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Steppenwolf: A Novel Paperback – December 1, 2002
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With its blend of Eastern mysticism and Western culture, Hesse's best-known and most autobiographical work is one of literature's most poetic evocations of the soul's journey to liberation
Harry Haller is a sad and lonely figure, a reclusive intellectual for whom life holds no joy. 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 meets a woman who is his opposite, the carefree and elusive Hermine. The tale of the Steppenwolf culminates in the surreal Magic Theater―For Madmen Only!
Originally published in English in 1929, Steppenwolf 's wisdom continues to speak to our souls and marks it as a classic of modern literature.
"Hesse is a writer of suggestion, of nuance, of spiritual intimation."―The Christian Science Monitor
"For all its savagely articulate descriptions of torment and isolation, it is most eloquent about something less glamorous but far more important: healing."―The Guardian
About the Author
- Publisher : Picador; First edition (December 1, 2002)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0312278675
- ISBN-13 : 978-0312278670
- Item Weight : 7.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.45 x 0.8 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #29,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on November 18, 2018
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”A wild longing for strong emotions and sensations seethes in me, a rage against this toneless, flat, normal and sterile life.”
Anyone who has faced personal hopelessness or existential angst will recognize the stark truth of the experience in Hesse’s autobiographical protagonist, Harry. He speaks for us, eloquently and bravely, the words we could not find and dared not share. For the outsiders, who typically find no one to validate their feelings, Harry’s journey is pure catharsis.
As Harry finds new friends, lovers, and a mysterious treatise of brutal self-revelation, he begins to accept and even treasure the past he had viewed as predominantly miserable. Ultimately, with the help of many wise teachers (and a psychedelic mystery theater), he begins to integrate the various parts of himself and embrace his life with a divine sense of humor.
”The reunion with God means the expansion of the soul until it is able once more to embrace the All.”
”Learn what is to be taken seriously and laugh at the rest.”
It’s not a gripping page-turner, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but this is a must-read for the nonconformists seeking substance beyond the mundane who nonetheless crave belonging and acceptance.
• Existence in the modern era is problematized by multifaceted identities, which are sometimes misconstrued as binary or twin identities. Harry, the protagonist, first considers his own identity as split between bourgeois man and savage wolf, yet he comes to perceive an endless number of selves that constitute his identity.
• Nothing—whether physical/concrete or abstract/theoretical— can exist without its opposite.
• Harry’s story is heavily impacted by perspective. The novel is a nested narrative without closure or resolution. The first narrator, who is the nephew of Harry’s landlord, introduces us to Harry and inevitably influences our opinion of him before we meet him or experience his own narrative, which is then interrupted by a “Treatise on the Steppenwolf,” a manuscript penned by an absolute stranger who purports to “know” Harry. Once Harry resumes control of the narrative, he has become preoccupied with the relative accuracy of the stranger’s perceptions to the extent that he questions his own knowledge of himself. Perhaps this self-doubt characterizes the dilemma of modern existence.
• Much of Harry’s story reminded me of Sartre’s “The Myth of Sisyphus”; both texts consider the absurdity of modern life and the futility of suicide.
Ultimately, Steppenwolf is not a conventional novel with a carefully constructed plot and sharply drawn characters. Every element of this text teems with ambiguity and philosophical reflection. It is a struggle, yes, but definitely one worth engaging—like life itself.
The book continues through the struggles of Harry's troubled self personas and encounters he occurs. Ultimately, it is the recognition of the self, the persona(s) that are not anymore as serious and rather humorous. This is because the acknowledgment comes from a new awareness that the self is a construction of many different personas which are all part of a game, and the idea of a game suggests the illusion we carry in the seriousness of the role we play, the persona we emulate. It's an amazing self insight that allows him to perceive his life apart from his self-made, man-made personas that are only creations of the self and societal structures, cultural conditioning and linguistic formations. This of course, includes all philosophies, all political and religious ideologies and recognizes their transient nature adapting to the current societal structure of the time. It is a revelation from the self, an escape from the ego, a release from the illusionary selves that the majority of the world are unaware and who take their personas as "real" and fail to see the multiplicity of the self and that our personas are in reality illusions we create. And this is all realized under the Magic Theater - Entrance Not For Everybody - For Madmen Only! - The Cost, Your Mind. The entry and experience into this theater happens at the end of the novel by drinking a potion and smoking some secret herb rolled up in yellow rolling paper, which can no doubt be psychedelic drugs or similar drugs that enabled Harry to obtain the ability to let go of his illusionary self and open the doors of perception to see the multiplicities of reality and their relative positions.
This insight is also that of the 1960's Harvard University professor, guru, psychologist and author, Timothy Leary, who found the use of LSD and psychedelics enabled him and many others, including intellectuals, professors, theologians, divinity students, historians and eventually much of the public, to also enter higher portions of reality, recognizing their limited egos, beyond their illusionary personas to perceive that the Magic Theater is the theater that reveals the many games we and our society play, the many chess pieces we both consciously and unconsciously create in the chessboards of life and that the majority, the power and control people, reject this adamantly, entirely living for the seriousness of their illusionary personas in rationalism and language as the only true reality, resulting in the dominating others, including that of the governments who start bloody wars and pass laws that curb and even destroy creativity.
Harry Haller - Steppenwolf - experienced a new found wisdom, pages 129 and 131: "I lived through much in Pablo's little (Magic) theater and not a thousandth part can be told in words. . . When I rose once more to the surface of the unending stream of allurement and vice and entanglement, I was calm and silent, I was equipped, far gone in knowledge, wide, expert - ripe for Hermaine (his last love) . . I belong to her not just as this one piece in my game of chess - I belonged to her wholly. I would now lay out the pieces in my game that all was centered in here and led to fulfillment."
What must be recognized is that while life takes on personas and still, unmoving snapshots of reality and interprets them as absolutes, it still can not hide what is behind such still frames of perception; the moving flow of multifaceted reality, the relative nature of perception. But this can only be so if people stop becoming so serious in their chess games, cease being critics, experts and trash their beliefs in absolutes - "Better learn to listen first! Learn what is to be taken seriously and laugh at the rest." p. 143 The music we hear may be distorted and may not conform to our perceptions, but it can never hide the eternal music of life that exists within it. While many of us have the courage to die for our errors and crimes, we don't have the courage to fully live, anotherwards, we don't know how to to laugh and apprehend the humor of life, to see the relative nature and meanings of the distorted music, and recognize that all of life's perceptions have serious limitations and must not be taken as absolute truths.
Oh, and one more thought. A thought that keeps haunting me is the laughing Haller envisions Mozart as doing, a mad, insane laughter and I sense inside this myself. Life, while beautiful, is truly a painful tragedy, a fightening, suffering existence that deteroriates into death. Without having absolutes to lean on, the human's ability of humor and comedy counter act and balance the psyche. That's the insane, mad, overwhelming laughter. That's the antedote of our awareness to the transient nature of all our relative truths. We see the contradictions, lighten up and laugh, although this laugh comes from the depths of our soul.
Top reviews from other countries
These editions are compact hardback books - smaller than the average paperback. The print may be too small for some, but I haven't struggled with reading it; and due to the size of these editions, they are easy to carry and read anywhere.
Harry was, in my opinion, suffering from depression; in the author's note written in 1961, Hesse states that this is a story of "a disease and crisis" and ultimately a healing. Harry Haller did not feel that he fit in with society, he felt contempt for life and for bourgeois society, for the modern world. His safety valve was his razor, the knowledge that he could commit suicide whenever he wanted. Bring it on life! The emergency door is always open!
What happened next is open to debate. How much of what Harry experiences after meeting Hermine (was she real?) and Maria and Pablo - how much of all that was real to Harry? I have no idea. Reading this book was a wonderful experience despite the ups and downs, but I don't claim to fully understand it. Kinda like life, I guess.