Steppen Wolf Essay, Research Paper
Let’s start with the plot: Harry Haller – that is the protagonist in the “Steppenwolf” – is disenchanted with himself, his age, and his contemporaries. His disillusionment has made him lonely and so he calls himself a “steppenwolf.” Then a new girlfriend, Hermine, converts him from a cynical scholar to a confessed hedonist by introducing him to her circle of friends. To the music played by her friend Pablo, he learns to dance and to love Hermine’s girlfriend Maria. In the ecstasy of opium – the so-called”Magical Theatre” – he finally begins to look at the mendacity of his life. The story is told, somewhat irritatingly, by different narrators. The nephew of the aunt who has let a room to the Steppenwolf reports his opinion of Haller in an “Editor’s Preface”; the hero describes in his “Notes” his state and that of the nation’s; and an unknown author discourses in a “Tractat” on the Steppenwolf. The alliteration of the names Hermann Hesse and Harry Haller may hint at an autobiographical connection, a “Seelenverwandschaft” – a”spiritual kinship” – between hero and author, but there needn’t be one. Definitely Hesse is a producer and Haller a product of his age, and that makes them useful for our purpose: the attempt to classify Haller as a certain type of historical mentality. Haller complains about the uncertainty of a generation that is the victim of a paradym shift.. His old-fashioned ideals break away as it does with all steppenwolves He sees himself as “S ufer ber bankrotten Idealen,” as “drunk on bankrupt ideals,” and these ideals offer no comfortable security. He also considers this vast “Zeitkrankheit” or “disease of the times” to be the focus of his writings. In them are the customary allusions to the spirit of the times. There is a critique on capitalism with his reference to the “ausgesogene Erde”- “drained-dry earth” – and its implications of corporate entitlement. Cultural despair is displayed in his probable assimilation of a thesis of Arnold Gehlen’s that postulates that man potentially represents a mere industrial accident (of history), a “miscarriage” of nature. Cultural despair may also be shown in Hermine’s assessment that the devil is identical with the “mind.” Hermine has obviously read “Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele” – “The Mind as Antagonist of the Soul” – a principal work of the philosopher Ludwig Klages. Klages polarizes body and soul on the one hand and the mind, specifically the intellect, on the other. When born, body and soul are one, but an acosmic power,the intellect, begins to push itself between soul and body. Imaginative, unconscious thinking is replaced by analytically dissecting thinking, acting consciously replaces acting by instinct, andthe unity of body and soul is destroyed: Life dies. Haller ’s anti-bourgeois and anti-democratic notions are revealed in his scoffing at the middle-classes’ struggle for ataraxie, the “tempered middle.” He faults their alleged irresponsible behavior, their “babble.” He accuses them of pursuing the “majority position” in a cowardly democracy rather than the usual means of “power.” The actual behaviour of the middle-classes, which he is very much aware of, is ambivalent to these accusations and, in essence, contradictshis analysis. They engage in war-mongering and they maintain clear positions against “jews and communists”, against alleged and – concerning the communists – real enemies within and without. As is revealed in the dialogue with the professor, doubts about the middle-classes’ asserted aspirations for harmony and consensus appear justified to him. Insights about his own readiness for violence, gained later in the magic theatre, enlighten Haller on this point. Typically, there are resentful complaints about the real or alleged loss of influence of the educated citizenship, who were brought up in “loneliness and freedom” (Schelsky) through the newly humanistic and highly time-consuming study of Latin and ancient Greek, and who therefore were unable to fulfill the requirements of a modern age: “Money and power will always belong to the little and the shallow.” From Haller ’s point of view, education is no longer being accomplished. Therefore, the social picture is out of focus, has to be fixed, has to be “ennobled” again against the superficiality of the Bolsheviks and Americans. This hodgepodge of ideas isgarnished with a sauce consisting of sporadically interwoven traces of “wisdom from the east” and medieval mysticism. For instance, Haller’s speech about the divine trace of the divine spark recalls Master Eckhart ’s scintilla animae which, at the very heart of the human soul, reunifies the individuum with an ubiquious god at the moment of “unio mystica..” Like all characters who come close to Haller throughout the course of the story, Hermine, Maria and Pablo are projections of the powers struggling within him. Haller himself ruminates on the question: “Why was Pablo talking that much? Could it possibly be me who made him talk, who was talking through him? Does not my own soul look at me, from behind his black eyes – the lost, scared bird – just as it does from behind the blue eyes of Hermine?” Haller therefore projects his female aspect into Hermine, his male aspect into Pablo. Haller judges Maria as well: “Constantly [Hermine] was standing behind her, enclosing her, covering her as if by a mask!” Maria is not only Hermine ’s marionette, but she is also her extracted physical-sensual-female aspect. Hermine and Maria form a single entity. Parallel to this entity the handsome, Mediterranian Pablo is positioned as the extracted physical-sensual aspect of Haller – the projected physical presence of his own manhood. This divison running through Haller’s soul separates Haller/Pablo as representative of his male aspects and manhood in general from Hermine/Maria as representative of his female aspects and womanhood in general.Which of the two sides Haller will claim for himself in the end – mother/nature, or father/mind/genius – remains to be seen. Although the egos struggling within him are many, all of them can be assigned to one role or the other. During Haller ’s lifetime and in his narrow world, the middle-classes drew a clear line between eros and sexus. Erotic “beauty” was tolerated as an established value, because it stood for a sexus that was tamed by aesthetic domestication. Under these circumstances Haller ’s enthusiasm about Pablo ’s “beautiful mouth” is in no way to be considered inappropriate. Pablo’s early offer of a bisexual orgy for three, however, has to be rejected “brusquely,” for this would be sex. Not only would this be sex with Hermine, but also sex with oneself because sex with Pablo would be masturbation with one ’s own projection. This strict rejection of masturbation for oneself must also apply to a nation that sees its defense power endangered by “sickening” and energy-sublimating and therefore energy-wasting masturbation. To accept this situation would be an act of treason. Moreover, the above-painted picture carries homoerotic prohibitions apart from the context of the projections. After all, in the Twenties homosexuality was still considered a crime. From today ’s point of view it would be wrong to put the blame for yesterday’s sexual ethics on a repressive-authoritarian elite. The strict and accepted ethos actually makes complete sense after close examination. The sublimation of the carnel drives through the ban on masturbation, continence before marriage, and monogamy forced the ascent of the middle classes out of the mire of the Middle Ages. Discarding those ethics could have meant a descent from humanity back into barbarism for the individual and the whole society. In addition, there could be a return to poverty for women because of early pregnancy und brutal sexual exploitation and for men because of being unfit for work due to longlasting ill-health caused by venereal deseases (which could also kill them). The gain accumulated in economy and culture by the channeling of the primal drives was great, but so were the individual losses. The price that had to be paid for the puritanical ethics of work, mainly determined by protestantic beliefs – Catholicism was too heathen, too voluptuous – was a collective psychosis, already diagnosed in 1903 by the psychologist Ehrenfels. Still, educated citizens have always been kept on a longer lead because they were closer to cultural, social and political power than were the petty bourgeois. In addition, they were essential to the system as internal innovators. Because of this, Haller himself realizes he could be granted the room to experiment with such things as sophisticated literature that contains exotic fantasies. The unrestricted reading of literature was only possible for people like Haller, because the citizen who was provided with the academic entitlement of education had to endure only a “moderate amount of working hours and was therefore able to independently take more time for leisure hours” compared to working-class employees and laborers. Let us return to Haller and his psyche, skipping his references to numerous ailments: the constant head-and gout-aches that he tries to numb with a variety of drugs; his chronic sleeping disorders and digestion-problems which stand in contrast to his staying in bed for days – an expression of “deep depression”; those self-accusations of having lived a wasted and “disorderly” life that were conditioned by obsessional neurosis, if by anything; his longing to live out his destructive instincts, his destrudo, as he calls it; his paedophile aspect, revealed in the wish to seduce a little girl; his attention-deficit disorder, shown by his inability to watch a movie in one sitting – perhaps a result of his addiction to alcohol (this pointed out by the nephew at the beginning of the novel, as he is counting Haller’s bottles); his claustrophobia, shown in his distaste to enter crowded rooms; his “pathologic fantasies,” as he himself analyses them, a document of the “neurosis” of his generation; and last, but not least, his theoretical toying with schizophrenia, that for him is the “beginning of all art.” This medly of psychological extravagances can be considered decoration, irrelevant for the review, as Haller himself is intentionally attaching obligatory academic terms to his various symptoms.
A look at his thoughts on self-destruction is much more rewarding. The nephew claims that Haller had lived a suicide’s life without fulfilling the concept. The author of the tractat sees this “inclination toward suicide” not an as individual trait of one Steppenwolf but as a general “defining trait” of the whole breed. Suicide is the kind of death anticipated by Stepppenwolves. They feel their ego to be endangered, are ready for their dissolution, the end of their “individuation” and they wish to return to the “mother”. This “deepest longing” has been instilled at the beginning of individuation: “Every individuation adds to the destruction of the ego,” the author of the tractat states. Each division gives birth to the longing for reunification, for oneness. Through child-development and psychoanalytic theory, Jacques Lacan explains this yearning for a lost paradise  as the “premature separation that during birth removes the child from the womb and creates a lack that no motherly care can soften.” For the rest of its life, the child is anxious to return to this secure, safe, prenatal condition. It is controlled by the image of the mother that exists in the unconscious, the”Mutterimago”. The longing for the womb can later be sublimated by searching for a wordly, lost paradise or even death: “The analysis of these cases [of suicide] shows that the subject, in its surrender to death, seeks to find the Mutterimago again. This mental association is not simply pathological, it is generic. One recognizes this fact by funeral rites that in some forms clearly reveal the psychological sense of a return to the mother’s embrace. Furthermore the connections show that both magical technologies and antique theologies bridge both mother and death. If the most general form had to be defined in which it [the Mutterimago] constantly appears… one would recognize the longings of humanity: …the homesickness for a paradise lost before birth and the darkest strivings for death.” I have shown this approach in “Das Atlantidische Weltbild” – “The Atlantidian View of Life” – where I present how preculture was accepted in the Twenties. In various popular-scientific writings on the subject of Atlantis the same connection between a longing for dissolution and Mutterimago appears again and again, that is, the yearning for death and lost paradise. So, according toWieland, Atlantis was also called by the immigrants “Idafeld” from “Ida” which means “arch-mother”. The authors of the Tempelhof Association speculate about “home to the Great Mother” and Herrmann refers in his book on Atlantis to the “Ura-Linda-Chronic” that he thinks to be authentic – if he postulates that the state was guided by a “people’s mother.”  In 1932 Bessmertny mentions, too, that the authors he deals with – the “Atlantomanen”- as he names them, are threatened by the Mutterimago.  The myth of the arch-mother makes use of the story of Atlantis as an integral part of its structure However, this myth of the arch-mother carries with it a parasitic, secondary, semiological system of the abstraction of death. Nevertheless, compared to other escapist utopias involving islands, the myth of Atlantis possesses the greatest psychological authenticity because it transparently represents the sublimation of death, as postulated by Lacan: The island sinks, people drown in the floods. The implicit longing for death, for “decline,” is shown by the following quotations in which the downfall is, on the one hand, welcomed laughingly and is, on the other, considered – with the help of euphemistic attributes – ‘gruesomely beautiful’ and ‘wonderful’: “I saw fate twitching out of distant haze and fog like a flickering lightning. Very clearly I felt the magical circle that wound strangling around wealthy Atlantis, closing ever more tightly, in slow motion, just as a terrible snake wraps its giant body around a defenseless victim’s neck.. I climbed slowly to the valley and called … [to] the people on the ship who helplessly stood at the cliff and observed the disaster with burning, crazed eyes. And they were surprised that I laughed again instead of looking tiredly upon the misfortune as they did… “ “The downfall of Atlantis was a gruesomely beautiful play of terrifying greatness.. In one hour the culture of tens of thousands of years had sunk into the depths, and the dim, smoking, and steaming floods of the ocean rolled over the grave of 64 million people.” Armin Mohler appraises the conservative revolutionaries of the Twenties and examines them from a psychological-historical perspective. He concludes they longed for the eternal cycle of renewal and decay in nature. This longing definitely appears in the “Tractat” when the author hints at the “chains of incarnation” that help to establish the doctrine of 1000 souls. Stefan Breuer as a psychological historian considers the propect of an apocalypse to be the vanguard of the New Nationalists of the Twenties: Destruction is passed through as a purifying bath, as a crossing into, in christian tradition, a better tomorrow. A slightly different viewpoint is also offered by those such as Haller’s old acquaintance, Gustav: “Fortunately” there is war. The violated earth therefore becomes less populated so that meadows can grow again. In other words, destruction acts as a catalyst of future, a movement toward something better. Yet in Der Steppenwolf both approaches pale in comparison to the dominating image of ultimate suicide. They are only part of the fascade of a psychologically profound mentality – the atlantidian view of life. Haller is aware of the danger and the seduction of this mindset and complains, both attracted and repelled, that the German mind seems dominated by the law of the mother.”This world must be broken and we must go with it. To put it ten minutes under water would be the most painless solution” he declares to Gustav in the ecstasy of drugs. The fascination for this type of melding – the suicide’s “going into the water” – is legendary. Luc Besson in his cineamatic masterpiece “The Big Blue” has put it perfectly into an atlantidian metaphor: During the night a young diver is drawn by the help of leaden weights into depths he has never before reached. As he comes to the end of his line, a dolphin appears. The diver drops the tanks of oxygen that are to rescue him and follows the dolphin into the heart of that watery darkness. So Hesse’s Steppenwolf is a suitable example Mohler’s study of an “apology for suicide”, in the surging “mixture of thoughts, images and dreams”  that is the Twenties. At that time there was a political movement that, according to Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, paraded the sign of the mother with the swastika. In 1988, in her preface to Peter Zagermann’s “Eros and Thanatos,” the psychoanalytic researcher explains the relationship between the Mutterimago and national socialism. At the beginning of her observations she covers Freud’s consideration that a death-wish might even have a biological root. This drive strives to transform the living into the anorganic again. Therefore, the drive initiates the search for the identity between subject and object, for a joining of the drive-object and the ego and, ultimately, the nullification of individuality, of psychological life. By refering to Thomas Mann’s thesis concerning the attraction of “motherly chtonic dephts” on the German people during “brown” years, Chasseguet-Smirgel objects to the thesis of Wilhelm Reich’s and others that national socialism is a manifestation of patriarchy, of an authoritarian structure, and that the origin of all evil is the father. She writes: “The myths of the Nazis represent the ideal mother with whom the subject wants to be a whole. But the Father-God of monotheistic religions – and especially the Old Testament’s God – has been expelled. And so all hindrances that stand in the way of this uniting are destroyed by warriors who carry the symbols of the dangerous Mutterimago as well as the skulls that symbolize the archaic Terrible Mother.”  Here Haller has the right idea, too – the arch-mother Nature is “wicked,” the pre-father Mind is only “molesting”. Hesse wrote – at the same time as Der Steppenwolf – a collection of poems called “Crisis – A Piece of Diary.” Among these poems, the following one verifies once again the psychological depth of Der Steppenwolf, the connection of Mutterimago and death: