Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Steppenwolf (1927) by Herman Hesse


Book Review
Steppenwolf (1927)
by Herman Hesse

  German author Heman Hesse has two core titles on the 1001 Books list, this book and Siddhartha (1922).  He also has two non-core titles, both of which were on the first list and removed in 2008.  I read all four Hesse books in high school.  Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1980's and 1990's, his paperbacks were readily available, cheap and plentiful, a consequence of his popularity among college students in the area and status as a counter-cultural icon, decades ahead of his time.   I read Steppenwolf in 9th or 10th grade, undoubtedly the best time to read a book that is, at best, a pile of romantic clap-trap.

  Steppenwolf has been so influential on the generation of cultural sophisticates from the 1960's onward that it is possible to understand the book merely on the basis of the tropes or cliches it has generated in popular culture.  Not the least of those is the rock band, of the same name, which had multiple "good time" party rock hits in the late 1960's.  Less obviously, there is every style or ideological manifestation of "the sixties" all of which seem to be expressed by Hesse, writing in German, in 1927, about what was to come. The line though, between Hesse in 1927 and the Summer of Love, in 1968 is not direct, since it was in fact those same group who "re-discovered" Hesse and brought him back from obscurity.

 It's not fair to separate them, the artist revived and the audience which participates in the revival. I haven't made a study of it, but just based on my personal experience, San Francisco and the environs were positively flooded with Hess paperback in the decades after the 1960's, meaning a vast number of people must have been reading these newly reissued, sometimes retranslated, editions.  The Hesse revival phenomenon is an excellent example of the rarely observed direct revival, where a forgotten writer is almost wholly exhumed and revived.  Such events fly in the face of the capital industrial complex, since they reduce the amount of audience attention for new products, and open up the possibility of profitable intellectual property which is owned by no one (public domain titles).

  This time, I listened to an audiobook recording, narrated by Peter "Robocop" Weller. It was terrible! Something I've noticed about audiobook is that the older the underlying text, the less amenable it is audiobook adaptation. Prove me wrong, Los Angeles Public Library Overdrive App. 

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