CHAPTER 8
HERMANN HESSE:
DEMIAN AND STEPPENWOLF:
FROM INFLATION TO ALIENATION
(1877-1962)

The dichotomy between man's unremitting optimism --belief in perpetual scientific, technological, industrial, political, and philosophical progress--and the wretched realities of life illicited from some writers, including Hermann Hesse, intense feelings of alienation and depression. Steppenwolf is the narration of the plight of such an individual. Steppenwolf is the product of a society once filled with Promethean fire, ambition, and energy enough to move mountains; a society devoid of the evaluating principle, the force capable of tempering unchanneled urges and diminishing impossible goals. Hesse considered the compulsion driving man to succeed and to dominate nature by the perfection of his mind as an instrument of pride and self-aggrandizement, which instilled in him feelings of malaise. He believed Western civilization was on the decline and the total man had become fragmented. Man's mind was overdeveloped, whereas his instinctual half was undervalued. This dichotomy created a dangerous imbalance and extremes were de rigueur: either saintliness or excessive lust. For Hesse cleavages within the personality, and by extension within society, were symptoms of a decaying world that manifested itself in the charlatanism permeating the arts, overmechanization, and lack of "true" morality in society. Yet, Hesse's despair over man's lack of sight into his condition, coupled with the belief in the downward trend of civilization, could not have been so deeply felt had he not been fired with a Promethean urge.

Steppenwolf is a Promethean quest--a journey through hell as were Rimbaud's and Dante's trajectories. The tale is Hesse's foray into the unconscious (the instinctual realm Nietzsche re

-207-

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The Prometheus Syndrome
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • By the Same Author ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes 10
  • Chapter 1: Prometheus 11
  • Notes 49
  • Section I Man as Creator *
  • Introduction to Section I 51
  • Chapter 2: Albertus Magnus 55
  • Chapter 3: Paracelsus 75
  • Chapter 4: Rabbi Judah Loew 97
  • Chapter 5: Goethe's Faustian Physics and Metaphysics (1749-1832) 133
  • Section II the Ordeal of Reason *
  • Introduction to Section II 155
  • Chapter 6: Voltaire's MicromÉgas 161
  • Chapter 7: Balzac's in Search of the Absolute (1799-1850) 185
  • Chapter 8: Hermann Hesse 207
  • Section III Toward Integration *
  • Introduction to Section III 237
  • Chapter 9: Malraux 239
  • Conclusion 267
  • Selected Bibliography 271
  • Index 279
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