The Unconscious– Lily Daly

Lily Daly– Herman Hesse involved himself with Jungian philosophy and psychoanalysis in 1916. His interest in psychoanalysis arose from curiosity and a need to understand himself: he wanted self-realization, and he hoped for an ensuing reconcilement and ability to write and create. With the start of the war, he had begun to work for an organization that sent literature to German soldiers abroad in France and America. His growing, severe depression derived not only from disgust over the war, society’s militarism and the strain he put on himself working for the organization, but also from several upheavals within his home life: his father had died, his young son was sick, and his marriage was disintegrating. In Lucerne at a private clinic, Hesse began psychoanalysis with a student of Jung’s (Sobel). Intrigued by the idea of the underlying, repressed unconscious, he worked to create a more aware, intimate relationship with this colossal, shaping part of his being. A work most noticeably influenced by his knowledge of psychoanalysis is Demian (1917). He wrote one essay that directly discussed the relationship between psychoanalysis and literature, entitled Künstler und Psychoanalyse. With psychoanalysis, Hesse believed, a writer struggling with his worth as a man and as an artist can vitalize himself and find inner-value; this is achieved by facing and understanding what suppression the unconscious contains and ultimately accepting its contents as part of the person’s self. Becoming aware of and accepting his unconscious–the boundless source of creativity and originality when not plagued by the conscious’s unwanted thoughts and desires– the writer can renew his confidence in himself and his abilities (Mileck). Psychoanalysis did not “cure” Hesse; however, he had hope that Jung’s ideas had truth within them and were worthy guidelines to harmonizing the self.

In Jungian philosophy, dissonance in man arises from his consciousness. Aware of its existence, consciousness strives to distinguish and form itself, to develop a personality. The conscious’ continual pursuit of realization, according to Carl Jung, creates a separation from the naturally balanced, neutral unconscious. What results over time is an unconscious grown heavy with festering energy, with the thoughts, fears and desires that the conscious finds disgusting and wants to hide. The tense relationship between the conscious and unconscious unravels the man, distorting his sense of self and alienating him from who he truly is. Jung believed that the source from which humans connect with God is the unconscious. Thus, an alienation with one’s unconscious also means an alienation from God or from the opportunities of experiencing God.

Alienation from the self, society, and God is a prevalent theme in Hesse’s most autobiographical novel, Steppenwolf. Hesse began Steppenwolf in 1925, and the novel was published in 1927. Before Hermine enters into his life, Harry Haller finds himself stuck, aware of his unconscious but sickened by it. He is a mixture of contradictions: disgusted by society’s mediocrity, ignorance, stagnant everyday lifestyle, and reliance on technology, he is unable to pull himself away and let himself belong and revel solely in the spiritual aspect of life; unfulfilled by a life of intellectual pursuit and abstract thought, he shies away from and is sickened by a life of personal connections, impulse, unrestrained behavior and daring. As he goes from one extreme to another trying to understand and define himself– from being the man to the myriad sides of the wolf and back to the man, dipping in and out of his unconscious– he traverses a mental vacuum of emptiness and loneliness, deeply hating himself and the world he inhabits. When he acts on his more sensual, wolfish desires, he feels dirty and impulsive, further alienating and repressing his unconscious. Despite so much inward searching and thinking, he cannot locate himself. He fences himself in with the idea that the wolf part of him is disgusting and flat. Aware of this wolf side, he disregards its complexity and worth, lumping so much beauty and capability under an animalistic, connotatively foul name. He ruins his ability to understand all of his being: ” {…} I had painted a picture of myself as a person who was in fact nothing more than a most refined and educated specialist in poetry, music {…} and as such I had lived, leaving all the rest of me to be a chaos of potentialities, instincts and impulses which I found an encumbrance and gave the label of Steppenwolf” (Hesse). By acknowledging the intricate chaos and disorder within himself, by digging deeper within the blanket-term wolf and seeing that in the foul there is beauty and potential and not solely hindrances, he begins to accept and appreciate himself. Hermine, like a doctor of psychoanalysis, like a “mirror” held up to his being, helps Haller to see himself: “The Steppenwolf treatise, and Hermine too, were right in their doctrine of the thousand souls” (Hesse). This realization is no means permanent: it takes continual meetings with Hermine to keep him from turning against his unconscious. Like the weekly meetings with a doctor, Haller’s meetings with Hermine keep him from giving into his cravings for his old way of thinking and living: “Had Hermine let me for one week alone I should have fled at once…” (Hesse).

“Modern man,” Jung says, “is sorely enough beset by his own bad conscience, and wants rather to know how he is to reconcile himself with his own nature – how he is to love the enemy in his own heart and call the wolf his brother” (Tormod Kinnes). To accept and to love himself– to accept the unconscious, the wolf– is the only hope for peace within a splintered man. Before Hermine, Haller found the wolf within him– his unconscious–to be an “encumbrance,” to be an entire half of unified sickness, rather than something vital and balanced but distorted by being misunderstood and hated. A beaten down unconscious sabotages a man’s way to self-acceptance and ultimately, in Jungian philosophy, to God and eternity. At his core, and explicitly stated in the treatise, Haller and the Steppenwolves recognize a separation from home, from the “primal mother” which, according to Jung, is the “original state of unconsciousness.” Man, the Steppenwolf treatise says, “is nothing else than the narrow and perilous bridge between nature and spirit. His innermost destiny drives him on to the spirit and to God. His innermost longing draws him back to nature, the mother” (Hesse). As Haller is stuck between his hatred and his childlike love for society– for when he allows himself, coming from a good place within his wolf side, he, like a child, soaks in the happenings around him and feels ecstasy in being connected–Haller hangs between the idea of returning to where he came from and the idea of continual motion forward to the goal. His yearnings for the primal mother are, it seems, to be the yearnings of the unconscious suffocated underneath the burdens of life and the unconscious. Like a beaten child, the warped unconscious wants to go back home. Haller hangs between the solace of dissolution of the self in nature with the primal mother (like a child) and the solace of God and eternity that awaits at the end of a lived life. According to the treatise, if he commits suicide, this will only push him farther away into a more convoluted, distorted place; as he continues to live, experience, fail, and learn, he becomes closer and closer to the cold eternal. By unburdening the unconscious, the unconscious can help push him to eternity.

Jungian philosophy believes that to live a satisfying life a man must be aware of his unconscious and accept what he finds there: he must wade through the “bad” parts of the self that the conscious wants to bury and unburden the source of originality and health and balance. This unconscious is where God can be reached, where faith, affirmation and happiness can be experienced. A man should not go back, like a child, to the unconsciousness of nature: “The world comes into being when man discovers it. But he only discovers it when he sacrifices his containment in the primal mother, the original state of unconsciousness” (Tormad Kinnes). By striving toward freeing and understanding the unconscious, the unconscious will open up and lead him to eternity. A man can understand himself and with this understanding create a relationship with the world and ultimately God. Like Jung, like Harry Haller, Hesse himself did not know the way to ultimate peace, but he strove to always understand and accept himself, having faith in the Jungian philosophy.


Works Cited

Hesse, Hermann. Steppenwolf. Trans. Joseph Mileck and Horst Frenz. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1963.

Mileck, Joseph. Hermann Hesse: Life and Art. University of California Press, 1978. Web. 17 Apr 2012.

Sobel, J. “Herman Hesse.” The Herman Hesse Page. 2 May 1997. Web. 17 Apr 2012.

Tormod Kinnes, MPhil.  “Jung Thought to Consider.” 2009-2011. Web. 17 Apr 2012.

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