Steppenwolf

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The title probably catches the eye of the aging rocker, doesn't it? My apologies to John Kay & Co., and to all of you old hippies (you know who you are) who must now be disappointed to learn that this is not about the legendary authors of biker anthems. For those with a discerning eye for world literature the title will also jump out from the scroll as the most famed work of German author Herman Hesse. Speaking for myself it is a title that would garner my attention for both counts. 


I am acquainted with the catalogue of the band, though I must confess that I have never been so much of a fan to delve into the origins of their name. I assume, perhaps erroneously, that the name was selected with at least the knowledge of the literary work also thus titled. On the part of at least one of their songs I may draw a connection of the two beyond the question of namesake. Born to be Wild. That is the essence of Hesse's steppenwolf.


The wild creature, set loose to run upon wide open vistas; free and savage. This is our animal nature. It lives inside of us all, sublimated to varying degrees. In some it is but a feeble pulse, rendered to a socially induced coma for the safety of the patient. In others the beast lives just beneath the veneer of humanity, only waiting for that moment to fire all of the guns at once and explode into space”.


Of all the fauna of the Eurasian steppes that Hesse could have chosen it was the wolf which best captured his theme. It is yet another expression of that symbiotic link between our species. We, like our canine cousins, have run in packs through the ages. First, almost certainly, as competitors; later as partners. In ours, as with nearly every other species, there are rogues. Not roguish characters, rather lone actors or solitary hunters. We have in fact made the term “lone wolf” a commonly understood expression of this idea for canine and human alike.


Harry Haller is the steppenwolf, a man gone rogue from the pack. He is not a wild beast that has wandered in from the steppes to pick upon the scraps at the edges of man’s domain. His isolation from the bourgeois realm he inhabits is self imposed, the product of his latent understanding and the manifestation of his animal being. Harry, a product of his society, becomes aware of and struggles with the beast within as it emerges. He identifies as the steppenwolf, but slowly comes to terms with the fact that he is not the wolf wandering upon man. He is a man wandering off from society, a rogue, returning to the wolves. Not a sickness, instead a liberation. To walk alone.


Much of this struggle resides in having to confront the suspicion cast upon the rogue. When discovering the world from the wolf’s eyes Harry Haller begins also to catch scent of the weakness that surrounds him:


A man can not live intensely except at the cost of the self. Now the bourgeois treasures nothing more highly then the self. 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 inner consuming fire. The bourgeois is consequently by nature a creature 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.


The pack has grown weak, truly tamed and not just domesticated. As dogs are no longer wolves, so men are no longer men. Harry is not leaving a pack. He is leaving a flock. A wolf may not live amid sheep, for it shall ever be distrusted. Only by leaving the flock can one live, either to prowl the steppes alone or to be welcomed home to the pack once again.


Nearly a century now after it’s first publication Steppenwolf still holds a valuable lesson of man’s animal nature, not as a vice; rather as a virtue.

 

Comments

Stone-Eater Added Mar 25, 2018 - 11:52am
TBH
 
I know Steppenwolf since the age of 10, but apart from the Pusher and BTBW I do prefer Hesse....
 
....and today it's impossible for the self to find out if it is wolf or sheep, because it has no possibility to try both and then decide. It is either the first or the second. A color-blind person can try as hard as he can, but he won't see the missing colors. He can't even IMAGINE them.
 
But a short trip outside of our own sphere can give us an idea of what intensity can mean - and this might include the self ;-)
Spike the Railroader Added Mar 25, 2018 - 12:01pm
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
  My struggle has always been; do I follow what others and the establishment set forth for me or do I have strength and stand for what I believe. I am proud to be a salmon swimming against the stream or a lone wolf seeking to find it's own way. It has been a long time coming for me to be ok without being what everyone else wants me to be. I do not have to be a son, a husband, a master to my dogs or a good employee. If I chose to be those things then I have to follow the set rules or set parameters. I do not like parameters... Nature allows me to find my soul and be at ease verses being in a city or village inhabited by lunatics.  I would  understand the Steppenwolf far better than the pack of wolves.
Stone-Eater Added Mar 25, 2018 - 12:13pm
Spike
 
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
 
True, but unrealistic in many societies other than the rich ones. It reminds me of the struggle of people in Senegal (like my business partner who is highly educated from Kant to Nietzsche). People in those societies are too dependent materialistically and morally on their tribe to develop "yourself". You need a lot of cash to be able for that, and you're guaranteed to become an outcast.
 
Jealousy in those countries is so high that a family won't hesitate to "cut back to size" one of its members who is working on higher goals.
Spike the Railroader Added Mar 25, 2018 - 12:23pm
Friedii
I agree with your statement, the original quote is meant more as philosophy than a reality. The tribes in many places do indeed rely on each member to fulfill roles and responsibilities otherwise they would be caste out. If I was struggling only to survive, I doubt I would even attempt to work on myself.... War, poverty, religion and many other environments make it impossible to move beyond hive mentality. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity for self evaluation (even only limited).  
opher goodwin Added Mar 25, 2018 - 12:28pm
Burger - Born to be Wild and The Pusher were amazing tracks - the rest not so. The last time I read that book was all of fifty years ago - time for a reread I think!
Mustafa Kemal Added Mar 25, 2018 - 12:42pm
Burghal,  another fine and stimulating article, a subject chosen to titilate us old rockers and readers. ditto on The Band and the Man here.
 
My favorite is a A Girl I Knew
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_enManAcqeQ
 
As young men , we thought their penismobile was pretty cool too.
 
But Hesse had important impact on us also. In addition to being stimulated by Steppenwolf,  it was Siddhartha that opened up my Buddha Eye. I have always been grateful to him for that. The effects upon me of The Journey to the East and the Glass Bead Game  have also still endured. You remind me that I would benifit by revisiting them. 
 
But now that I have discovered my Jungian Shadow, I am intrigued by your narrative even more. A simple google search suggests that  I am not alone.
 
Mustafa
 
Stone-Eater Added Mar 25, 2018 - 12:52pm
Mustafa
 
The books that influenced me most when I was young were written by Kerouac, Marx, Douglas Adams, Bukowski and Castaneda. Then came the "Papalagi", apparently today it's seen as a hoax. It describes the arrival of a Pacific Island King in the West in the 1920's and his impressions. Whether it is a hoax or not - there is a lot of reality in it. Almost philosophical.
Tom C. Purcell Added Mar 25, 2018 - 1:27pm
Nicely done article on Steppenwolf.  I haven't read it, but it seems to me that the Steppe itself is/was to Europe as 'beyond the Pale', is/was to Norman-Ireland.  more or less.
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 25, 2018 - 1:30pm
Mehr oder wenig, ja :)  I knew you would get this. You should certainly read it. With your knowledge of German you should have no trouble with it
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 25, 2018 - 1:34pm
Being a practicing member of a certain sub-culture for lo these 4 decades it has been impossible to prevent BTBW from becoming a part of the "life's soundtrack". Back in the day it was a prime mover to get us dumb ass kids to read the book. Who knew it would be any good? Still one of my favorites
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 25, 2018 - 1:34pm
The book. The band? Meh...
Katharine Otto Added Mar 25, 2018 - 1:41pm
Burghal,
What is it about dogs?  I have been plagued by barking dogs, biting dogs, pooping dogs, dogs that get into the garbage cans, chase my chickens, and kill chickens and cat.  I have friends who love their dogs more than they love their spouses.
 
I beg to differ about being a pack animal.  I am and have been a loner who avoids the pack as much as possible, but it's hard to avoid the stampede of predatory thought-forms.  What I call "predatory thought forms" are those mass beliefs that seem particularly prominent now that we have mass media and the internet beating us over the head with them.  All this hate and fear, moaning and groaning about man's evil nature.  Original sin, which of course, animals don't have. 
 
Have the wolves become sheep?  No, they are still wolves, in sheep's clothing, but tearing at each other, thinking the others are sheep.
 
I liked Hesse and read a lot of his books in my younger days.  His writing is dark and Germanic, and while insightful, represents a worldview that I hope will eventually give way to a more optimistic view of humanity and its potentials.
 
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 25, 2018 - 2:04pm
Well then Katharine your are a Steppenwolf-ette(?) You get my drift.
 
The wolf lives in the dog, until it is finally bred out of it. But in some breeds the wolf still lives in the breast of the beast. So it is with people too. Sheep do not do battle with wolves. Rogues would be their protectors, but that they are rejected. Their conscience and hands are clean when sheep choose their own slaughter
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 25, 2018 - 2:06pm
Steppenwolf has been subject to many interpretations, but according to the author himself, just two years prior to his death he stated his hope that more might see that it was written as a tale not of despair, but of healing
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 25, 2018 - 2:07pm
oh, to know the workings of the Teutonic mind :)
Neil Lock Added Mar 25, 2018 - 2:14pm
TBH: I've never been part of the band culture you speak of here. So please let me give my outsider's perspective.
 
I wasn't born to be wild. I was born to be me. I am neither wolf nor sheep. I'm a human being. And I don't go for "original sin." I accept only responsibility for what I do, not for what someone might (or might not) have done hundreds or even thousands of years ago.
 
Your quote from "Steppenwolf" sounds to me more than a bit like Ayn Rand on Germanic steroids.
 
Katharine: May your (and my) enemies tear each other to pieces! And yes, I'm working towards a more positive world view.
John Minehan Added Mar 25, 2018 - 2:38pm
There was also a Jack Kirby Fourth World character by that name, who was relatively minor but played a pivotal role in a major story, The Pact in New Gods 7 (1972).
 
Kirby was known for being influenced by lots of odds and ends in pop culture and putting them to new and original uses.  Hesse's book and the eponymous band were both a around a lot then.  
Leroy Added Mar 25, 2018 - 3:48pm
I'll have to give it a read.
Mustafa Kemal Added Mar 25, 2018 - 4:05pm
Stone Eater, I enjoyed all those very much, except Papalagi which is new to me.   I will put it on my list. I hope I can find an english copy for less than 100 dollars.
 
 In my early 20s I hopped freight trains from the Bronx to LA twice and hitchiking was my regular form of travel. Certainly Kerouac had something to do with that.
Mustafa
Pardero Added Mar 25, 2018 - 4:51pm
The Burghal Hidage,
I wanted to drop by, even though I have not read the book, because of your excellent writing style and analysis, which does tempt me to read it. This conversation may be over my head, even if I had read it.
Although I am poorly read, I recall when Herman Hesse was all the rage among a certain set. There were about 3 sets, Herman Hesse, Tolkien, and Louis L'Amour. I managed to read Siddhartha, but it made little impression, perhaps because I was too young or not ready, and I did not pursue the author further.
I tried to stick to older 'classics.' One of those that left a profound impression, maybe as Steppenwolf did on you, was Fathers and Sons by Turgenev.
Keep up the good work.
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 25, 2018 - 7:05pm
Thanks all, and if you haven't ever (or not in many years) I strongly recommend reading the book. It is one that will speak in different voices at different stages in life. With more of life in the rearview mirror one gains a more profound appreciation in Harry Haller's expression of " the withered years " 
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 25, 2018 - 7:07pm
A lesser known novella I think is Damian. I should check, but I'll trust to recollection that it predates Steppenwolf by nearly a decade. It is yet another exploration of the duality of our nature
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 25, 2018 - 7:15pm
I am thankful that no one yet has seized upon the reference to bourgeois as somehow being reference to some Marxist context. I will ward this off and I believe that I can call upon Stone to verify this. In translation from the original German the word burgerlich (should be umlaut there) becomes rendered as bourgeois. Although technically correct I believe a better rendering of the original use the term would be to call it "Towny".....urban, city dwellers. This is an awkward translation and publishers do not care for this. English translations have included this for so long it now defies any effort to change.
 
Stone? Nicht wahr?
Stone-Eater Added Mar 26, 2018 - 7:01am
TBH
 
Richtig.
 
Burgeois (french) refers to the ruling class in 19th century capitalism while "bürgerlich" means "conservative and educated".
 
Easily explained, the "Burgeois" was a step higher on the social ladder as the "Bürger". 
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 26, 2018 - 10:50am
Thank you Stone :)
 
To be clear the word conservative in this instance would mean as in "conservative dress"  or  perhaps a better word, conventional
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 26, 2018 - 10:52am
Hesse did not write with any political voice. His canvas was the mind, spirituality
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 26, 2018 - 11:04am
Part of the wolf that lives within us is vital.
 
Ex:  how many kids are tagged ADHD? Can't sit still, inattentive? It's ADD! Drug 'em! Maybe you're just boring the shit out of them?
 
Why? Well these are behavioral traits which are undesirable within human cages. Therefore it is the individual that has the sickness and it must be treated. Right?
 
These traits of hyper alertness, or put another way "easily distracted", are in fact vestiges of traits which nature has deemed critical for the survival of the species. It is a part of the wolf in us. 
 
Perhaps this is what is referred to in the phrase "science, like nature, must also be tamed "
Leroy Added Mar 26, 2018 - 7:32pm
When I first saw the title, it reminded me of my belt and buckle.  It is a Stepwolf brand--probably a Chinese knockoff and misspelling.  It has a wolf on the buckle.  Ok.  It's not relevant to anything ;)