Review: Steppenwolf

 

Steppenwolf Review: Intro

Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse’s modernist existential masterpiece, was written during the Weimar years in Germany and enjoyed a considerable resurgence in popularity as a counter-culture classic during the swinging sixties. As such, the 237-page novel is preceded by a certain reputation. My interest was piqued whilst I was studying aspects of Weimar literature and I read a brief synopsis describing the main character, with whom I felt I could instantly identify (i.e miserable,  loner, not excited by anything etc.).

The title refers to the German name for the steppe wolf – or the wolf of the steppes – which, from what I can gather is a representation of a kind of duality in a person’s psyche. The wolf represents animalistic urges or desires and throughout the story the main character, Harry Haller, is continually struggling with inner conflict. He is resigned to a life of unhappiness and has thoughts of suicide, yet wonders why he has not gone through with it.

I decided to write this quick review of Steppenwolf as I found it was a challenging read that it would be beneficial to reflect upon.

 

Reading Steppenwolf

The narrative is presented through a discovered manuscript, which is found by Haller’s landlord after he moves out of his digs. The landlord also adds his own comments to the story and at one point Haller describes the content of a book he acquires – so there are several pages wherein the reader has stepped through three narrative perspectives. It’s easy enough to follow, but I found Hesse’s prose (or at least the translation) to be fairly dry at times. Given that much of the book appealed to me and seemed very relevant to my own life, I struggled to get through it.

One thing that is abundantly clear though: Herman Hesse is a very, very smart man. I knew little of his background before reading Steppenwolf, but the way in which he dissects the psyche is truly incredible. As I mentioned previously, I felt myself able to identify with the main character over and over again – something which I feel reflects the brutal honesty and accurate insight which Hesse seems to possess. Of course, the protagonists alliterative name suggests that Hesse is in fact writing about himself and this would explain the focus on Haller’s consciousness, but without reading more into the author’s background I couldn’t go any further into this.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, it’s been a while since I finished the book and I don’t have much else to say on it. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Steppenwolf is a difficult read, but something in the prose just made it a little laborious. For me, the most fascinating aspects of it were of a historical context. Hesse’s characters talk of the inevitability of ‘the next war’ and at times touch upon a commonly held belief at the time that Germany did not lose the Great War. That being said, the novel is hardly portentous and I feel that, more than anything, it reflects the author’s dissatisfaction with the political situation in German. But then, what do I know?

 

 

 

 

 

The Great American Novel – Part 1

 

Flagedit

 

Fuelled by a desire to speak even more pretentiously about literature, I decided to spend the lockdown reading some classic works of American literature. More specifically, I set myself the challenge to decide my own nomination for the Great American Novel, based on a fairly commonly accepted canon of potentials.

Actually, one particular candidate for the Great American Novel is one of the reasons I studied literature in the first place. Moby Dick bored me beyond what I thought possible. As I am sure is the case with most people who are a little insecure about their intellectual capacity, I felt that there must be something lacking in me that meant I couldn’t realise Herman Melville’s so-called masterpiece as the masterpiece it was so called. I figured that completing an MA in literature with furnish me with some innate ability to realise the genius in Moby Dick – I was expecting a revelation. It didn’t happen. After a mediocre foray into academia, I think now what I thought back then: Moby Dick is shit.

But I digress….

The Great American Novel is obviously a very subjective term. One day I’d like to compile my own list and perhaps that will form part of this blog series, but for now I focused on a few commonly acknowledged American classics. I realise the following selection is not very inspired, but given that no-one will ever read this post, I don’t really care. In no particular order:

  • The Last of the Mohicans (James Fenimore Cooper 1826)
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe 1852)
  • The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald 1925)
  • The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck 1939)
  • The Catcher in the Rye (J. D Salinger 1951)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee 1960)
  • Moby Dick (Eurgh!) (Herman Melville 1851)
  • Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison 1952)
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain 1884)
  • Absalom, Absalom! (William Faulkner 1936)

My intention here is to offer my own review of each novel, considering it’s place in the canon of American classics. It gives me an excuse to write this blog and it is something productive for me to due during these uncertain times.

Libraries: The Fall of the Last Bastion

Libraries, at face value, are wonderful things. A catalogue of books and learning resources that is accessible by all at no cost—no one could oppose such an institution.

Unfortunately, it seems the public at large no longer hold book learning in the high esteem that it deserves. What should be an almost sacred place for learning and expanding one’s intellect has become just another corner for the great unwashed to while away their lives.

At the time of writing, my local library is over run with screaming children. As with most places, ‘coffee mums’ have taken over. Of course, everywhere must be accessible and effectively serve as a playground for their litter of snot oozing little squawk bags.

Bringing children to read is one thing. Bringing them to run around screeching and having organised sing-alongs is quite another. Is nowhere safe?

Further to this unpleasantness, it seems libraries now offer a place for vagabonds to sleep. On my last two study sessions, I have seen drunk looking men literally wrapping themselves in newspapers and collapsing in the reading booths.

In the UK, libraries face austere times. I understand that they need to entice new visitors, but surely not at the expense of those who wish to use them for their intended purpose?

So, just like they have saturated the blogosphere with their inane ‘mummy’ blogs, these women now they further erode culture by making libraries unusable. Coupled with the free-for-all sleepover that libraries now seem to be, it’s a sorry state of affairs.

Libraries should be reserved for study. Period. Just like cinemas and quiet carriages on trains, they should be seen as an opportunity to show just how considerate a person can be of another’s privacy and right to learn.

Shhh.

 

 

 

The Treacherous Code of The Virtue Signaller

I read an interesting comment this morning. It had been posted on social media in response to several other posters having criticised the perceived prevalence of rape culture among refugees and, in particular, migrants from Islamic countries.

Refuting claims that followers of Islam are more prone to disrespect women’s rights, the poster criticised what he saw as the marginalising of rape and sex attacks, by reducing victims to ‘a cudgel with which to bash society’s most vulnerable’.

An interesting point of view and certainly one that requires a deal of reflection—but it is also a view loaded with hypocrisy. Firstly, in using ‘society’s most vulnerable’ to reduce an argument is facetious in itself; secondly,  it effectively dismisses the numerous claims and reports by those who have been victims of attacks by migrants.

It is also a conjecturable response. Whilst of course there are racists sentiments lurking behind even the most informed comments on social media, that does not equate to all arguments being such.

There has been a pattern of similar arguments emerging with regard to halal/kosher slaughter: the complete assumption that opponents of such ludicrous rituals care not for animal rights, but are simply being racist. No. There are may people who care deeply about animal rights, as they do the rights and safety of women—whether this leads to criticism of Islam or not.

It has been a long time since I had any inclination to engage with the public sphere, I find it is very depressing, but it cannot be ignored that western countries have had to issue migrants with pictorial instructions in an effort to promote correct behaviour and healthier attitudes towards women—I should point out, should any social justice warriors ever read this, that yes, I am taking western attitudes to be ‘correct behaviour’ in this instance.

Considering the subject of whether or not rape culture was more prevalent in the countries of origin of refugees, I was reminded of a story of the American solider, Dan Quinn, who was dismissed from his post after fisticuffs with an Afghan militia member. The American forces were issued instructions that they were to ‘turn a blind eye’ to the rife child sex abuse that the Afghan officers partook in. Apparently, Quinn was unable to do so and was subsequently disciplined.

This surely raises the question that, if rape culture is no more prevalent in these cultures, then what possible advantage would the US forces have by issuing a decree to ignore noncery?

Collective bed-wetters such as Antifa and the so-called Alt-Left have faced a number of contradictions lately, but none pose such a consistent conundrum as Islam. Cognitive dissonance has been the order of the day, with squawks of racism being the last line of defence, in lieu of reasoned argument.

The poster of the comment I mentioned had also shared ‘Happy Eid Muburak’ constantly on his profile, but had made no mention of the holidays of any other religions. Strange. This is what led me to the conclusion that his beautifully written comment was little more than an attempt to defend Islam at all costs, effectively using the rape victims as his own cudgel, with which to bash people who held different views to his own.

Another wasted intellect.

 

 

 

 

Reflections With The Sun

The sun is an illusive entity in Albion, but today we are blessed with clear skies and some gentle warmth – which is a big deal here. The thawing of the winter months often brings with it a mixture of positive feelings: namely motivation and gregariousness. Even a self-confessed misanthrope such as myself can appreciate a nice chilled glass of wine in the open air.

This year seems different. This year the irradiated fields and longer days are impressing upon me a sense of urgency. I am now painfully away of the ticking clock, the relentless march of age. I should point out that I do not feel old, nor do I concern myself with the maturing of the body, no, it is the social aspects of ageing that preoccupy me of late.

The world expects us to progress, personally and professionally, along a well trodden path with any major deviations seen as risky, or even peculiar. Biology aside – I don’t intend on reproducing until my early forties – what tangible elements obstruct us from changing lifestyle, career, location at any time of life?

I am now realising that, reflexively,  I succumb to this pressure myself, albeit to a lesser extent than many. The reality is, the odds are now against me achieving my life’s goals.

Attempting to forge a career as a writer, journalist or creative requires a great deal of introspection, as well as external influences and inspiration. This year may well be one of lists, to prioritise ambitions and to identify the most efficacious ways of processing influences and developing a craft.

 

 

The Return…

Upon the stark realisation that no one is actually going to read this blog, I will now change its function and purpose.

An anonymous webspace that could be read is still a valuable platform for self expression. Since obtaining a few contracts as a freelance writer, I have come to lament the sorry state of this platform. Now that I have started to claw my way into the inner-circle of the virtual realm, I realise that the cult of the amateur is all around us – I myself have written between 20-30 ‘Top 5 Reasons Why’ blog posts, this year alone.

Delusions of grandeur aside, the main objective of this blog will now be for the development of my own writing – both prose and verse. I will include everything from quasi-diarist musings to cringeworthy poetry, in an attempt to attain a sophisticated writing style. For all my complaining of the decline of cultural standards is nothing but hypocrisy, if I do not look at my own shortcomings first. And they are legion.

Should anyone read this, I welcome any criticism, insults or opinions.

 

 

The Tourism Cult: A Rant

Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It was the centre of the renaissance and today holds some of the period’s finest artwork.

The only drawback to Florence is the tourists. They are simply everywhere and, quite frankly, ruining the city. Now, I am aware of the hypocrisy of lambasting tourists whilst having visited the city as a tourist myself, but I’m afraid all tourists were not created equal.

1336165933_0aa5addf5d_zBehold Michelangelo’s Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, a housed in the Bargello
museum
. His inebriated slouch and lolling head represent an early indication of Michelangelo’s intrinsic understanding of posture and  the subtleties of the human body. I was lucky enough to view this piece, completely alone in an empty gallery, on a Saturday morning last week.

The next day, at precisely the same time, I had to queue for over an hour to see his later work, David, and herein lies my issue with other tourists. Whilst David is indubitably a beautiful piece, it isn’t the only one in Florence worth seeing. The absence of these same tourists at the Bargello, or the Galileo museum, just goes to show that they are constituents of what is referred to as ‘post-tourism’ – going somewhere for the sake of saying you’ve been there.

An even more obvious example can be observed at the Louvre – one of the most impressive collections of artefacts anywhere in the world, yet the majority of visitors congregate around the Mona Lisa, ignoring the other exhibits entirely. In the Uffizi gallery, one can encounter the same effect: the busiest area, by far, is the room containing works by Leonardo da Vinci, yet the Botticelli masterpieces are unobstructed.

Having seen these effects, we can conclude that this particular kind of tourist has no idea what they are looking at, they are just vaguely familiar with a famous name and therefore feel the need to take a selfie in front of one of their works. It’s infuriating.  If you do not visit your galleries and exhibits at home – why do so abroad? Why obstruct other’s enjoyment of such things, when you have no genuine interest beyond telling your friends—no doubt via Facebook—that you have been there?

The Answer? Don’t. Taking a selfie next to the Mona Lisa won’t change the fact that you are a troglodyte; be honest, you’d enjoy yourself far more in ‘Beefa’. Never go to a location because you feel like you should. Go because you have an  interest in what the place has to offer and want to genuinely broaden your horizons. Otherwise, just go to Benidorm and stop ruining the ambience of more refined destinations.

Civil Wrongs

So we have some obnoxious little South African slime ball once again spewing racism and condemning “white people “and colonialism, whilst simultaneously enjoying all the benefits that “white people” have provided for his country.

I am of course, talking about Ntokozo Qwabe. Thankfully, the little shit bag is no longer besmirching the name of an English university, but he has been in the news this week for slapping a white student at the University of Cape Town who had dared to film him ruining other people’s education.

It is still unclear why this racist parasite is still being afforded such privileges or why his rampant feelings of inadequacy are still news…

Across the pond, we have another Black Lives Matter protest going on, which unsurprisingly has taken the form of a riot, with violence, robbery, arson and vandalism thrown in.

People need to stop legitimising these ridiculous and frankly barbaric ‘protests’.  I understand that—whilst the stats aren’t quite as BLM make them out to be— they do have a legitimate grievance. However, the way that almost all protests concerning black rights/issues end in violent riots somewhat undermines their cause and, in some ways, exemplifies why the police feel the need to use offence as defence when dealing with black offenders.

Back here in England, we unfathomably have our own Black Lives Matter movement, who recently criticised calls to regulate, ticket or even ban the Notting Hill Carnival. BLM responded to a particular journalist from the Spectator, Roy Liddle, after he called for the event to be shut down, by equating the Carnival to Glastonbury – a music festival with predominantly white attendees. They asked whether Glasto should be banned to prevent ‘white on white’ violence. This was a rather short sighted comparison.  Liddle instantly crushed their argument with some straight facts – 46 arrests at Glastonbury 2016 over one week (no stabbings), compared to 454 arrests at Notting Hill (5 stabbings) over 3 days.

I don’t want to trivialise racism, that is not the intent of my post. I merely wish to highlight the ridiculousness of some of these ‘movements’, which I believe will fuel the rise in far-right groups across the world. Any sane person can see that riots are not a constructive means to address any political issue. Racism is born out of ignorance, but when swathes of black youths are causing mayhem on the streets under the guise of a civil rights protest, we shouldn’t allow creatures like Ntokozo Qwabe to make out that it’s the fault of white people.

People of all colours are responsible for their own actions.

 

A Word on Culture…

 

Perhaps I am alone, but when I look at a beautiful work by Renoir, Rousseau or Friedrich, I find great difficulty in acknowledging ‘Banksy’ as an artist of equal stature.

Recently, issues of cultural identity have pervaded the news, with emphasis being placed on protecting a European way of life. Predictably, the left immediately mobilised to claim no such identity exists, or worse yet, that European cultural heritage is something to be ashamed of.

Clearly such people have not attended a decent production of Shakespeare in a while, or spent an evening at the Royal Opera House.

Watering down entertainment, education and development to meet with misguided attempts at diversity will not benefit anyone in the long term.

A contingent of lefty literati have such a perceived stranglehold on what does and does not constitute ‘good’ art, that people are afraid to offer different perspectives and, most importantly, call certain artistic contributions exactly what they are – shit.

It reminds me of an old TV show called ‘Faking It’. One particular episode saw a girl who played classical cello professionally, attempt to convince a panel of experts (in this case, uneducated former drug addicts in the guise of musicians)  that she was a pro DJ, after just a month of practice. She successfully duped the experts. Now, let’s see that done the other way around…

I therefore venture that love of the high arts is not snobbery, but simply good taste. There is nothing exclusive about culture, just as listening to the Beatles is not the reserve of working class Liverpudlians, the problem is simply that instant gratification seems to be the order of the day for the great unwashed.

A Nice Cup of Tea (2016)

The Evening Standard published George Orwell’s essay on ‘a nice cup of tea’ over 70 years ago. Since then, we have seen the proliferation of individual tea bags, electric kettles and an ever increasing variety of teas. Therefore, as an avid tea drinker, I felt it appropriate to update his original treatise.

Tea drinking is synonymous with Englishness…

…Other countries may have perversions of preparation and drinking rituals, but the following points outline supplementary guidelines for the Englishman’s convenience.

They are as follows:

  • Breakfast or everyday tea should drunk from a mug . This offers a larger serving, appropriate for dipping biscuits. This also avoids delusions of grandeur— drinking cheap tea from a fine china tea cup is akin to drinking ale from a champagne flute.
  • The tea drinker must strive to drink the tea at optimum temperature. After it has cooled enough so as not to impair the flavour, but hot enough that the flavour of milk is not more apparent than that of the tea. If this happens, it should be poured away.
  • Contrary to Orwell’s advice, African tea is acceptable before lunchtime and largely unavoidable in tea blends. Afternoon tea should be a more delicate variety, such as Earl Grey or Darjeeling. Lighter teas can also be drunk at bedtime.
  • If pouring from an electric kettle, the water must be poured slowly and carefully after boiling has finished, to avoid any limescale finding its way into the cup.
  • It is more than acceptable to add milk to all black tea. However, the appropriate shade differs with different kinds. A rich copper is appropriate for stronger blends of assam or ceylon tea, whereas darjeeling or a good Earl Grey should have  a slightly more pallid almost cloudy appearance.
  • To reiterate Orwell, adding sugar to tea is no better than adding coca cola to fine scotch, or tomato ketchup to a prime steak. it is unnecessary and contrary to one’s health.
  • Loose leaf tea is vastly superior to tea bags and should aways be chosen in preference to the latter.
  • If entertaining guests, tea should be brewed in a pot and not the cup. It is also appropriate to offer more than one variety of tea.
  • Lapsang shouchong is an abomination and should not be drunk by any civilised human being.

I must also add the caveat that, tea is essential to one’s vitality and must be drunk in whatever style that circumstances permit. That is, any of the rules can be discarded if adhering to them will prevent one from drinking tea at all. However, when possible, the highest standards of tea making should be observed.

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These are simply my own guidelines. I would refer anyone to Orwell’s original essay on tea for further suggestions of good practice. I have avoided the subject of which biscuits, sweets or tea cakes should be served, as opinions and options are so diverse that it would be pointless to suggest any common taste.