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"He was wont to say that if he had read as much as other men, he should have known no more than other men." -- John Aubrey (for once not being plagiarised by Anthony "a" Wood) on Thomas Hobbes.
Note: I link book titles to copyrighted works in translation and to Project Gutenberg when works are public domain. For copyright restricted works, I link to only independent bookstores (Powell's and Politics & Prose) and Alibris.com, a consortium of used bookstores. I am not aware of any conflicts with Alibris.

I was fourteen years old -- the age when boys turn into frenzied creatures half monster and half angel -- innocent in deed, perhaps, but not in thought -- the age that Vonnegut described as the most dangerous force on earth -- and I was in Boney's Rexall in Claxton, Georgia. It was 1976. Claxton, Georgia, incidentally, is where those rectangular fruitcakes come from, and they are not a joke. In 1978 I would go to Europe as a "high school ambassador," and every Stuckey's I would see would have the Claxton Fruitcake product. Boney's drug store was on the same block as the bakery, and it had cool toys, and it had spinner racks of comic books and spinner racks of paperback books.

There, I saw

THIS

Cover of the Bantam edition of Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf (1973). Illustrator appears to have been the same for all of Hesse's works for Bantam in the 1970's.
Pretty hot, right?
the Bantam edition of Steppenwolf, by Herman Hesse. The cover has a woman with her dress coming off as she demurely turns from the viewer! I turned the paper sideways to see if I could get a better view. (If you haven't been a fourteen year old boy, don't judge. At that age, the male gaze is like deep water on a diver, always present, always pressing, pretty nearly always unpleasant.)

Now, I knew that the band that had the hit with "Born to be Wild" didn't write a book. I knew the book was old (maybe 1940's, I guessed). Later on, I would see Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis and think that the band Aerosmith had punned off it (but there is also Robert Arrowsmith). However, I figured, "The book must be pretty good, if a band named itself in honor of it," and, more importantly, I wanted to see what inspired that cover painting, so I bought it and became a Philosophy major and then an English major and then on to graduate school.

Of course.

If you have read Herman Hesse's 1928 novel, you will know that it's not exactly a sex, guns, drugs, and sex guns sort of thriller. It isn't even trippy by the standards of the mid-70's. When I finally re-read it as a professional jade (i.e. English professor), I marveled that I had read it as a teenager. Like a few European novels of the 1920's, one has to pay admission in the first one hundred pages by being bored to death. How did I manage it?

Well, when I was fourteen, I was hungry. In fact, as hungry for the lady on the cover as I might have been, I was starving for the anti-middle class perspectives inside the cover. I grew up with the vain and vapid culture of a corporate suburb, where grown men hectored McDonald's counter workers for not having a hot hamburger, because they knew how to run a business, and here was a non-stop criticism of the bourgeoisie. My craving for sophisticated dinner parties with intellectuals (where the cover model might be) and my starvation for any attempt at discussing the instability of the self, which is what adolescence is all about, performed a strange alchemy. They made me wolf down the book and then begin hunting down Hesse's allusions.

Hesse mentioned Nietzsche. Right! Back home in Atlanta, I was off to the book stores to get The Portable Nietzsche. Hesse mentioned Kant. You betcha! Critique of Pure Reason looked pretty good, and the all black cover (can't find an example to show you) was really enticing. Most of all, Hesse goes on and on and on about "Wagner" and Jung. I couldn't find anything, in 1976, by "Wagner," but The Portable Jung was the meat and dessert for all my meals. I was fifteen.

Nietzsche mentioned "Hegel," but I couldn't find a first name by which to look him up in the library at the community college (where they always stared at me). (I felt as if I were being constantly accused of not being intelligent enough to be there.) I couldn't find any books by "Hegel." I also couldn't find any books by "Kierkegaard" -- again, no first names! It was like sneaking into a party uninvited and in disguise. Kant and Nietzsche talked about "Descartes," and so I found Discourse on the Method but was bored by it. I also got but did not finish Pascal's Pensees.

You may or may not believe me, but I actually understood these works.

They honestly aren't that hard to understand. They're hard to read.

However, my frustration at not being allowed at the grown-up's conversation was getting worse, because I went to my teachers in high school asking for what they knew about the authors I was reading and . . . they had never heard of any of them. The exception was the teacher of the Gifted program. She immediately wanted to give me an IQ test. Apparently, my IQ went up 35 points between third and tenth grades!

(There is actually an explanation for that, but it has nothing to do with books that change one's life.)

Autographed copy of The Jungle on the novel's fiftieth anniversary, special Socialist Press edition, with personal dedication to Lyndon Johnson administration figure Eric Goldman. Book currently in the Baltimore City College library.
"To all the books I've known before...." An autographed copy of The Jungle.
Teenage lust and a hard rock band led me to a book that then shone like a compass rose, and my famishment for knowledge proved a deeper desire than the visual thrills of the half-dressed cover art, one that eventually became love, which does not desire in order to own. Un-piloted, I set out on a free association of names -- book surfing. The result, eventually, was that when I went to college, my classmates asked me which private school I had attended. When I told them I was from a public school and I just liked reading philosophy, they gave me a wide berth.

However, many of us have had the private lust for footnotes. It's alright; we can admit it. Once I was in the Gifted program, the teacher got me reading T.S. Eliot. In her office, she had her old college textbooks, but I didn't know that's what they were. Still less did I know what it meant that her Norton anthology's spine was in good shape. I simply thought that she, like me, venerated books so much that she, like me, would not open them all the way up, lest their feelings got hurt. At the local book shop, I got a thing called The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, edited by Richard Ellmann, and I, um. . . read it. I read it because no one told me not to, just as I read Kant because no one told me I couldn't.

But I had an experience that probably a few of you have had, too. I read "The Waste Land" and had absolutely no idea what it meant. (I still don't know what it means, to tell the truth.) At the end of the poem, though, you can imagine my delight when I saw "Notes." It was a pile of books guaranteed to be "Books Smart People Read." Hooray! Age 16 - 17 was set! I could breathe the air from the wider world, where serious people thought serious things!

How many copies do you reckon Jessie L. Weston sold of From Ritual to Romance? Mythographic anthropology from 1920 discussing the Osiris/Isis myth and the Grail, and it's still in print? If you believe it's due to the virtues of the scholarship, then maybe you'll believe the TEA Party is a grass roots movement. How many people chased down The Golden Bough because of Eliot's "Notes?" How many people besides me went chasing down French Symbolists and Arthur Symonds because of Eliot? Thanks to the "Notes," Jungian views of archeology permeated popular culture for forty years.

How many of you got an education from chasing footnotes? How many found yourselves better off for the frustration of being untutored? How many are not ashamed of formerly saying "jung" with a hard J and "Nits chuh?" How many, like a student I heard giving a senior thesis, said "je-soots" for "Jesuits?" These are badges of honor! Say it wrong, say it loud, and say it proud.

So important is the autodidact, especially to democracy and wealth equality, that hypertext was designed, once upon a time, to link all our footnotes together. It used to allow the lost fourteen year olds and weary textual critics to go from a text to its allusions, then sources in full, and to those works' sources. Once, we were supposed to surf from product to source to cognate. That was before clicks were monetized and sites began trying to keep people inside their .com's, but that lust for footnotes is still there, perhaps in Wikipedia, perhaps in a future project, but it will never die out.

I know you have a tale to tell. Let's share our testimony to the seeds that grow wild, not the gardens. Perhaps you heard about an author's "influences," then learned of new influences, then new ones and had a book turn itself from an entertainment to a key while it was still in your hands, or perhaps you followed a rock band's lyrics or name and fell into a sea of good reading, challenging thinking, and new horizons.

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 05:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  But "2112" didn't make me read Ayn Rand (48+ / 0-)

    Neither did "Who's Next" get me to take up transcendental meditation.

    "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

    by The Geogre on Wed Jun 18, 2014 at 12:00:50 PM PDT

  •  Holy Moly!! (17+ / 0-)

    Neitsche, Kant, Hesse, Jung, Descartes, Pascal---at age 14??

    They honestly aren't that hard to understand. They're hard to read.
    No wonder you grew up to be a college professor. I tried to read some of that as an adult and found them, er, somewhat didactic.
    When I was 14 I was reading Playboy and figuring out how to have sex with myself

    Happy just to be alive

    by exlrrp on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 05:49:35 AM PDT

    •  "I wanna know about the mystery dance" (12+ / 0-)

      As Elvis Costello sang,
      "You can see those pictures
      In the magazines
      But what's the use of lookin'
      When you don't know what they mean?" :-)

      I had an older brother who had gone to the dingy places in Atlanta and had a super-well-hidden cache of . . . books with few words, but I wouldn't find that until after the miracles of sublimation.

      I tried reading Kant's Critique of Judgment as a grown up, all smarty pants, and I was so frustrated with the pace, the caution, and the redundancy, that I couldn't go forward. When I was fifteen, I really liked the building of every proposition, step by step, like twigs in a nest (as Kierkegaard would later say).

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 07:36:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You mean the kind of books you read with one hand? (4+ / 0-)

        Its a sign of the times but you can buy those same kinds of magazines in supermarkets nowadays. Saves hunting up those dingy old smokeshops or so I've been told.

        When I was 15 I thought about girls a lot:  my relations with them and how to improve that situation to the exclusion of other large philosophical concepts..
         Kierkegaard---wasn't she that Swedish actress in I Am Curious Yellow?

        Happy just to be alive

        by exlrrp on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 09:50:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I read them too at that age. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The Geogre, oceanview

      Not Descarte and Pascal.  I wouldn't have known where to get them.  But Geogre and I followed similar paths.  It may have been because of the sixties.

      •  I wished I had been born earlier (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dumbo, chrisculpepper, oceanview, melo

        Instead of getting 1968, I got 1978. Victoria Williams has a song that calls it, "The Summer of Drugs," and that's what that time was. The drug culture was highest in popular media in the middle of the 70's than since (it was the era of Cheech & Chong as well as "Kentucky Fried Movie" and "The Boob Tube"). Whereas 1968 had all of that cool psychedelia, we got Fleetwood Mac, Peter Frampton, and Kiss, and that was after Bread, Jim Croce, and the "mellow" movement.

        We created punk, and our year was 1979-80 -- a great year for music -- but all of that Reaganism made people choose sides early, and our side wasn't very cuddly.

        "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

        by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 06:15:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I can relate. (11+ / 0-)

    Small Southern town, odd stares from the teachers and the librarian. Lust, college!

    Kierkegaard, um, not so much.

    All religion, my friend, is simply evolved out of fraud, fear, greed, imagination, and poetry. --Edgar Allan Poe

    by gzodik on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 06:13:14 AM PDT

    •  Compared to Nietzsche (11+ / 0-)

      If you start where you're supposed to start -- the "A" volume of Either-Or -- he's a peach. That's not where I started, of course. No. Not me. No, I had to start with The Sickness Unto Death. Everything but the conjunctions was underlined.

      I felt as if I understood everything and "got" nothing.

      Then I read Concluding Unscientific Postscript, and it was as if it were a different author. Only much later did I "get" that Kierkegaard wrote in a bunch of voices, that he's probably the most literary philosopher of the lot (including Spinoza), that he does some things in what passed for formal philosophy of his day, other things as quasi-novels, other things as addresses to readers, other things as moral tracts. . . .

      I'm convinced that the Internet did a service to small town weirdos by connecting them and did a disservice by trimming the idiosyncrasies that bloom into individuality.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 07:43:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  "Je-soots!" (13+ / 0-)

    I like it, and will pronounce it that way whenever I remember to.

    I'm a late-blooming autodidact, having had little intellectual preparation for college, and less maturity to figure out what I was doing there.  I might have become an English major, but the first Junior-level course I tried intimidated me out of that idea.  

    I ended up with a degree in Computer Science and a hunger to find out what was going on in the "great minds."  Sexy book covers don't hurt either.

    •  It was an enjoyable :20 (9+ / 0-)

      At first, I was, "Who? What is he talking about?" Then, eventually, "Je. . . Does he mean?" From then on, I couldn't help but smile in sympathy and at the added bonus.

      We can't be afraid to be wrong. Sometimes. . . just sometimes, we're not only right, but the first person in the world to have been so right. In a lot of ways, I prefer students from "poorly served" backgrounds, because the smart ones don't know they're smart. When they have an observation about a piece of literature, there's a chance that it will be an absolute hum-dinger.

      I had a student come up with a brand new, never in the world written up, observation about the old Childe ballad "Sir Patrick Spense." I had a failing student not only 'get' At Swim-Two-Birds, which is "too hard," but see something in it that no one has ever written up. The students who are well trained know exactly how smart they are and are sometimes held back by their training.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 07:51:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is the best thing I have read in weeks! (15+ / 0-)

    Bravo! I know a fourteen year-old, who is way smarter than the rest of us, and I will make sure he reads this.

    As for me, it was To Kill A Mockingbird, a somewhat astonished and confused librarian (my favorite people on the planet), and a brilliant Aunt who sent me on a journey into the world of African-American writers, a totally unknown country in my upper middle-class whitebread world.

    There was also a side journey into civil rights that while containing a good deal of footnote directed reading, was mostly direct action.

    Great diary. Thank you.

     

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

    by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 06:49:08 AM PDT

    •  Good aunt! (10+ / 0-)

      When I was in college and taking a class in "African American Literature," I asked, "I get why there is an experience that is different for Black writers, but I don't get why this literature isn't in American Literature and especially in Southern Literature classes. Aren't they incomplete without it?" The professor was obviously aware of a very, very long and rich debate over that question that I was not.

      "Read Cane and research Jean Toomer's critical standing today." Wow. First, here was a novel written about a town not a hundred miles from Emory University (Sparta, GA) that folks weren't crawling all over to discuss, and here was a career that. . . . Well, the question I asked could be answered, but not unequivocally.

      Today's AmLit anthologies are better, but. . . The questions are what matter, because they keep us going. Answers are great, so long as they're not definitive, because living things aren't much like that.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 08:05:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Two things amaze me about The Geogre's diary today (19+ / 0-)

    The first is the fact that, with the exception of the Gifted and Talented teacher, his high school teachers had never heard of any of the writers he mentioned.

    WHAT? What did these people study in college or even in high school? I mean, not to have heard of Hesse, Nietsche, Kierkegaarde, Kant, and Hegel et al. indicates an almost unimaginable provincialism. I'm still stupefied, actually.

    The second is that this dazzling voyage of intellectual discovery was undertaken by an adolescent male. Fueled by lust it may have been, but insatiable intellectual curiosity is a quality to be prized almost before any other (I would say kindness and tolerance take precedence).

    Thank you, Rescue Rangers, for promoting this diary to "Community Spotlight." 'Tis an honor well deserved!

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 07:27:14 AM PDT

    •  I wasn't amazed (9+ / 0-)

      but then again I went to a high school, in a town with an Ivy League university in it no less, where most of my teachers wouldn't have heard of Hesse, Nietzsche, etc. (Though the AP English teacher senior year did have us read "Siddhartha". And Shakespeare. We finally got Shakespeare in 12th grade.)

      A lot of that was due to the town-college hatred that was apparently traditional there.  We did, after all, have a conference leading football team!

      The thing about quotes on the internet is you cannot confirm their validity. ~Abraham Lincoln

      by raboof on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 07:52:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  It's why I became a teacher (12+ / 0-)

      The truth is, I wanted no one to ever suffer that fate.

      Only now do I know how such things were and are possible, and I can even mitigate the blame I've felt for so long for them.
      1. "Good" teachers were then those who had the most classes in Education in college, and I was in a top-rated high school.
      2. Many states have certification standards that all but require an Education major. It is not actually possible to major in the thing you plan to teach, and therefore you may have only 6 hr of credit in college beyond core classes in what you're teaching.
      3. "General studies" and folks who decide early on that their desire is to do a job are not eager to get the difficult stuff in.
      Our AP teacher would have known all those titles, but I didn't qualify for AP, because my grades were low, because I was tracked into the "low middle" classes, because my IQ, taken in 3rd grade, said that's where I belonged (until 10th grade).

      Before the world wide web, before the Internet, those teachers would have needed to have looked in an encyclopedia, and our little library had only the basic encyclopedia, so I learned that Friedrich Nietzsche was a German nihilist. Well, duh. The Introduction told me that. The "Introduction" to The Critique of Pure Reason, on the other hand was meant for Phil. majors in college, so it tried to help with continental rationalism (i.e. it's a thing to read after you've read the book).

      I wanted, initially, to teach private high schools -- to be sure that no one ever got, "I dunno" from a teacher as an answer again. (Mine is, "Huh. Don't know. Let's see how we can find out.")

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 08:34:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I've always meant to read "Steppenwolf" (10+ / 0-)

    and now I have one more reason to put it in the TBR-NOW pile.

    What a great diary!  I loved the way you captured your youthful quest of learning and how you found your way through the thickets of philosophy and your own male hormones.  

    I'd love to know what you like to read now.  Maybe you will be inspired to write another diary about the books you love.  As I move along the continuum, I find that reading is one of the most reliable pleasures.  

    It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

    by Radiowalla on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 08:28:54 AM PDT

    •  I tried and failed to read Steppenwolf. (10+ / 0-)

      Must have fallen into the boring first one hundred pages and never got up again. I just didn't like the steppenwolf. And I am always reminded of my old friend who was an exchange student in Switzerland in HS and explained to her classmates that the coyote was a steppenwolf.

      But I loved Siddhartha and, even more, Narcissus and Goldmun (which I highly recommend).

      This is a great diary and I hope to see more in this vein.  

      "You can observe a lot just by watching." ~ Yogi Berra

      by dandy lion on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 08:42:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Those 100 pp (6+ / 0-)

        If you can survive "The Treatise on the Steppenwolf". . . .

        Actually, I wouldn't blame a modern reader who skipped that bit. I mean, you've got it by then: middle class, expectations that can't be fulfilled, aestheticism is expected as a feat, but can't be experienced -- essentially, people are supposed to admire Liszt, but as a received opinion, not actually feel it. Therefore, the aesthetic and sexual are thrilling and outcast, and so the artistic soul feels split.

        Unstated is what he's done, but we're supposed to infer it, I think. He has to confront this treatise (that his mind wrote, really) to confront the possible selves... and stuff, I think.

        "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

        by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 09:12:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Currently... (10+ / 0-)

      Currently, I'm having trouble. I'm coming off a high of two excellent books.

      I read Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon. It's excellent for causing Thoughts, but not because it was really . . . . You know, it was. It was a page turner. It was fun to read, and I looked forward to every minute I could read it.

      Then, I read Carlotta Gall's The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001 - 2012 (2014). That book I flew through. It may be one of the best non-fiction books I've read -- certainly the best I've read this year. I have quarrels with organization on the micro- level, but the overall, and the way the thesis doesn't dominate, is superb. Gall was one of the reporters who broke the Dilawar story that led to "Taxi to the Dark Side." She was connected to Afghanistan before 2001 and has reported from there for the NYT and LAT among others.

      Now, I'm on Jeremy Scahill's Dirty Wars, and I feel like a traitor to party if I say that it needs editing. I mean, it's good stuff, but. . . I can't READ it.

      I've never read Vonnegut's novels, so I'm about to read Player Piano for no good reason.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 09:05:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Read it long ago, (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The Geogre, Brecht, Aunt Pat, blueoasis

      in my late teens, early twenties. Now I need to go back and read it again.

      •  So long as you do it the S/z way (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Brecht, Aunt Pat, blueoasis, Dumbo, oceanview

        I'm kidding, I think (hereis an online version of S/Z and I have to assume the legality is alright) (ah, it's an extract! bon!). (Roland Barthes, in Writing Degree Zero, advocates reading works off of the line, reading with freedom, reading for play and pleasure. S/Z illustrates that.) When I assigned it in an independent study class, I kept saying, "Man, this novel really isn't good? Why did I like it? Why did I love it? How did it change my world?"

        My student, on the other hand -- 21 years old, completely encased in S. Georgia and Baptist expectations -- kept saying, "This is my favorite thing we've read. This is really my favorite thing. No. Really. Sure, there were boring parts, but this rocks."

        I think it might truly rock. If you need a rock to break open the shell, this book will do it. If you're like the love interest in the novel and way, way beyond being two people, you may not want a rock so much.

        "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

        by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 11:18:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Me too (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        The Geogre, Aunt Pat, oceanview

        and I have to say I didn't think all that much of it.  

  •  Guy in geometry class slipped me copy of (8+ / 0-)

    "The Journey to the East," inaugurating the 1960's for me (this was in fall 1966, well after a lot of it had already happened, including Kesey's bus tour).  I was 16. Next to Magister Ludi the book is probably the unsexiest thing ever, but that was just the point--to read such chaste stuff seemed the most rebellious thing in the world, and all of a sudden everybody was reading Hesse, which made reading Hesse a great way to get girls.

  •  Your diary is halfway between everyman & eccentric (12+ / 0-)

    genius (as I expected, from you). Thanks for bringing so much of yourself to the community, and for the second and third diary you're compiling, in your generous responses to your readers.

    I caught a Hesse bug in my teens, read half a dozen, found Steppenwolf compelling and The Glass Bead Game transporting.

    Eliot shifted a lot of copies of From Ritual to Romance, but The Golden Bough was a book with many memes whose time had come, so Eliot was one of a myriad authors and thinkers it influenced:

    Despite the controversy the work generated, and its critical reception amongst other scholars, The Golden Bough inspired the creative literature of the period. The poet Robert Graves adapted Frazer's concept of the dying king sacrificed for the good of the kingdom to the romantic idea of the poet's suffering for the sake of his Muse-Goddess, as reflected in his book on poetry, rituals, and myths, The White Goddess (1948). William Butler Yeats refers to Frazer's thesis in his poem "Sailing to Byzantium". H. P. Lovecraft mentions the book in his short story "The Call of Cthulhu". T. S. Eliot acknowledged indebtedness to Frazer in his first note to his poem The Waste Land. William Carlos Williams refers to it in Book Two, part two, of his extended poem in five books Paterson. Sigmund Freud, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence, Aleister Crowley, Ezra Pound, William Gaddis, Mary Renault, Joseph Campbell, Roger Zelazny, Naomi Mitchison (in her The Corn King and the Spring Queen), and Camille Paglia, are some of the authors whose work shows the deep influence of The Golden Bough. Its literary ripples and references have given it continued life, even as its direct influence in anthropology has waned.

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 09:56:28 AM PDT

    •  Brecht, your knowledge of literature is profound, (9+ / 0-)

      even awe-inspiring. You and The Geogre must be twins, separated at birth! :)

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 10:49:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Frazer and Glazer (8+ / 0-)

      I think you're right about The Golden Bough, but it's hard, past 1929, to say what's an influence of TSE and what isn't. I hope you don't mind a bit of academibabble.

      Absolutely, the zeitgeist was bubbling through with it. I would point to:
      1. Modernist art's influences from African masks that awakened an interest in archetypes as well as the subconscious (Surrealism). The former meant a hunger for comparative anthropology.
      2. The late-stage nationalist myths of those idiots (I may have a slight hostility toward them). You know who I mean -- Hitler's crowd, but also Yeats's fascists, the Golden Dawn people, the theosophists and their tarot cards. They were trying to come up with an ur-myth that would be, alas, ethnic or national, and began with the assumption that archeology of anything pagan would lead there. (Graves was a big fool in my opinion, but I may be a big fool, too. I think one of us has to be.)

      On the other hand, anthropology itself almost went physical as a reaction, except for Claude Levi-Strauss and some others who would father/mother semiotics. To me, semiotics is a colder but safer product of the approach Frazer had started with.

      I do think, though, that the heyday was over among intellectuals, and yet those "Notes" kept people reading Frazer all through the 1960's and beyond.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 10:54:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  T.S. Eliot was the David Bowie of Modernism, Ezra (7+ / 0-)

        Pound its Lou Reed (well, except for Ezra's anti-semitism). Ezra's famous for his intuitive Gordian editing of The Waste Land; I'm sure he also turned Eliot on to a lot of sources and currents of art outside the mainstream.

        it's hard, past 1929, to say what's an influence of TSE and what isn't.
        Quite. There's always an archaeological excavation involved, when we project ourselves back a century and try to gauge who influenced whom, and how reputations rose and fell, based on the more recent literary historians and interpreters we've encountered. That was one of Eliot's favorite pastimes, probing bygone literary currents, and rearranging the river of fashion, closer to his own taste. And he had great skill at this.

        Most of your points make sense to me, and all of them are interesting.

        "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

        by Brecht on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 11:15:41 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Ooooh, a new thread! (7+ / 0-)

          Alright, I think:
          TSE was the Brian Eno of Modernism -- "too cerebral" according to the others, but influential on everyone.
          Pound was the Paul Simon -- liked, important, everyone knows that he's vital and important, but no one can point to any one thing and say, 'This is the best thing ever done,' and everyone wants him to have partners.
          Wallace Stevens was the Pere Ubu of Modernism.
          HD was the Emmylou Harris of Modernism -- everyone who knows about her knows that she's better than the people who get the credit (men), but she's still not getting the credit.

          This could be way too much fun.

          John Crowe Ransom is the Gram Parsons?

          "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

          by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 11:34:54 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Way too much fun, indeed. (6+ / 0-)

            How about Gertrude Stein? Patti Smith?
            (I think these things can't be thought through too much. First impulse, like playing Jeopardy.

            Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

            by peregrine kate on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 12:06:00 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  "Wallace Stevens was the Pere Ubu of Modernism" (6+ / 0-)

            You've already won the thread. Technically, Stevens would be the David Thomas of Modernism - except for the bonus points you get, with a rimshot off Alfred Jarry.

            I had considered that Eliot might be the Bowie (dowsing for tomorrow's fashions, selling the outré to millions), while Pound would be the Eno (recondite and fecund).

            Pound = Simon catches the exploration of obscurities, and making them mainstream (Graceland started a third-world-influence trend). I don't know Pound's poetry well, though the Cantos are famously opaque. The first things I think of with Simon are his great intuition and craft - he has made so many masterpieces.

            I'm an encyclopedia of rock, but my knowledge of Modernism and modernists is too sparse to juggle any further here. I'm planning to write a diary on Modernism vs. Post-Modernism one day, because doing so will force me to clarify the difference for myself. Auto-didactism should be universal - we might develop a meaningful democracy, if it were.

            "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

            by Brecht on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 12:15:39 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Books rescued me from (10+ / 0-)

    so much crap--some typical teenage angst, some problems particular to my family. I was introduced to whole new ways of thinking--new cultures, new perspectives--that I wasn't exposed to in the confines of my family or my narrow, Catholic, high school education.

    My fondest book memory is of finding the international authors section in an indie bookstore a year or two after I left home. I was like a kid in a candy store.

    Reading these days is still a way of escaping, but it's also much more integrated into my day-to-day life--always enriching in some way.

    The title you came up with for your diary drew me in for an excellent read. Thank you.

    •  Thank you ("Lunch hour" is reading hour) (7+ / 0-)

      My entire professional life, I have made a point of leaving work for lunch and not eating in the cafeteria, commissary, or attached dining hall. I almost always go alone, too. I reserve lunch for reading, and I select diners for whether or not they have tube aluminum chairs that will let out a demonic shriek with dragged, whether they will be television-free, and whether they have good light. I read while eating. I get very sore if this routine is upset.

      My favorite job was in Manhattan because I had a :45 commute. I rode the train for 1:30 every day, and I could read and read and read. I went through all three volumes of Shelby Foote's Civil War that way. If only everywhere had a train.

      You know, I think it may be time for me to start something I should have done a long, long time ago. I'm going to order an Octavio Paz.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 11:40:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The Self-Educated Man (9+ / 0-)

    in Sartre's Nausea is constantly observed at the local library deeply immersed in something or other.  The protagonist can't figure out what his interests are - he's always reading in a completely different subject, and generally something obscure.  Near the end of the novel, it finally becomes clear - the Self-Educated Man teaches himself alphabetically!

    A media that reports issues fairly and intelligently, and that holds power accountable, is an inherently liberal institution.

    by Dinclusin on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 11:53:37 AM PDT

  •  What a splendid diary. Autodidacts, unite! (10+ / 0-)

    That's a capacious category, actually, and after a point I think we come through the other side of formal education to do that again. Who's gonna tell us what to read, and how?
    This reminds me to send a thank-you email to my middle-school English teacher, a smart and generally kind woman who did a superb job of encouraging the young misfits in her class (a G & T program for 7th and 8th grade, and no, I don't mean gin and tonic). She would have run rings around the teachers you describe here, and she did her level best to set our own minds free to roam wherever we damn well pleased. Couldn't have been easy to cope with 13 & 14 year olds for years on end. Being in her class literally saved my life.
    Lots of fun to read about your intellectual development. This kind of autobiography ought to be required of all academics, no?

    Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 12:11:50 PM PDT

    •  Intellectual curiosity is the one credential (6+ / 0-)
      This kind of autobiography ought to be required of all academics, no?
      In my opinion, a person can go through the perfect preparation or the worst, but intellectual curiosity is EVERYTHING. I get non-traditional students who keep feeling bad that they didn't learn things before.

      I tell them that wanting makes knowing. Their classmates may have "learned" things, but they don't know them, whereas these non-trads are learning the things and holding them up, looking through them, and wondering what comes next. They end up with knowledge because they want it.

      I have yelled at a class perhaps twice in twenty-eight years, and both times it was because the class was exhibiting the "Do we HAVE to go to school today" attitude. . . in college.

      Intellectual curiosity is paramount. I've had colleagues who lacked it. Some of them even passed for living.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 01:45:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I still have that copy of Steppenwolf (10+ / 0-)

    and admit to having been seduced by the cover as a teenager.  I don't remember whether it was the lupine man or the unclad lady that was so appealing, or something about the combination...

    Once I was in it, I hardly emerged for a breath. Mozart and the laughter of the immortals was enough to make me very happy.

    I also chased down all the footnotes in the Wasteland while in high school, and read the books.  

    And obviously always fit in well with the misfits.  

    Loved the diary, it is always nice to find a virtual sibling.

    Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

    by barbwires on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 12:37:17 PM PDT

  •  My Story (7+ / 0-)

    Old Poet   Yellow Knife

    Once Jung and Freud were arguing
    And you can read about it
    Like I did today
    And Freud pissed his pants
    And Jung offered to psychoanalyze him
    Years later Freud was rolling into
    Some town where Jung lived
    And decided not to drop by
    Can you blame him?
    But this is called
    In psychoanalytic circles the
    “Kreutzenhollerin Blick”
    Or something like that.

    When Jung was a baby
    He had two personalities
    Number 1 and Number 2
    But that’s ok…so did his mama
    Years later he was asked to come back to Germany
    Declare Hitler insane
    He preferred not.  He was busy.
    “And who isn’t crazy these days?”

    Crazy men is leading us, my friends

    Even before my First Communion
    I knew I had to get away.
    School?   Nuns?
    A town with a West End and an East End?
    Who signed me up for this?

    You don’t get no points in
    Those louche joosh joints.

    Runnin’ from the Paterrollers.

    Shortcut through Fairview cemetery
    Goin’ to the library
    With a note from my mama.
    “Please let Dooley take out any book he wants”
    Knew all about zombies
    So when my grandmother got up from the grave
    And followed me down
    The weasel around her neck with its red eyes
    Her sayin’ “The turkey is a little dry, Jean.”
    I didn’t say “Feets don’t fail me now.”
    Might have whistled a bit though.

    The Patterrollers.

    And when oh them cigarette girls got up
    Dead after 30 years at Sun Ray Drugs
    Following me down and when all them
    Patterrollers started following me
    Maybe I walked a little faster
    Quick look behind but
    They was circlin’ round.

    “Who isn’t crazy these days?”

    And then at the library.
    “You can’t take out that book.”
    That note from your mama
    Doesn’t cut any ice.”
    I stole the book.

    Outside all my Zombies.
    Bowing before me.
    Crying “Ourance. Ourance!”

    Which wasn’t my name.

    And is the point.

    It’s ZERO degrees here in Yellow Knife
    And we is grateful.

    I am in my little room
    And when death comes
    We gonna have a “Kreutzenhollerin Blick”
    Death on the street  I lean out the window.
    Like Scrooge on Christmas Day!
    “We’re havin’ a “Kreutzenhollerin Blick,” Mr. Death.
    And I am not at home to you.”
    Him goin away saying
    “Who isn’t crazy these days?”
    And I won’t answer the door either.
    That’s how they got Mozart.
    I’m waitin’ for the Groovemaster.

  •  Thumbs up for the memories. (7+ / 0-)

    I can identify, though a few years later, but a very similar intellectually curious journey and then with the teaching levels for the same reasons.  I was able to retire quite early, a decision with which I struggled at the time, but I was able to pursue both my reading and other interests without continuing to work to overcome the emerging fundamentalism and general anti-intellectualism.  Perhaps selfish, but the decision also allowed more attention to and time for social and political activism.

    I think far fewer will discover and choose to follow such paths very far unless they happen to be fortunate enough to have the influences of someone close whom they trust and respect.

    Sir Toby to Malvolio in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: "Art any more than a steward? Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?" (virtuous=puritanical)

    by blueoasis on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 01:50:54 PM PDT

    •  The web SHOULD have been . . . (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blueoasis, Southcoast Luna

      I contributed a good bit at Wikipedia because of my self-teaching when I was young. I imagined a user -- a kid who reads an interview with a rock star who says that her record was really influenced by reading Isabel Aliende and then wants to know.

      There are a lot of reasons the flowers haven't bloomed. We're all "offloading" memory, supposedly -- having less and less memory. The .com's "monetized eyeballs" are enemies of self-teaching. The for-profit colleges are enemies of it.  Add to that the death of rock stars and radio, and we're losing the teenager.

      The power of the adolescent is amazing. There is serious power in not knowing what you cannot do. All of those computer geniuses who took only a few computer science classes and then dropped out to write major programs are simply other examples of the hunger.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 06:25:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yep, I remember the cover of that book (4+ / 0-)

    and I still have it, though I bought it a little earlier, as it is priced at $1.25 and the front "ad copy" is different. You've got to hand it to the marketing boys at Bantam, they knew how to sell a book to teenage boys of all economic classes. Perhaps this is a partial explanation for the Hesse "explosion" of the 1960s--horny teenagers. I think I bought it in the small book section of a discount department store and maybe it was on the rotating wire rack holder too. Poor old Hermann. I hope his books are being displayed in more comfortable, bourgeois surroundings today.

    Maybe this should have been self-evident, but in our high school English classes we read the usual suspect British or American authors. I'm guessing that most teachers were happy that at least some students took to these, not worrying about writers from other countries. I recall surreptitiously reading The Magic Mountain in some of my other classes. It turned out to be a fairly bad idea. I happened to wind up in south Georgia in my late teens and, since I didn't have anything pressing to do for a number of months, I read
    In Search of Lost Time while I should have been doing something else.

    If anyone is still listening to Police songs maybe they will look into Nabokov as he is mentioned in the lyrics of Don't Stand So Close to Me.

    Coincidentally, I just finished Under the Wheel a little while back, which I hadn't read for probably fifteen or twenty years. I guess one might facetiously call it Steppenwolf in Short Pants. It is the story of a semi-autodidact who, after reaching the toppermost of the academic ladder gradually crashes and burns. But the paperback cover is not at all erotic.

    Not to be a nitpicker, but we are dealing with a German author here, even though a non-stereotypical German, but Steppenwolf first came out in German in 1927.

    •  Correction fine with me: 1927 for Steppenwolf (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Southcoast Luna

      I took the "1928" from Bantam, I think, or Amazon. Odd.

      I can't believe another person who read Magic Mountain in high school! I didn't mention it in the diary, but I read that because I was sickly and not supposed to live. The gifted teacher who recommended it to me wanted to make the point of the attractiveness of illness.

      Well, that's great, but that novel is about Europe. Mann is always writing about Europe, it seems to me, and there we have an island of every European nation's finest in a heaven of money above world war 1 breaking out in the valley below. I actually liked the novel, or at least I was moved by it.

      I may want to finally really read Pale Fire. The first time I tried, I was expecting too much of a "The Knight of the Burning Pestle" or If on a Winter Night a Traveler.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 06:32:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Why I read (3+ / 0-)

        part of The Magic Mountain not only during high school but sometimes in class on the qt in high school I can't really remember. I must have had my adolescent reasons. I did most of my reading in a comfy chair in a small spare room in my house. It made for a nice little reading "burrow." I still remember some of the first books I read there--Great Expectations, The Immoralist, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I'm sure most people have their own list. And there was a certain element of pure escapism that perhaps doesn't hold as more books are read. And as others have mentioned, there were references in those books I didn't understand at the time that led me to more books. A virtuous circle.

        I think I was mostly captured at first by the story of Hans Castorp, a young man who finds himself in strange surroundings. It almost made TB fun. Almost. And secondly there is the whole story of European history and intellectual movements and culture, which was in many parts a mystery to me and that led to more looking things up, can't really call it research. I've read it twice and will probably read it again sometime in the near future. I've read other novels by Mann, but I don't think I really want to get around to the Joseph tetralogy, but who knows.  

        I've really enjoyed your post, The George, not only because of the specific books discussed, but because it brought back some fond memories of the time I began being a junior bookworm.

  •  this diary has been an education in itself, 8-) (5+ / 0-)

    I went through HS in a small logging town in Oregon, ca. 1962-66. Probably 90% of the teachers there, and then, let alone MY teachers, wouldn't have recognized most of those names.

    l had found Science Fiction in the 5th grade or so, however, so I was (and have continued to be) distracted by possible futures, rather than by the more academical (sic).

    I went through college in a daze, because I was supposed to, and knew I would need an "education" to support myself. Didn't EVER have a clear idea of what that might be; HS "advisor" was a very elderly lady who suggested Engineering because "I liked math". Turns out I liked Arithmetic, 8-). Never did figure out Calculus. So then I tried Geology, because my mother had liked a geology class she took in college... etc. etc. Unfortunately I never encountered a single instructor who "woke me up" about any of the stuff in your diary here.

    I know I missed a LOT of stuff, but it took me a while to figure that out, and by then it was too late, for me at least. But things like this are fascinating, and I thank you very much, The George.

    "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

    by chimene on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 04:15:10 PM PDT

    •  It's not too late, ever (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      oceanview, Southcoast Luna

      Just let pleasure lead. However, if you want a cool book of recommendations, Anthony Burgess's 99 Great Novels Since 1939 (I think that's the title) is really good. Burgess was a fine novelist, and he has good tips. When I was between college and grad school and working in a life insurance company, I got that Burgess book and started gobbling down novels. They were lovely.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 06:36:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Geogre, we would have probably had (4+ / 0-)

    some interesting discussions if we had known each other as teenagers.  I followed a similar path, with the advanced philosophy and lit readings at a precocious age.  And I can remember thumbing through classics like Steppenwolfe looking for the worthy stroke material.  (As I recall, there actually was some in it.)

    My own exposure to Jung came at an earlier age, though, through my mother.  My mother is 94, and I've been accumulating anecdotes that I might put in an obituary diary some day, but she keeps defying our expectations about that, so it may never be written while I'm alive.  I might just give up and post one about her anyway.  My last diary about my mom, written seven years ago, made the rec list, "My Mother Baked Biscuits for Nazis."

    Back in the early and mid sixties, my mother and her friends were deep into Carl Jung, along with Wilhelm Reich and Alfred Adler and Erich Fromm and Alan Watts.  I asked her years later how the hell that ever happened, and she told me it was because she and her friends all had the same gynecologist who was into that stuff, and he was like their spiritual guru.  My mom and her friends used to caravan from town to town to hear lectures and seminars by people like Watts.  

    I remember her telling me, one time, the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and then proceeding to deconstruct it for me in Freudian style (I was way too young to process this, of course).  For instance, the little red cap was a symbol for the hymen.  The woodsman who chopped up the wolf was symbolically castrating him.  I had to ask what castrating meant, and she explained, and I never wanted to hear that word again!  I asked her recently where she got all that shit from.  She couldn't believe I remembered that.  Then she said it came straight from the library book, "The Interpretation of Dreams," by Sigmund Freud.  

    My adolescence might have been more troubled than yours.  I'm manic depressive, but when I was a teenager, I was all depressive, almost all the time, and thought about suicide 24/7.  I remember that that's one of the things that kept me reading Steppenwolfe.  I identified with him, old man that he may have been, in his interest in things intellectual and his despair over whether to just stay alive.  The fact that the story pulls such a 180 switcheroo on that made it all the more effective for me.  And Mozart!

    I read Nietsche, read Kaufmann's books analyzing Nietzche, read Sartre and Camus (I remember a teacher whirling around in class and saying, "Camus???  You read some weird stuff, Dumbo."  I admired him so much because he pronounced it right.  

    When I was about fourteen or fifteen, late in my first year at high school, I spent a great deal of time in the library reference section reading books that condensed philosophy.  There was one book I studied from cover to cover, The Encyclopedia of Ethics.  In a Raskolnikov-ish nihilist decision, I eventually stole the Encyclopedia of Ethics from the reference section.  The librarians HAD to know it was me, because I'm sure nobody in that school ever touched that book.  I had fun imagining the librarian's conversations.

    "Somebody stole the Encyclopedia of Ethics!"

    "Maybe he stole it to raise money to feed a dying child!"

    "Perhaps.  But that doesn't justify it."

    "Or does it?"

    My brothers were coming back from the army by then and enlisting in college, and they had a flock of BEAUTIFUL college girls hanging around them for their deep intellectual anti-war subversive hippy conversations.  And pot, oh yeah.

    Maybe I should have been enamored with girls my own age at school, but I found them beneath me (or perhaps so I wished) because they couldn't hold up the high standard of conversation I had with these girl friends of my brothers.  No, I had bigger game in my sights!

    My brother recommended books to me, books they were all reading and talking about, and he liked that I was able to keep up.  One was Steppenwolfe.  

    Shocker.  Another was Ayn Rand.  "How the hell could that be????"  Well, there's a little bit of history here that will shock some people.  Ayn Rand was cool for a very short window of time during the war years.  Part of it was because she was an atheist and very vocally anti-war and distrustful of the government.  She felt that war was one of the worst legacies of collectivism.  The rest of her philosophy, the gold standard and laissez faire economics, was criticized but not taken as seriously as her condemnation of the Vietnam war, because that was the big issue of the time for people our age.  And, also, the Fountainhead was a very well written and fascinating book, regardless of her other political writings.  

    So, ironic as it might seem, there was a time when Ayn Rand was a real starting point for people who weren't destined to be Paul Ryan clones.  It was a gateway drug to other things.  I'm sure some people discovered T.S. Eliot after they first heard a Rod McKuen poem they liked.  Same thing.

    •  That's fascinating and amazing (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Diana in NoVa, Dumbo, Southcoast Luna

      It was the very deep drought around me, the sterility of the wealthy suburb, the self-assurance of the men in suits, the casual cruelty and pervasive greed that drove me on and on and on.

      I lost my religious faith around age 11 and decided that I would read every proof and disproof of God I could and decide for myself. None of the arguments on either side were worth a fig. Eventually, I would come back to religion, but I had already been through Alan Watts's books, TM, and all those tedious arguments. Later I would encounter an argument that I think is pretty good, but it wouldn't persuade anyone.

      As soon as I did come back to religion, though, I read The Cloud of Unknowing and The Seven Storey Mountain (St. John of the Cross). (You can see why, when I met up with Kierkegaard, it was a good fit. Rational anti-rationalism.)

      Oh, and to think of how badly things fell off from the 1960's to the 1970's, our fad reading was Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Ok, also Watership Down, which is good, but Love Story proves my point. The 1970's were so commercial, so corporate, and so stoned, it really gave young people a choice of somnolence or rage.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 06:49:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I remember in high school, there (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dharmasyd, The Geogre, Munchkn

        was a Coke commercial on TV all the time.  This one.  "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony..."

        And although I know some people LOVED that commercial, I was so deeply offended by it, I couldn't find words to explain it.  To me, it was fucking obscene.  I wasn't against people singing in harmony, or anything like that.  It was that they had targeted that commercial at people of my age group, seeking to exploit all the unfocused hippy dippy sixties sentiment in order to grow brand loyalty to their fucking brown sugar water,  But I couldn't even explain it that way.  I wanted to shoot all those people on that hill.  They weren't me or anything like me or anything I wanted to be.  I wanted nothing to do with them.  They were Stepford Teenagers.   And the fact that so many people felt heart-warmed about it offended me any more, as if they couldn't see the atrocity that was our whole country.

        Commcialzation?  Yup.  Resistance to it was some kind of defense of my teenage ego.  "They don't own me yet.  They never will.  I'm not one of their money making mind slaves, unable to see what they're really doing."

        I always loved dystopic lit.  1984, Brave New World, This Perfect Day, etc.  They all posited that the world was fucked but that most people couldn't even recognize how fucked it was because they were already part of the machine.  That synced perfectly with my impression of the world I lived in when I was 14.

        •  Exactly so (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Southcoast Luna, Dumbo

          There is a song by someone my age that captured how the despair matured. "Bastards of Young," by The Replacements, hits the perfect anthem of people without anthems, "Income tax deduction/ One hell of a function./ It beats picking cotton/ And waiting to be forgotten./ Unwillingness to claim us We've got no war to name us."

          "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

          by The Geogre on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 05:01:32 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I always prefered the National Lampoon's version (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dumbo, The Geogre

          I'm sure that somewhere on the internets there is a version of this song (I believe it was on the album "Radio Dinner")  I've forgotten most of the truly great literature I've been exposed to, but I remember these lyrics:

          I'd like to give the world a hug
          And tell it jokes and stuff.
          Then pull its pants down to its knees,
          And run it through the rough.
          Then tie it up with ropes and chains,
          And search its purse for change.
          Then leave it out at MooseGrin Hall
          With our cousin who's deranged.

          History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes. Twain

          by maisey on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 08:31:59 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Lovely diary (4+ / 0-)

    Chasing references isn't just an autodidact's delight, of course -- it's the very stuff of structuring knowledge.  Except now we have google scholar, and the joy is somewhat diminished by reading a foundational paper and then getting several thousand meaningless reference hits.  

    I too read Steppenwolf as a teenager, though I didn't really understand it except for the raised middle finger at the middle class, as you say, and the fact that being adolescent rendered the grandiose lubrigosity natural.  Didn't understand Pascal then either, but he improved with age.

    I have a lifelong terror of my own autodidactic roots.  I had excellent teachers who taught me that the most important arguments, the ones on which everything turns, are usually very old.   To me that is the worst part of being self taught -- that I have heard only the final snatches of a discussion started in antiquity and think myself clever for figuring out the previous two sentences.   I love the sort of foundational courage implicit in chasing the ideas where they go, and that the intellectual life you get is the one you create for yourself, not some absurd external rubric.   But I never want to be the person who has devolved into their own crankitude, without the sharpening feedback of other people chasing similar ideas.   It took a long time, and finally finishing an undergrad applied math degree in my mid-40s, to come to terms with that self-directed sneer.  

    ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

    by jessical on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 05:23:58 PM PDT

    •  You're absolutely right (4+ / 0-)

      I was terrified. I figured I had a 50/50 chance that anything I thought would be a cliche or wrong.

      The journey through graduate school helped me realize that the conversation has been going on for thousands of years, and there isn't really a first word. (I used to try to find out who "first said" particular things, and reference books would disagree. I would inevitably find prior examples than the earliest. ("We are dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants," for example, comes, in English, in print, from William Temple's "Essay on Ancient and Modern Learning," but it had been said earlier in French. The earliest French source seems to be at the time of Charlemagne and attributed to him. Then there is a Latin version before, then....))

      Classes and textbooks are about context, in my opinion, whether the context is "how to use it" or "how to develop it" or "how to understand it in a conversation," which is why we autodidacts want the classes and the books. Just don't insult your genius. Be proud of the energy it takes and the commitment you've shown to learn on your own. Never doubt that.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 06:56:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This diary of Geogre's has been so much fun that (4+ / 0-)

    we should MORE fun like this next week!

    All you readers and book lovers out there, take the plunge as The Geogre did and contribute a diary to "Books That Changed My Life." You'll be glad you did!

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 07:06:51 PM PDT

  •  Okay I was twice as old as Geogre when (5+ / 0-)

    for some reason I read Steppenwolf. I saw the cover sure, and the back was attractive, a lot, but what really attracted me was the title because that's the way I felt inside. I loved all of the book. The parts you say are boring to many were empowering. I felt noticed inside, validated, just like the main character. His swings through the craziness were part of a journey that seemed rational.

    And when in the end he was "sentenced to live," so was I. Those words may have even saved my life in depressing times to follow. And each day that sentence becomes more wonderful.

    So I loved this book for its own sake. And I benefit from it to this day.

    It was and is part of a personal journey that was intellectual, agreed, but also physical and spiritual. Now the joints of this wolf are growing stiff. But I still wander those steppes looking for something.

    Thanks for a great diary. Peace.

    garden variety democratic socialist: accepting life's complexity|striving for global stewardship of our soil and other resources to meet everyone's basic needs|being a friend to the weak

    by Galtisalie on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 09:45:28 PM PDT

    •  I may have been too hard on it in retrospect (5+ / 0-)

      Thank you for bringing the fresh eyes.

      What happened to make the validation less special was that the validation, especially the feeling that there was another person objecting to the sterility, to the expectations, was that I went on reading existentialist literature. I got a lot of validation from following the path further and seeing more and more suggestions that he has missed out on the fundamental issue of freedom. The Magic Theater shows him only what he always was.

      I also, though, read a lot of Marxist analysis in my academic work. I found that a lot of Hesse's peers in Germany and France were decrying the bourgeoisie of the pre-war years (pre-WW 1) for being so beautiful and static. In a sense, they were each -- the critics -- saying what Hesse said: you must live, must choose, and you can only do that by rejecting the still-life of appearances.

      I suppose I'm hard on the book as a novel because I've gone on to be a, as I said, a professional jade, but also because the existential door it opened let me go ....

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 05:20:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think because I came to Steppenwolf (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        melo, The Geogre, Southcoast Luna, Munchkn

        in my late 20's as I was firmly stepping away from Christian fundamentalist indoctrination, stuck in a profession, and focused in my off hours in directly experiencing freedom of a sort first hand, my capability for deeper intellectual delving was limited. I went on to read Siddharta, but no philosophers at all. By then, I'd killed so many brain cells and had such a short attention span that my options were limited. But between these two books, I felt free to explore meditation without guilt, which led to Merton, which led me to question the duty of the contemplative to society, something Hesse never fully recognized, which in turn led to a little dabbling in Marx.

        I am grateful to your far more methodical journey into the footnotes so that I can learn about what I missed. Cheers!

        garden variety democratic socialist: accepting life's complexity|striving for global stewardship of our soil and other resources to meet everyone's basic needs|being a friend to the weak

        by Galtisalie on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 07:46:50 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Heaven would be (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Geogre, Southcoast Luna, Munchkn

    Getting stuck on a desert island with all the people communicating here!

    Steppenwolf changed my life bigtime. Along with 'The politics of experience' ~ by Ronald Laing it was a psychic life-saver.

    The key passage in Hesse's novel was the visualisation of the self as jigsaw puzzle and the ability to deconstruct it (force majeure!) and reconstruct it in a better way.

    Yes and Mozart's laughter and the idea of every note in music being spurious, even Bach's!

    Hesse came into an important dream I had around that time (18 in 1969).

    Loved 'Demian' (unbelievably, out of print last time I checked), "Journey to the East', 'Siddartha' and my favourite "Narziss and Goldmund' for its narrative and characters. 'Glass bead game' was too long and abstract, I have tried to read it many times, always giving up half way through.

    Love your diaries, your students are divinely lucky, I hope they know it!

    why? just kos..... *just cause*

    by melo on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 10:04:32 AM PDT

    •  Laing -- Good one (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Southcoast Luna

      I haven't read it, and it was extremely important.

      Thanks for the kind words. (Professional life now imperiled as a shoe has dropped that we all knew was in the air.)

      What freed me most was Kierkegaard, to tell the truth. I know that's almost pretentious, but Steppenwolf had set the ideas in place, and the central conceit of Steppenwolf is actually in the "A" volume of Either/Or. (Either/Or is a book written by A, who is a young man full of passion and artistic life, disgusted and bored and filled with lust and joy, and B, who is a judge who writes to A telling him about Duty and Sobriety and Society. The trick to "Either/Or" is "Neither/Both." Kierkegaard regards the A author as the spiritual/aesthetic life and B as the "ethical" life. For him, the religious life must be all of the passion, all of the individual fire, all of the meaning and self, of A to achieve a set of duties to others and awareness of others derived not from obligation, but from love.) I had come back to religion and gone into the mystical, and it made perfect sense to me: half the equation is freedom, and the other half is being responsible for what you choose to be.

      I know it's kind of a cliche, and I was actually trying to find the venerated path, in a way -- it's what the hallowing of footnotes does when you don't have any other method -- but it let me out of the egoism of the mid-1970's.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 10:55:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The movie of Steppenwolf (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Geogre, Southcoast Luna

    was not great, but the screen hit when Pierre Clementi appears blowing awesome sax will stay in my head for ever.

    why? just kos..... *just cause*

    by melo on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 10:07:27 AM PDT

    •  I remember it being. . . static (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Southcoast Luna

      The film was probably pretty faithful, in retrospect, but it wasn't what my memory had painted. The acting was reserved, with meaningful looks, and then, of course, there was no way to do the theater.

      Hesse's references in that section were pretty darn hip for his day.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 10:58:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I am kicking myself I didn't click this open (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Geogre, Munchkn

    earlier so I could rec everyone's comments. What a gift you've given us readers on this glorious day. Thank you.

    Barn's burnt down -- now I can see the moon. (Mizuta Masahide)

    by Southcoast Luna on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 01:01:50 PM PDT

  •  I've read it a couple of times in German (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Geogre

    It's a good read for my German reading level. It sounds great in German.

    Nur für Verrückte

    I read more closely in German, cuz I have to, so I tend to get a little better acquainted with the details.  

    Streichholzschächtelchen

    by otto on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 06:12:20 PM PDT

    •  German speaking Am. prof recommended (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      otto

      Magister Ludi (Glass Bead Game) as his "Hesse that blows the mind." He insisted on it in German, too.

      I got ancient Greek (all gone now), Latin (almost all gone), and "French for reading" (never much there) for my languages before getting Anglo-Saxon.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 04:38:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent Bildungsroman in brief! Reminds me of (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Geogre

    being asked to explain Existentialism to my high school Humanities class (pretty advanced to even have such a class in 1964, right?).  I told about Sartre (especially novels and plays), Camus (novels), Kierkegaard.  I hated Heidegger then and still do, so I left him out...

    O Jungens, ich will doch gar kein Mensch sein (Jimmy Mahoney in Mahagonny by Brecht/Weill)

    by richardvjohnson on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 08:03:42 AM PDT

    •  Good for you. (I would too) (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      richardvjohnson, RiveroftheWest

      You know, in grad school, a professor said, 'Heidegger? Are people reading that now?' He explained. He had volunteered to the R.A.F. so that he could get to fight Hitler. As a Jewish American, US neutrality bugged him, and he was in WW2 until the meet up with the Russians. He said, "In my generation, there were some names we just didn't say."

      That made me go and find out about how Heidegger got his academic position. I hadn't liked him before, and then I decided that my professor was right: there are some things worth holding a grudge over.

      After I was a grown up, I despised (i.e. still do) the Nietzschean Triumph of the Will and Beyond Good and Evil stuff. When I hear anyone talking about Ayn Rand, all I can think of is, "Nietzsche in Russian."

      There was an absolutely glorious essay by. . . Gordon E. Bigelow. . . called "A Primer of Existentialism" (1961). It was aimed at first year students and general readers, and it leaves things out, but it's pretty good for all that. Hereis the very legal link. Here is WorldCat's link. Here it is in its original, but now locked up by JSTOR. It appeared originally in College English 1961, #3, and it's a handy teaching document.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 12:21:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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