Home Steppenwolf

1928 the German writer Hermann Hesse released a novel called Der Steppenwolf. The story is about the character of Harry Haller, isolating himself from the modern bourgeois society, to revive the classicist ideals of European masters such as Goethe and Mozart. One night he receives a manuscript that in detail describes his own life: a constant internal division between living life as a regular citizen during daytime, and wandering alone at night to survive the modern society. This psychological dualism as seen from a Freudian point of view, was to point forward to the classic post-modernist problematic, of a radical clash between the ideal and the reality.

Harry meets a strange androgynous-looking character called Hermine, who leads Harry into a life of jazz and nightlife at restaurants and dance halls. At first, Harry suspects that Hermine is turning him into a bourgeois nobody and finds himself in a void where life loses all higher meaning. But through internal self-discovery, portrayed in the novel as "the magic theatre," together with the ideas found in the manuscript, Harry realizes that the modern society has forced his mind to become defensive, denying all part of the mass psychology that drives the Democratic and populist framework. Harry has thus been split between being an extreme individual in revolt, and at the same time someone trying to fit into society in order to survive.

What Hesse attempted to describe here, was the basic dilemma that all people who rejected modernity, eventually would have to face: to despise modern society means to isolate oneself from the values and the psychology of the mass, but at the same time we must learn to cope with the mass to try change society in another direction. For Hesse, the solution was to transcend the dualist thinking between "me" and "them" and use the potential in all of his personality. Harry Haller had managed to deny an inseparable part of himself: he was not only the apartment-dweller who hid from other people and listened to Mozart, but was a person that could enjoy every day activities such as lunches, dances and talks.

40 years later after Hesse published his novel, the internationally famous rock band Steppenwolf released their hit single "Born to be wild." The feral nature of Hesse's isolationism was reduced to blues-injected rock rhythms, soft moans, and a hedonistic call for individual liberty and "rejection." Had the modern man succeeded in transcending an isolated position? Was the reformation of modern society soon here? The catchy chorus conveyed the same attraction that Democracy and liberty did in France during the revolution: things were bad and a lot of people were mistreated, so they began a revolt against the aristocracy and declared "liberation." The belief in the individual as a communicator of higher values, was replaced by the belief in the individual alone. That was the "truth." That was to be "born wild."

It is vital to understand the difference between Hesse and Steppenwolf's view on individualism, because even if both may be given the same attribute, the meanings of these attributes are diametric opposites of each other. First of all, Hesse was against the modern Democratic society. He rejected modernity as a philosophy and mass psychology, and instead praised the classicist ideals of Goethe and Mozart (readers of Der Steppenwolf will also notice that Harry and Mozart in one part of the novel, actually makes fun of Brahms, who becomes a symbol for the Romanticist musical language; a language much more emotionally charged and uncontrolled, than the refined stylistics of classicism that Mozart represented). And even though Hesse rejected Romanticism as an artistic expression, his individualism was that of a Romanticist: the isolation, the outbreak, the loneliness and the extremism of the individual (Harry), was not an end in itself, but a way for the individual to process modern values and find new ones. The Romanticist "individualism" was thus a way to seek a higher truth beyond that of the mass. People who are familiar with Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther will know exactly what I mean here.

What Hesse comes to terms with in his novel, is that we as individuals who reject modernity, never must see our isolationism as an end in itself - not only because it is destined to fail (how many Neo-Nazi clubhouses do we need to figure this out?), but because it will deconstruct the psychology of the individual. We are not only dissidents. Many people who have seen through the lies of Democracy, multiculturalism and industrial globalism, do like friendship and different kinds of social activities, but turn increasingly introvert and thus relapse into passivity. The society and its defects turn smart people off and alienate them, but if we lose the intelligent dissidents, who are left to govern us? We are not only those who despise modern society, but we are first and foremost human beings and as such, most of us behave and think. While it may seem tempting to hide from the madness outside our house, history and common sense say this is a bad move; the shit will eventually infect even your neighbourhood, but then it might be too late to stop it. Hesse didn't want Harry to leave his ideals behind, but to accept the "bourgeois" side of his basic psychological mentality and force him to take use of his maximum possibility; ironically, something he defensively had been denying to himself at a systematic basis.

But to the modernist rock band Steppenwolf, the individualism was a modern phenomenon: the goal of the individual was to become "special" by upholding a conformity that rejected social norms. The paradox here becomes obvious: the truth is no longer outside, but within, of what is socially acceptable, thus the "ideal" becomes a symbol of the lowest common denominator. By driving a motorbike at high speed, the image of the individual would transcend those people who still followed the speed limits. But as we compare this form of "individualism" with that of Hesse, we quickly reach the same conclusion: driving at high speed on the highway of modern society isn't to reject it, but to confirm it, albeit in a "cooler" way.

Through this conflict between Romanticist and modernist individualism, we are also given a practical key to how to survive the modern society. We must be radical, we must stay true to our ideals and we must be uncompromising, but we cannot afford to see ourselves as isolationists. You might be clever enough to understand what's going on in your country, but if you remain at home and hide behind your Mozart, Burzum, Evola or Hitler - whatever form of traditionalist ideal that you prefer - you will slowly become a part of the problem.

I dare to say that most of us dissidents - if not all - have gone through the isolationist period. The time when you reject everything around you, study great indo-European literature, immerse yourself in Beethoven and Emperor, collect Nazi fliers and wander in the forest at night. This is a very important part of your life, because it is during this period that you rebuild values, seek inner truth and peace with yourself, find direction, find personal space, find power and spirituality to move on - but not to remain detached from your community, but to be able to contribute to it, strengthen it; fight for it. If you reject modernity you also reject modern individualism, meaning you value the collective culture and people above your own immediate existence.

This is where the Steppenwolf of Hesse would scare the hell out of all trendy individualists of the modern age: true individual rebellion goes beyond morality and social acceptance, and sees the individualism as a process of gaining a deeper understanding of these values. The nihilist must therefore seek to live a life in both personal and social peace. We cannot afford more intelligent people leaving society, because that will leave our culture in the hands of morons who are barely able to vote on a party they've seen on TV. We must seek to transcend the modern dualism without compromising with our ideals. We must accept our basic human nature and not confine ourselves to what we deem as "safety." "Safety" is a lie.

The only chance we have to reform this society is to be an inseparable part of it and change it from within. You don't change the architecture of a bad motor by removing the quality pieces and hiding them in the closet, but by removing the bad parts and integrating quality ones. Dissidents must seek to unite under common values and uphold these together, as a resistance to the modern disease that is slowly killing Europe from within. You must, like Nietzsche noted, handle the mass with silk gloves. Those who remain in small extremist groups, like Neo-Nazi movements, syndicalist gatherings, or people who build cabins out in the wilderness to escape industrialism, are not part of the solution. They, like all modern people today, place their material comfort and self-image before the ideal. Kill your ego, kill your self-image, kill modern individualism. Stay true to yourself and your ideals, no matter what.

An individual that is capable of understanding Buddha, who senses what the human life has to offer in terms of heavens and hells, should not live in a world, where common sense, democracy, and bourgeois governments rule" ~ H. Hesse

April 23, 2007

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