Thursday, January 8, 2009

Steppenwolf and the Game of Life

Let me say right off it is a good thing that in my youth I did not care much for the novels of Hermann Hesse. Because now approaching 55 is the perfect age for me to be reading Steppenwolf for the first time. I think as a teenager I might have felt distain for the character of Harry Haller with his obsessive self-absorption, his breathing and thought exercises. But now I can identify with the loner in him so out of step with his times.

How clearly the musician, Pablo sees him: "You have often been solely weary of your life. You were striving, were you not, for escape? You have a longing to forsake this world and its reality and to penetrate to a reality more native to you, to a world beyond time. You know of course where this other world lies hidden. It is the world of your own soul that you seek. Only within yourself exists that other reality for which you long. I can give you nothing that has not already its being within yourself."

My favorite scene is that in which Haller confronts the man with no name sitting in front of the chessboard of life who takes the pieces of Haller's disintegrated self and arranges them. I am reminded here of the creation of collage as ". . . he passed his hand swiftly over the board and gently swept all the pieces into a heap; and, meditatively with an artist's skill, made up a new game of the same pieces with quite other groupings, relationships and enganglements. . . And in this fashion the clever architect built up one game after another out of the figures. . . Each belonged recognizably to the same world and acknowledged a common origin. Yet each was entirely new."

"This is the art of life. . . You may yourself as an artist develop the game of your life and lend it animation. You may complicate and enrich it as you please. It lies in your hands. Just as madness, in a higher sense, is the beginning of all wisdom, so is schizomania [the separation of the unity of the personality into multiple souls or numerous selves] the beginning of all art and all fantasy."


kimberly said...

Yes, reaching middle age is satisfying in many respects. And of course I consider 55 middle age, don't you? Beautiful comments on life and art. The passage from the book was enriching and encouraging. The distance from an artist mind, eyes and hands are precious.
Have a good new year!

AnitaNH said...

I've got the 1974 film coming from Netflix. The reviews are mixed. Haller is played by Max von Sydow who is really not my cup of tea. I'm curious to see the animated segments, though. I had such strong visual images when I was reading the book.