
so at the cost of intensity, he achieves his own preservation and
security. His harvest is a quiet mind which he prefers to being possessed,
as he does comfort to pleasure, convenience to liberty and a pleasant
temperature to that deathly inner consuming fire.”
alternative to this weak and anxious ‘bourgeois’ is the strong and
wild nature who share the life of the fold of the Steppenwolf - who plumbs
the depth of his soul and has a great capacity for suffering and
like a precious, fleeting foam over the sea of suffering arise all those
works of art in which a single individual lifts himself for an hour so
high above his personal destiny, that his happiness shines like a star and
appears to all who sees it as something eternal and as a happiness of
such men the desperate and horrible thought has come that perhaps the
whole of human life is but a bad joke, a violent and ill-fated abortion of
the primal mother, a savage and dismal catastrophe of nature.”
example of a Steppenwolf is Halle Berry, a lovely, talented Oscar-winning
actress who replied to Barbara Walters quizzing: “What turned you around
from someone on the edge of suicide to this incredible personal and
professional success story?”
answer: “I used to depend on others approval for my identity..,” she
said “Now I depend on what feels right for me.”
can all remember the time in our lives when the journey was the arrival.
And we have all longed for home, although hopefully without going
down the “same stupid road”.
I suppose, is what Hesse meant about peoples lives oscillating between
thousands and thousands of poles, of the sheer scope of what we can be, if
we give ourselves permission.