Daily Archives: July 2, 2011

Hermann Hesse


The conclusion of the “experimental” (that is, disastrous) 1974 film adaptation of Steppenwolf

Today is Hermann Hesse‘s birthday (1877-1962).

Frye in Notebook 44:

When I was in Japan I visited a Buddhist temple, several buildings all dignified, rather sombre, and in exquisite taste. At the top of the hill it was on was a Shinto shrine, incredibly gaudy, as though it were made of Christmas candy, the bushes around having rolled-up prayers tied to every twig, like women with their hair in curlers. My immediate feeling was that it was good-humored and disarming: I had no hostile or superior feelings about it all. So why did hostile and superior words, like “superstitious” and “vulgar” start crowding into my mind? Did God tell me he thought it was superstitious and vulgar?

I was reminded of this when I started reading Steppenwolf. I started that in the sixties, when every fool in the country was trying to identify with Steppenwolf, and abandoned it after a few pages. I couldn’t stand the self-pitying whine of someone totally dependent on middle-class values but trying to develop his self-respect by feeling hostile and superior to them. I was hearing the whine all around me at the time. The next stage, also obvious in Hesse’s text, is when you try to raise your opinion of yourself by despising yourself. Like the wrestler: “I got so fuckin’ tied all up I could see was a big arse in frunna me, so I takes a bite out of it, and, Christ, it was me own arse.”


Footnote on Steppenwolf: what I said about it over the page [para. 437] was utter crap, and I didn’t abandon it after a few pages. I read it through, and, as my marginal notes show, with appreciation. Funny how screen memories work: I resented the student hysterics so much in the sixties, and some of them (at Rochdale, e.g.) made a cult of Hesse. So the remark about the wrestler biting his own arse comes home to roost. Not that I think now that Steppenwolf is really a great or profound book, but he’s aware of his own irony. (CW 5, 197-99)