Monday, April 21, 2008

Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf

Steppenwolf is the tenth novel by Hermann Hesse, combining autobiographical and fantastic elements, the book in large part reflects a profound crisis in Hesse's spiritual world in the 1920s.

Harry Haller is a sad and lonely figure, a reclusive intellectual for whom life holds no joy. A steppenwolf, named after the lonesome wolf of the steppes, or coyote. He struggles to reconcile the wild primeval wolf and the rational man within himself without surrendering to the bourgeois values he despises. His life changes dramatically when he meerts a woman who is his opposite, the carefree and elusive Hermine. The tale of the Steppenwolf culminates in the surreal Magic Theater—for mad men only.

The symbol of the Steppenwolf itself can be traced to Nietzsche's "differentiated loner", whom he also termed a "beast" and a "genius". Steppenwolf is Hesse's best-known and most autobiographical work. With its blend of Eastern mysticism and Western culture, it is one of literature’s most poetic evocations of the soul's journey to liberation. Originally published in English in 1929, the novel's wisdom continues to speak to our souls and marks it as a classic of modern literature.

"I sped through heaven and saw god at work. I suffered holy pains. I dropped all my defences and was afraid of nothing in the world. I accepted all things and to all things I gave up my heart."

"Eternity is a mere moment, just long enough for a joke."

I tried to open the door, but the heavy old latch would not stir. The display too was over. It had suddenly ceased, sadly convinced of its uselessness. I took a few steps back, landing deep into the mud, but no more letters came. The display was over. For a long time I stood waiting in the mud, but in vain. Then, when I had given up and gone back to the alley, a few colored letters were dropped here and there, reflected on the asphalt in front of me. I read: FOR MADMEN ONLY!

"Haller’s sickness of soul, as I now know, is not the eccentricity of a single individual, but the sickness of the times themselves, the neurosis of that generation to which Haller belongs, a sickness, it seems, that by no means attacks the weak and worthless only but rather those who are strongest in spirit and richest in gifts."

"The sacred sense of beyond, of timelessness, of a world which had an eternal value and the substance of which was divine had been given back to me today by this friend of mine who taught me dancing."

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