It’s almost the end of 2021, and I’ve just finished reading Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf. I can’t tell you why exactly, because I’m not entirely sure, but it made me cry several times and is certainly a book that I wish to revisit soon. Earlier this week, I finished reading Chinese Literature: a Very Short Introduction, by Sabina Knight, and Cold Mountain, Han-Shan translated by Burton Watson. This puts me at 44 books, and I’ve got just under 2 weeks to read 8 more if I’m going to reach my goal of 52 in 2021.
Of the book of history and the poetry book, I’ve little to say. They were good, pleasant, enjoyable works. In regard to Steppenwolf… it seems that I’ve got very much to say, except that I’m not sure at all what it is that I feel or mean or understand about it. I feel scared. This book, I think, would pair well with Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach. At any rate, I want to go out dancing. If you know me in person, then you know that I absolutely do not dance.
These first 2 paragraphs I wrote about 13 hours ago, while at work. It was the end of a 12 hour shift. About 3 hours ago, I was invited out dancing. I was asleep. Didn’t wake up until 10 minutes before my shift was supposed to start. For the first hour or so at work, I was upset.
One of the messages in Steppenwolf is that life is supposed to be fun! Yet here I am, working all night and sleeping my days away. Maybe working 2 jobs is too much after all? I was mad. What’s the point?! Is this what life is all about? After about an hour of being angry at work, I remembered something important. It was while I was sitting here with my salted caramel latte with whipped cream and caramel drizzle, it was with my Spotify radio playing, it was as I was talking with friends on Messenger that I remembered it; I love my job!
And just like that, the irony of finding Steppenwolf scary hit me. The Steppenwolf is a miserable man who feels that his nature is half man, half wolf. He takes himself way too seriously, he takes life way too seriously, and he holds any views that differ from his own in contempt. He can’t sing, he can’t dance, and he doesn’t know karate!
He wants so badly to be different from the bourgeoise that he was raised in. So, to set himself apart, he scorns all of the fun things in life; contemporary music and dancing and parties and people in general. For him, it all has to be intellectualized, moralized and ranked. There’s the level of genius, like Mozart, and then there’s….everything else. And so he wants to die. Nothing is ever up to his standards. He’s incredibly judgmental. The littlest thing, like an illustration of Goethe, makes him consider killing himself. Pathetic!
The Steppenwolf doesn’t learn how to dance until he’s, in his words, elderly. Although, to be fair, he’s only 47 years old, which I would hardly call elderly. Regardless, he’s a stick in the mud! He doesn’t learn how to love until later in life, either. Really he doesn’t learn how to stop taking himself so f*cking seriously until, well, I don’t want to spoil it!
In short, he sucks. He’s not likable. For the first 40 or so pages of the book, and it’s only 102 pages, I was considering just quitting and not reading until the end. Seriously, I do not like this guy. The book is worth reading though!
What I found so scary about this book is the thought, no, the possibility of ending up like Harry Haller aka our Steppenwolf. Old, alone, miserable, unable to dance or laugh or even enjoy a good meal. Only looking forward to death. Fuck that! But maybe I’m already on that path. After all, I’m already 24 and still can’t dance…
But that’s nothing to get upset over! Sure, I missed a chance to go out before work tonight. But there will be others. The whole message of the book is to enjoy life. Am I already 24, or am I only 24? This week I was front row at a Khruangbin concert, and have been to see some live jazz, too. I’ve been to 2 arcades and a couple bars. Met up with friends and made new friends. I read 3 books, and have even had the time to write about it all here. There will be plenty of opportunities to learn to dance! For now, I’m happy to sip my lattes and start on the next book. 😌
Thank you so much for reading! 🐺