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TREATISE ON THE STEPPENWOLF (continued)

THE IMMORTALS

Only the strongest of these outsiders can break completely out of their bourgeois heritage into the cosmos. Here you find the first reference in the Treatise to the Immortals, as Harry calls them. The Treatise describes them as living in "starry space" and going down "in splendor," but doesn't explain them. Are you to understand that these are the true geniuses, who earn immortality by their undying works of art? Harry's chief Immortals, at least those whom he names, are Mozart and Goethe.

Those who yearn to break through but never can, the Treatise continues, must find their escape through humor, which is perhaps the most brilliant achievement of the spirit. Humor makes it possible to be in the world and yet not of it, to be law-abiding and have possessions and yet be above the law and the possessions. Humor could make the Steppenwolf's suffering bearable and productive. But he must be willing to look into himself. Harry may one day get hold of one of "our" little mirrors or find what he needs in one of "our" magic theaters. Harry is aware of this need to examine himself but fears it.

THEORY OF MULTIPLE SELVES

Finally, says the Treatise, the Steppenwolf is a fiction. Harry is not two but a hundred or a thousand selves. Human beings regard the self as a unit by false analogy with the body, which is a single entity. Now Hesse's Indian background comes through, as he points out that in the epic poems of India the heroes are not onedimensional individuals but entire series of incarnations, and that the Yoga technique of Buddhism is designed to break through the illusion of the personality. In a passing criticism of the Immortal, Goethe, the Treatise comments on Faust's complaint, "Two souls, alas, inhabit in my breast!"

NOTE:

Faust is the scholar hero of Goethe's famous poetic drama Faust. Like Haller, Faust strives to understand himself and human nature. The "two souls" he refers to represent both a personal inner conflict and a conflict between literary forms. One "soul" represents Faust's passionate side and the emotional orientation of Romantic literature. The other "soul" stands for Faust's rational side, as well as the restrained ideals of ancient classical literature.

The Treatise here scolds Faust for restricting his selves to only two, just as Harry has been doing.

Harry's suffering is partly due to his effort to pack his many aspects into either his human or his wolf self. Man is not a fixed form but a transition between nature and spirit. By a bourgeois compromise, a little of both natural instinct and spiritual idealism is permitted, but any excess is condemned as either criminal or heretic.

The Steppenwolf suspects these truths but is still unwilling to make the sacrifice of himself that leads to immortality. Here the Treatise seems deliberately obscure about what it takes to achieve this. It explains Mozart not by his special musical gift but by his indifference to bourgeois ideals and his powers of suffering.


Returning to the Steppenwolf, the Treatise points out that there is no way to be wholly man or wholly wolf, and that even a wolf is not a simple creature. Wishing to be a child again is also useless, for even children are full of conflicts and complexities. Instead of narrowing one's world, one should take the whole world into one's soul, as did Buddha and every great man. The Treatise tells Harry that he has genius enough to attempt this quest for true manhood.

A man who can understand Buddha and the heaven and hell of humanity should not live in a world of common sense and democracy. Harry allows an entire Garden of Eden of opposite qualities to be locked away in the wolf, and confines the real man in him to a bourgeois existence. What he can't classify as either wolf or man he doesn't see at all.

Here the Treatise bids Harry good-bye, with the encouraging prophecy that when at last he achieves his goal among the Immortals he will look back and smile in pity at the Steppenwolf.

Thus in some twenty-five closely printed pages the Treatise draws a portrait of both Harry and the middle-class world, raising in the course of it some provocative questions: In what ways is the democratic form of government merely a middle-class device? If democracy is not suitable to the highly developed man that the Treatise admires, what form of government would be? Or would such men need any government at all?

In this description, the artist's life is full of misery except for those exalted moments when he or she produces a work of art. Is that your impression? If you have read biographies of great artists, writers, and composers, or have seen documentaries on them, do you gather that they are suffering most of the time? Or do they seem to be enjoying their work most of the time? Could that description of the misery of the artist's life be mostly a description of Hesse's own life?

Humor as a way of making life bearable is an interesting idea. To be able to laugh off your troubles indicates a certain detachment from life, as though you did not need to be involved. Do you think that is always a good thing? Can you imagine situations in which treating a problem with humor might have unfortunate consequences?

The Treatise is certainly right about children not being simple one-dimensional creatures. But when a person expresses a longing to be a child again, is he or she longing for simplicity? Isn't it rather the state of being cared for, of having grownups to look out for one-of having little or no responsibility-that one is wishing for? Isn't it the responsibilities, rather than the complexities of character, that they will face, that makes many adolescents anxious about becoming adults?

The more carefully you read the Treatise, the more you might suspect that its author is no ghostly Immortal, but none other than Harry Haller himself, who has taken this unusual way of analyzing himself. It is also a signpost pointing in the direction the story is taking, toward less realistic adventures, with magic mirrors and magic theaters to come.

NOTE:

With its teaching and preaching tone of voice, sometimes scolding, sometimes sympathetic and persuasive, the Treatise has been compared with the religious tracts that Hesse helped his missionary father print in the publishing house in Calw during the period that he spent at home after running away from his apprenticeship in a bookshop. Hesse seems to have been echoing his father's theological tracts in the style of the Treatise.

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