“There once was a man….called the Steppenwolf. He went on two legs, wore clothes and was a human being, but nevertheless he was in reality a wolf of the Steppes. He had learned a good deal of all that people of a good intelligence can, and was a fairly clever fellow. What he had not learned, however, was this: to find contentment in himself and his own life…”
I am not quite sure what to feel about Hermann Hesse’s Der Steppenwolf (“the wolf of the steppes”). The language is beautiful, without a doubt, but it sometimes reeks of self-absorption. It’s very solipsistic and masturbatory and further reading into the author’s background while he was writing the book tells so much about his life crisis during that time.
Der Steppenwolf was the last book I read for 2013 in my fortress of solitude and while I was deeply enamored of the whole thing while reading it, it is a bit pretentious in retrospect. Pretentious, not because it is elitist by nature, but because the character is too focused on identities – a very first world problem. No wonder kids fall over themselves for this book. Identity crises are issues of either teenagers or the privileged – something I find annoying now that I’m entering my late twenties and have no qualms rubbing my “wisdom” in other people’s faces. Oh, you’re not content with your life? Try not having enough money to buy food for you and your six children! Oh, having dejection issues? Try losing your home in a flood and seeing the rest of your family die a watery death!
I know, I know. Depression is a serious mental health illness but to read a fantastical book and identify yourself with a character that incessantly questions the meaning of life because he gets a weekly allowance and doesn’t have to think about his next meal is clearly teenage. Oh so you’re destined to be alone? Nobody understands you? Nothing in this world interests you and you’d be better off dead? GET A BLOODY GRIP, STEPPENWOLF!
I know I am waving my prejudices out in the open, my ageism especially, but this book gets really rambly for so many pages and for so long. It was beautiful rambling, mind you, but rambling is rambling. Shit also gets weird towards the end, especially the bit on the Magic Theater (For Madmen Only) where everything suddenly becomes trippy, Burtonian. I expected Johnny Depp in a funny hat to appear any second. This is a huge contrast to the wallowing, maudlin ramblings of yester-chapters so I don’t know what to make of the whole thing apart from Hesse’s interpretation of Harry Haller (der Steppenwolf) descending from mild depression masquerading as identity crisis to a full-blown mental breakdown.
Hesse did commented on hope – that this book has been misinterpreted by many and while agonizing, this book should ultimately give us hope. Hmm. Hope for… misanthropes? For suicides? For killing beautiful things? For dancing? For people who wish to find their inner woman?
Bah, I wish I was 16 again. Or maybe 55.