“A wild longing for strong emotions and sensations seethes in me, a rage against this toneless, flat, normal and sterile life.”
I’m unsure as to why this book resonates with me. I could hazard a few guesses. I first read Steppenwolf in university, for a religion course if you can believe it. Although the copy I had seems to have had a different translator than the above excerpt (taken from Google Books), the ethos remains the same. The themes of Steppenwolf are varied. Some go hand in hand, others stick out. The main concept of bourgeois lifestyle vs intensity has a ripple effect through the book. Its echoed in the concept of ‘mediocrity’ vs passionate feeling, in loneliness vs belonging, and in Harry Haller’s own dual nature as someone who doesn’t want to belong but wants to be appreciated.
Harry Haller, the Steppenwolf, cannot tear himself fully away from the bourgeois life, and cannot stand the thought of mediocrity. He compares mediocrity and normality to being lukewarm. He’d rather feel an inferno than a hearth fire. What’s the point in living if you can’t live passionately, to the limits of being. He is so intense, and this intensity runs deep–even to his own perception of himself. He can’t laugh at himself; he can’t take himself with a pinch of salt. Because he feels so much, he seems to think that he’s better than his peers, and doesn’t know why they don’t see that.
For a very long time, I held a similar attitude. My kinship to Steppenwolf lays in my own odd, dual nature, summarised by the mantra of ‘I feel, therefore I am’. I used to, and often still do, feel everything so intensely. I saw epicness in things other people saw as undeserving of attention. I craved to belong, but wanted others to come to me, and in doing so offering proof that I was worthy of friendship. That I was wanted. There were people I was drawn to, because of their confidence, and I juxtaposingly strove to be their equal whilst all the while wondering why they couldn’t see it themselves. However, in feeling that way, I often ended up excluding myself. Because I wouldn’t just laugh and go with the flow. Even now, I can see that I still do that to a degree. To Harry Haller, the flow is both enticing and contemptible. Life had to be intense, and contentment and lack of appreciation were loathsome.
I realise that this extremist attitude is not a good way to look at life. Life isn’t always a rollercoaster ride, and it shouldn’t be. I wanted only highs and lows. I wanted intensity–in my life, in my friendships, in my love, and in my achievements. I didn’t want to feel lukewarm. I liked drama, and I gave out drama. And even though I now realise the consequences associated with that type of thinking…its a hard habit to break. Pushing people away doesn’t seem to be enough of a slap in the face. I still want to be on a rollercoaster sometimes.
And sometimes I feel as though mediocrity–the middle of the middle–is something I am doomed to be wrapped up in. There are things that I love doing, creative things like singing, drawing, writing. However, I don’t love them enough to overthrow my laziness, my fear, that idea in my head that I should just be good at it without actually doing too much, or all of the above.
Yes, I have this odd thing in my head that says–hey, if you’re doing something creative it’s either in you or isn’t. There’s only so much practicing you can do. If it isn’t there, it isn’t coming.
And still, I don’t know if that’s true or not. Perhaps on some level it is. But then there’s the old saying that there will always be someone better than you. And the other saying about just enjoying yourself. They seem like conflicting concepts to me. Seriously, I don’t know who I try to impress–whether its my friends, colleagues, or even just that bitch inside telling me I’m mediocre in the first place…or all of the above. But try to impress I do–and the double edge of that knife is that I feel people will judge me.
All of this could be written up as psychoses, things I should talk about with a licensed professional. I just can’t help but think that there’s some road block inside that I need to get past. I can’t see it exactly, but I am aware of it. I suppose that’s a step in the right direction. In the end, I know ‘practice makes perfect’ and even if it doesn’t end up perfect, the practice will only make me stronger and more confident. I need to simply be–to enjoy what I love, everything I love, instead of worrying whether or not I’m good enough for it. I just can’t seem get over that hump yet. I’m still, ever so slightly, stuck in my ‘Hallerian’ mindset.
P.S. Honest to blog, I didn’t write this to fish for praise. Its a serious problem I’m trying to sort out. Writing about it helps 🙂