Likely the dumbest Important Book that I've read.
Yeah, it's cool that the narrator thinks he's a werewolf, but is really just a recluse pseudo-academic--and then reads a manuscript that describes fake werewolves and outs them as poseurs.
Cool, also, that the preface, by the manuscript's fictional finder and publisher, records the impression that the horrors of the middle ages were non-existent: "A man of the Middle Ages would detest the whole mode of our present day life as something far more than horrible, far more than barbarous. [...] Human life is reduced to real suffering, to hell, only when two ages, two cultures and religions overlap" (22)--which strikes me as the rightwing way of describing the basic marxist principle that all that is solid melts into air.
Cool, further, that the book is written in the late 1920s and exposes all of the nasty jingoist, racist, reactionary bullshit that was the bizarre engine of history in the '30s and '40s--but written while Herr Beer Hall Putsch was banned from public speaking. It is therefore an oddly prescient volume when it describes respectable opinion in Germany as anti-semitic & anti-communist, as unwilling to blame itself for the world war, as loathing persons who express disapproval of the Kaiser and war-mongering, and so on (78-80). It manifestly names "the next holocaust" (117) as the fruits of same, joining R. Palme Dutt in making a horrible, horribly accurate prediction regarding German fascism.
Also presents an interesting attempt to read Goethe's Faust
using the good doctor as a model for the Steppenwolf itself (60-63).
Nice moment of insult to the reader when the courtesan asks the narrator to explain what he had been reading, which was the Treatise on the Steppenwolf
aforesaid: "Oh, Steppenwolf
is magnificent! And are you the Steppenwolf? Is that meant for you?" (113) casting the reader of this volume into the role of the narrator fairly expressly.
Otherwise, though, I have the same reaction here as to Byron's Manfred
, who also teeters at the edge of the precipice--my response: do us all a fucking favor and jump off the cliff on page 1; that way, we needn't read an entire volume of self-obsessed amphigory about suicide.
Doesn't help that the middle third of the volume is dominated by a bizarre love story involving several flappers/courtesans who pull the suicidal narrator away from the cliff by means of the terpsichorean arts (no shit!) as well as some hard fucking. The final third is dominated by drug-addled phantasmagoria, with silly appearances by Mozart and Goethe (though the science-fictiony war of man versus machines section is pregnant (180-90)).
Too much overt nietzschean influence. Too much use of the term bourgeois
to refer to aesthetic matters, rather than economics. I can definitely see why all of the biggest English department douchebag undergraduates when I was at university wanted to write their BA thesis on this novel, nevermind that it's written in Deutsch, conceiving themselves as the steppenwolf rising above the herd, a true intellectual amid bourgeois banality, a proper aesthete among the declining arts of a spenglerian society, someone who really understands how shit is. It's a hipster manifesto, FFS.
Recommended for fake werewolves, bourgeois poseurs, and improbably named courtesans.