In reading an excerpt of Herman Hesse’s “Steppenwolf” for my audio c.d. Existentialism course, I’m struck by how much of the creative process is accepting your own inner beast with all its variety. Hesse describes a man-beast, who despises the bourgeoisie life of reporting to an office and refuses comfort from the salient symbols that satisfy the more childlike and demure personalities of a culture. And yet, the man-beast is never satisfied because when he unleashes the primal raw energy of his fury and sexuality, the man side of him disapproves of his cruelty, his animalistic crudeness and his lack of faith in the goodness of others. But when the man side takes over, the wolf within mocks the man’s hypocritical, clumsy attempts at goodness which are rarely more than masked self-interest. And so the Steppenwolf wanders – outside of society, at war with himself, at risk of self-destruction.
Certainly, I relate to the struggle of the Steppenwolf. I never trust artists who report to a nine-to-five and find they are rarely more than hobbyists hoping for a promotion that will never materialize. To live the life of an artist, you have to risk something. You have to step into an unsafe wildnerness all alone. You have to reject something that makes sense to almost everyone else. And you have to live with the suffering that, indeed, you may fail. That is the greater likliehood. You must endure watching others make steady progress in the world while you scavenge for hidden beauty that others won’t see. They probably won’t see it even after you’ve found it against all odds and hold it up to their face. They will say you are holding thin air. But if you are a Steppenwolf, what choice do you have?
But Hesse isn’t so cruel as to provide a penetrating observation without a solution…or at least some hope. For him, the Steppenwolf’s salvation comes when he realizes that he is not just man and beast, but (to paraphrase) man, beast, butterfly, flower, stream, brick castle, poverty-stricken child and bourgeoisie banker all rolled into one. The mistake of the Steppenwolf is in seeing himself as divided in two. Actually, he is divided into infinite.
And so, reading Hesse, I have realized something about “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” A few days ago, playwright Zsa Zsa Gershick implored me to search for myself in all the characters. I took the advice to heart and have been mindmapping to better understand the humans that populate the story. Hesse and the Steppenwolf admonish me to go one step further and see the script as a reflection of the fragments of my soul that come together as one complete universe in the script itself. The longing for unity that drives men to destroy themselves can only be satiated when these variegated parts come together in a satisfying arrangement, for which there is no math to determine. Simply accepting the infinite aspects of my own psyche and allowing them to orchestrate themselves will be enough. The script is not so much a war between various sides of myself, but a chance for them all to show up and dance together. It only looks like a battle because, well, for most of us, we lose touch with the reality of the Steppenwolf so quickly and so often that inevitable inconsistencies and paradox always look like war.
Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink, an open source production company. Our filmmaking blog charts the progress of each of our projects. If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).