Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

Posted: September 13, 2010 in Book Notes
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Magic Theatre

Entrance Not for everybody

For Madmen Only!

Price of Admittance your mind

  • …he had created within himself with positive genius a boundless and frightful capacity for pain.
  • Most men will not swim before they are able to. Is not that witty? Naturally, they won’t swim! They are born for the solid earth, not for water. And naturally they won’t think. They are made for life, not for thought. Yes, and he who thinks, what’s more, he who makes thought his business, he may go for in it, but he has bartered with solid earth for the water all the same, and one day he will drown.
  • Ever age, every culture, every custom and tradition has its own character, its own weakness and its own strength, its beauties and ugliness; accepts certain sufferings as matters of course, puts up patiently with certain evil.
    • Human life is reduced to real suffering, to hell, only when two ages, two cultures and religions overlap.
  • He belongs to those whose fate it is to live the whole riddle of human destiny heightened to the pitch of a personal torture, a personal hell.
  • Was all that we called culture, spirit, soul, all that we called beautiful and sacred, nothing but a ghost long dead, which only a few fools like us took for true and living? Had it perhaps indeed never been true and living? Had all that we poor fools bothered our heads about never been anything but a phantom?
  • What others chose to think about it or what he chose to think himself was not good to him at all. It left the wolf inside him just the same.
  • …although it may have seemed so to himself all the same, insomuch as every man takes the sufferings that fall to his share as the greatest.
  • And even the unhappiest life has its sunny moments and its little flowers of happiness between sand and stone…And they had to because Harry wished, as every sentient being does, to be loved as a whole and therefore it was just with those whose love he most valued that he could least of all conceal and belie the wolf.
  • …these men, for whom life has no repose, live at times in their rare moments of happiness with such strength and indescribable beauty, the spray of their moment’s happiness is flung so high and dazzling over the wide sea of suffering, that the light of it, spreading its radiance, touches others too with its enchantment. Thus, 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 see it as something eternal and as a happiness of their own.
    • To them, too, however, the other thought has come that man is perhaps not merely a half-rational animal but a child of the gods and destined to immortality.
  • He never sold himself for money or an easy life or to women or to those in power; and had thrown away a hundred times what in the world’s eye was his advantage and happiness in order to safeguard his liberty.
  • The man of power is ruined by power, the man of money by money, the submissive man by subservience, the pleasure seekers by pleasure.
  • …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 weakness from within suffices to precipitates him into the void.
  • In this aspect suicides present themselves as those who are overtaken by the sense of guilt inherent in individuals, those soul that find the aim of life not in the perfecting and molding of the self, but in liberating themselves by going back to the mother, back to God, back to the all.
  • …the Steppenwolf stood entirely outside the world of convention, since he had neither family life nor social ambitions.
  • Brought up, as he was, in a cultivated home in the approved manner, he never tore apart of his soul loose from its conventionalities even after he had long since individualized himself to a degree beyond its scope and freed himself from the substance of its ideals and beliefs.
  • It is open to man to give himself up wholly to spiritual views, to seeking after God, to the ideal of saintliness. On the other hand, he can equally give himself up entirely to the life of instinct, to the lusts of the flesh, and so direct all his effort to the attainment of momentary pleasures.
    • He will never be a martyr or agree to his own destruction. On the contrary, his ideal is not to give up but to maintain his own identity. He strives neither for the saintly nor its opposite. The absolute is his abhorrence. He may be ready to serve God, but not by giving up the fleshpots. He is ready to be virtuous, but likes to be easy and comfortable in this world as well.
  • A man cannot live intensely except at the cost of the self.
    • Now the bourgeois treasures nothing more highly than the self (rudimentary as his may be). And 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 by God, as he does comfort to pleasure, convenience to liberty, and a pleasant temperature to that deathly consuming inner fire. The bourgeois is consequently by nature a creatures of weak impulses, anxious, fearful of giving himself away and easy to rule. Therefore, he has substituted majority for power, law for force, and the polling booth for responsibility.
  • To live in the world as though it were not the world, to respect the law and yet to stand above it, to have possessions as though “ one possessed nothing,” to renounce as though it were no renunciation, all these favorite and often formulated propositions of an exalted worldly wisdom, it is in the power of humor alone to make efficacious.
  • If I say “above” or “below,” that is already a statement that requires explanation, since an above and a below exist only in thought, only as abstraction. The world itself knows nothing of above or below.
  • Harry finds in himself a human being, that is to say, a world of thoughts and feelings, of culture and tamed or sublimated nature, and besides this he finds within himself also a wolf, that is to say, a dark world of instinct, of savagery and cruelty, of unsublimated or raw nature.
    • 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 thousand and thousands.
  • Man is not capable of thought in any high degree, and even in the most spiritual and highly cultivated of men habitually sees the world and himself through the lenses of delusive formulas and artless simplifications – and most of all himself.
  • As a body everyone is single, as a soul never.
  • The beast and the body are indeed one, but the souls that dwell in it are not two, nor five, but countless in number. Man is onion made up of a hundred integuments, a texture made up of many threads…The human merry-go-around sees many changes: the illusion that cost India the efforts of thousands of years to unmask is the same illusion that the West has labored just as hard to maintain and strengthen.
  • But things are not so simple as in our thoughts, nor so rough and ready as in our poor idiotic language…
  • Man is not by any means of fixed and enduring form (this, in spite of suspicions to the contrary on the part of their wise men, was the ideal of the ancients). He is much more an experiment and a transition. He is nothing else than the narrow and perilous bridge between nature and spirit. His inner most destiny drives him on to the spirit and to God. His innermost longing draws him back to nature, the mother. Between the two forces his life hangs tremulous and irresolute.
  • The way to innocence, to the uncreated and to God leads on, not back, not back to the wolf or to the child, but ever further into sin, ever deeper into human life.
  • The return into the All, the dissolution of painful individuation, the reunion with God means the expansion of the soul until it is able once more to embrace the All.
  • I stood outside all social circles, alone, beloved by none, mistrusted by many, in unceasing and bitter conflict with public opinion and morality; and though I lived in a bourgeois setting, I was all the same an utter stranger to this world in all I thought and felt.
  • I had played Don Quixote often enough in my difficult, crazed life, had put honor before comfort, and heroism before reason.
  • …so it is with the majority of men, day by day and hour by hour in their daily lives and affairs. Without really want to at all, they pay calls and carry on conversations, sit out their hours at desks and on office chairs; and it is all compulsory, mechanical and against the grain, and it could all be done or left undone just as well by machines; and indeed it is this never-ceasing machinery that prevents their being, like me, the critics of their own lives and recognizing the stupidity and shallowness, the hopeless tragedy and waster of the lives they lead, and the awful ambiguity grinning over it all. And they are right, right a thousand times to live as they do, playing their games and pursuing their business, instead of resisting the dreary machine and staring into the void as I do, who have left the track.
  • He believes in the studies whose servant he is; he believes in the value of mere knowledge and its acquisition, because he believes in progress and evolution.
  • …it would be better for our country and the world in general, if at least the few people who were capable of thought stood for reason and the love of peace instead of heading wildly with a blind obsession for a new war.
  • I could not bear this tame, lying, well-mannered life any longer.
  • My nature had much of the child in it, its curiosity and love for idleness and play.
  • We like joking. Seriousness, young man, is an accident of time. It consists, I don’t mind telling you in confidence, in putting too high a value on time…In eternity, however, there is no time, you see. Eternity is a mere moment, just long enough for a joke.
  • To be religious you must have time, and even more, independence of time. You can’t be religious in earnest and at the same time live in actual things and still take them seriously, time and money and the Odéon Bar and all that.
  • All of a sudden there were things that concerned me again, which I could think of with joy and eagerness. All of a sudden a door was thrown open through which life came in. Perhaps I could live once more and once more be a human being. My soul that had fallen asleep in the cold and nearly frozen breathed once more, and sleepily spread its weak and tiny wings.
  • But in this Hermine was like life itself, one moment succeeding to the next and not one to be foreseen.
  • No, her surrender to the moment was so simple and complete that the fleeting shadows and agitation to the very depths of the soul came to her no less than every pleasurable impulse and were lived as fully.
  • Well, look at an animal, a cat, a dog, or a bird, or one of those beautiful great beasts at the zoo, a puma or a giraffe. You can’t help seeing that all of them are right. They’re never in any embarrassment. They always know what to do and know to behave themselves. They don’t flatter and they don’t intrude. They don’t pretend. They are as they are, like stones or flowers or stars in the sky.
  • Are ideals attainable? Do we live to abolish death? No – we live to fear it and then again to love it, and just for death’s sake it is that our spark of life glows for an hour now and then so brightly.
  • Everyone risks being laughed at when he addresses a girl.
  • We intellectuals, instead of fighting against this tendency like men, and rendering obedience to the spirit, the Logos, the Word, and gaining a hearing for it, are all dreaming of a speech without words that utter the inexpressible and gives form to the formless.
  • There was nothing to be made of us intellectuals. We were superfluous, irresponsible lot of talented chatterboxes for whom reality had no meaning.
  • Others, and Maria was one of them, were unusually gifted in love and unable to do without it. They lived solely for love and bedsides their official and lucrative friends had other love affairs as well. Assiduous and busy, care-ridden and light-hearted, intelligent and yet thoughtless, these butterflies lived a life at once childlike and raffiné; independent, not to be bought by every one, finding their account in good luck and fine weather, in love with life and yet clinging to it far less than the bourgeois, always ready to follow a fairy prince to his castle, always certain, though scarcely conscious of it, that a difficult and sad end was in store for them.
  • That night, however, for the first time since my downfall gave me back the unrelenting radiance of my own life and made me recognize chance as destiny once more and see the ruins of my being as fragments of the divine. My soul breathed once more. My eyes were opened.
  • Whoever wants music instead of noise, joy instead of pleasure, soul instead of gold, creative work instead of business, passion instead of foolery, finds no home in this trivial world of ours.
  • And perhaps, I mean, it has always been the same and always will be, and what is called history at school, and all we learn by heart there about heroes and geniuses and great deeds and fine emotions, is all nothing but a swindle invented by the schoolmasters for educational reasons to keep children occupied for a given number of years. It has always been so and always will be. Time and the world, money and power belong to the small people and the shallow people. To the rest, to the real men belongs nothing. Nothing but death.
  • And eternity was nothing else than the redemption of time, its return to innocence, so to speak, and its transformation again into space.
  • All the women of this fevered night, all that I had danced with, all whom I had kindled or who had kindled me, all whom I had courted, all who had clung to me with longing, all whom I had followed with enraptured eyes were melted together and had become one, the one whom I held in my arms.
  • You have a longing to forsake this world and its reality and to penetrate to a reality more native to you, to a world beyond time. You know, of course, where this other world lies hidden. It is the world of your own soul that you seek. Only within yourself exists that other reality for which you long. I can give you nothing that has not already its being within yourself. I can throw open to you no picture gallery bur your own soul. All I can give you is the opportunity, the impulse, the key. I can help you to make your own world visible. That is all.
  • True humor begins when a man ceases to take himself seriously.
  • But granting that the conception of duty is no longer known to me, I still know the conception of guilt – perhaps they are the same thing. In so far as a mother bore me, I am guilty. I am condemned to live. I am obliged to belong to a state, to serve as a soldier, to kill and to pay taxes for armaments. And now at this moment the guilt of life has brought me once more to the necessity of killing the people as it did in the war. And this time I have no repugnance. I am resigned to the guilt. I have no objection to this stupid congested world going to bits. I am glad to help and glad to perish with it.
  • It is not a good thing when man overstrains his reason and tries to reduce to rational order matters that are not susceptible of rational treatment.
  • As the playwright shapes a dram form a handful of characters, so do we from the pieces of the disintegrated self build up ever new groups, with ever new interplay and suspense, and new situations that are eternally inexhaustible.
  • Each belonged recognizably to the same world and acknowledged a common origin. Yet each was entirely new.
  • Just as madness, in higher sense, is the beginning of all wisdom, so is schizomania the beginning of all art and all fantasy.
  • Each gave me what she alone had to give and to each I gave what she alone knew how to take.
  • …you are a witness of the everlasting war between idea and appearance, between time and eternity, between the human and the divine.
  • Learn what is to be taken seriously and laugh at the rest.
  • You are to learn to listen to the cursed music of life and to reverence the spirit behind it and to laugh at its distortions.
  • You broke through the humor of my little theater and tried to make a mess of it, stabbing with knives and spattering our pretty picture-world with the mud of reality.
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