Posts tagged steppenwolf
I wrote this in a fever

I read a story about a man enslaved inside his own mind. Too much time spent in contemplation has made him view the world outside as foreign, irrational, dirty and repulsive. He has grown cynical and embittered, antisocial, morose and full of spite. He values nothing but a few timeless classics of literature and music which he worships as if they were infallible immortals. All else is shallow, disgusting, meaningless and abhorrent.

His name is Steppenwolf. To escape this despicable existence he resolves to kill himself, but is in the end too much a coward to pull through. As luck would have it, he is found by a girl who understands him. She pats him on the head and calls him silly. And slowly, one day at a time, she teaches him how to live again.

I have so much to say about this book yet somehow anything I write seems futile. Anyone can retreat into their mind and wallow in the fact that the society we have created for ourselves is one of suffering, abundance, trivialities and despair. Anyone can refuse to partake in the world and resolve to a life of cynicism. And anyone can do all this and blame it on the fact that they are merely too enlightened. Too aware to lead a normal, healthy life in this grotesque, shallow, complacent and ignorant world we have established for ourselves.

Anyone can fade away. It isn’t difficult to die. What’s difficult is to keep on living.

You think you lock yourself up in your room because you are too damn good for the world? Because you are the only one wise enough to see this shallow, cosy, stupid world for what it is?

No. You lock yourself inside yourself because you are too afraid to go outside. You refuse the invitations, the singing crowds and dancing mobs because you are too damn frightened to encounter friction. To mess things up and deal with contradiction. To face yourself within the mirror of the people you encounter. To know yourself and all your flaws. “You are willing to die, you coward, but not to live.”

The problem is you are correct. This world is shallow, vulgar and obscene. Too much of what humanity admires are a pointless waste of time. “Do you think I’m incapable of understanding your fear of the foxtrot, your distaste for bars and dance floors, your resistance to jazz music and all that sort of stuff? I understand it only too well, just as I do your disgust with politics, your sadness at the way the parties and the press ramble on and kick up a fuss about things, your despair over wars, the one there has just been and those still to come, and about modern habits of thinking reading, building, making music, celebrating things and providing education!”

Humanity is too content with way too little. It has to be this way or else society wouldn’t function. If it were inhabited solely by individuals who think outside the norms it would collapse. Those people are too inquisitive. They ask too many questions. They don’t just swallow and accept things the way they are presented and as such they pose a threat to order. “You are right, Steppenwolf, a thousand times right, and yet you must perish…It is no home, this fine world, for people like us who, instead of nonsensical noise, demand music; instead of pleasure, joy; instead of money, soul; instead of industrial production, genuine labour; instead of frivolity, genuine passion…”

The fact that you struggle in this state is no surprise. That does not mean your place within it does not exist. It just means you have to search for it. You have to put in the work. You have to dig a little deeper. Deeper than the world as it appears. Deeper than your inclinations, your proclivities, your innate personality and whatever fiction you claim to constitute your self.

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“[T]he conquest of time and escape from reality…means simply the wish to be relieved of your so-called personality. That is the prison where you lie.”

Discard your simplifications. Your life is no mere good or evil, true or false, wealth or worth or nature or reason. It is no mere struggle between opposing extremes where one trumps the other. It is all of those and infinities in between. “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.”

Your quest for completion is a fiction. The self is no mere singular conquest of which once you’ve reached its peak you may retire. Simplifying the grandeur of a human mind to that extent is a mistake and grave disservice.

“[A] man consists of a multitude of souls, of numerous selves.” These selves overlap, contradict, rejoice and engage in combat. Anyone brave enough to venture into their unfettered mind is well aware of this. It is shunned and dubbed insane in our society because complexity invokes contradiction. Unsurprisingly. It is easier to herd a flock of sheep than a band of wolves. But in punishing the mad, you castigate the genius. “In consequence of this error many…are looked upon as mad who are geniuses”.

Never fear the irrational, the extraordinary, combative and complex. It is the friction of contradiction that birth the sparks of invention. “Just as madness, in a higher sense, is the beginning of all wisdom, so is schizomania the beginning of all art and all fantasy.”

Keep worshipping your idols. Praise them on your bruised black knees with bleeding hands and torn red nails. Lock yourself inside your room with nothing but your soul and blues, stacks of books by men you love and women you admire. Beating rhythms to whispered words, heaving lungs so violent your ribcage bursts and shatters. Do this. Do it all and then again.

Then go to bed. Sleep it off.

Your worship of the genius, breathless, ocean–deep and speechless is laudable and precious. But don’t take it so seriously. Perfection is a heavy burden and these saints are already weighed down by the stones above their graves. “Seriousness, young man, is an accident of time. It consists…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.”

Head outside in autumn rain. Call your sister. Claim a stranger in the street. Tell a man you met but once he reminds you of your soulmate. Make best friends with girls in nightclubs. Close your eyes. Flow along. It’s fine. It really is. To appreciate the depths of oceans you must first venture knee–deep into clear blue colourful lagoons. Set your anchor here. Make yourself at home and when the time feels right, dive into the depths. Find your jewels and return them to the surface. Yes, that is the point. To venture deep into the unknown and bring those treasures to the surface where they can be aired and dried and understood. “Your faith found no more air to breathe. And suffocation is a hard death.”

Be brave enough to venture into darkness. But do not forget that lightness has its value too. What else would the point be of all your crazed imaginations if not to realise them in the world? To help you make your life a little less confusing. A little less afraid. And a little more in love.

“A girl had bidden me eat and drink and sleep, and had shown me friendship and had laughed at me and had called me a silly little boy. And this wonderful friend had talked to me of the saints and shown me that even when I had outdone myself in absurdity I was not alone.”

"One never reaches home. But where paths that have an affinity for each other intersect, the whole world looks like home."

Hermann Hesse wrote in Demian of something that has obsessed me for a long time. It is the same idea proclaimed by Dostoyevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Nietzsche and Carl Jung and all those other nineteenth–century Europeans who knew a thing or two about inferno. It is about evil, about the darkness and the damned and about how these things exist in each and every one of us, no matter how precious and agreeable we all would like our hearts to be. 

“The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible” Dostoyevsky wrote in his 1880 novel of internal moral struggle. “God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.” Eighty years later, Solzhenitsyn followed up. “[T]he line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Demian is about a boy who bears a mark that makes him stand out before the rest. It is a branding on his brow that only those who carry it themselves are able to detect. It is a mark that means he is blessed and cursed with the potential for enlightenment. 

The boy grows up within a home of solemn light–drenched peace and bliss. As he enters the world outside, however, he discovers the reality of evil, darkness, suffering and injustice. His youth is marked by a battle between these worlds, at once within the world of light and then again cast out into its darkness. He falls into the depths of despair only to ascend the heights of elation. But neither is a place of permanence. Something within him understands that neither is the truth, neither is enough. How could it be, for a person bearing the burden of awareness?

There is a reason the maxim ignorance is bliss is so widely accepted and prevailed. If enlightenment was simple, everyone would get there. The reason it is not is because to get there one must face the devil. One must face all that is wrong within the world. Including all that is wrong within oneself

And people don’t. Of course they don’t. Who wants to admit to their deepest flaws? It is so much simpler to live one’s life pretending all is perfect. We all like to think we would be the person hiding refugees up in our attics rather than inform upon our neighbours just to save ourselves. Truth is, most of us would do the work of the informer. Who wants to entertain that fact about themselves?

So we live our lives in deep denial. We deny our failures, we deny our insignificance and irresponsibilities and the fact that we are weak and faulty to our cores. We deny the shadow that harbours deep within our souls. But suppressing the shadow only makes it grow, and one day it will come back to haunt us.

“Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be” Carl Jung wrote in 1938. “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” The only road to fulfilment is understanding one’s shadow and incorporating it within one’s life and being. Failure and you are no more than a ticking time bomb.

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Good and evil, the known and the unknown, darkness and light, chaos and order, yin and yang, left and right, progressive and conservative, whatever. These dualities exist and always will. The proper mode of being lies nowhere on the peripheries, ignoring and condemning whatever lurks hidden on the other side. The proper mode of being recognises both and successfully incorporates them, balancing on the fragile tension somewhere in–between. 

That is art. That is music. It is travel, love and friendship. It is all you stay alive for. 

This is not a new idea. It has existed for millennia. “Virtue…is a mean between two vices, that which depends on excess and that which depends on defect” Aristotle wrote two thousand years ago, and it has been relevant ever since. But perhaps today, right now, with the political gap seemingly growing wider all over the world, it is useful to remind oneself of its importance.

The depths of the far right is no place we want to inhabit. We have seen its woes. We have read the books and seen the chambers and piles of mangled gauntly bodies. We are not going back. It is not a place in which we want to dwell. 

But neither is the deep far left. We have seen those chambers too. Its skeletons and body pits. Why do the fringes always culminate in death camps, anyway?

To understand the potential of both the evil and the beauty that exists within yourself you have to look within. You have to turn your gaze towards yourself by cultivating whatever makes you you. Whatever makes you an individual, apart from the masses and the hordes that make up ideological extremes. Only by doing this will you be able to truly serve the world in which you are so deeply intertwined. From within yourself. Yourself as as thinking, independent, individual being. 

“Nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to follow the path that leads to himself” Hesse wrote. But it is of the utmost importance that you do. It is the only way to justify your existence as a member of this fragile realm. “I live in my dreams — that's what you sense. Other people live in dreams, but not in their own. That's the difference.” That is the mark, the mark on the brow of the people awake enough to understand their own significance and duty. And by cultivating this understanding, you will be justified to serve the world.

Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world's phenomena intersect, only once in this way, and never again. That is why every man’s story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every man, as long as he lives and fulfils the will of nature, is wondrous, and worthy of consideration.