Wednesday, January 04, 2006

so... Steppenwolf

Magic Entrance Not For Everybody
For Madmen Only

So I resurrected one of my avatars for a while over the winter celebrations... well not quite, just some of her attributes. I’d kind of laid her to rest a bit in 2005, letting her slip away quietly into a thousand healthier permutations before she became too much of a fixture. I was scared enough of her reality to know I didn’t want her to be any more real.

She became my alter ego fairly quickly, as I quite liked the idea of having a dark twin. This was somewhat careless, since she wasn’t particularly dark; she was simply a woman of action. Looking back she was a spell incarnate; the personification of a desire; one I’d wanted to explore for some time. I mean why bother with therapy when (melo)drama, drugs, and dressing up are so much fun?

And anyway, when she’d been around a few months, with interesting results, my pisces sister, who’d been living in Bristol, called me up to tell me about her new project: making up and acting personas to help further her photography career. I wasn’t that surprised, I rarely am any more by our parallels, but marvelled nonetheless and took it as a sign that we were on the right track in our experiments.

I read Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf that winter, recommended by my ex. The tale of the saving of a lonely man’s life through the freeing of his soul from the intellectual ands moral constraints of the age, and the prison of his self. Although, perhaps less kindly, you could also describe it as the autobiographical account of a 30s German novelist’s mid-life crisis. Middle aged protagonist Harry falls improbably easily into a life of sex, drugs and rock & roll having spent his entire life previous worrying about its meaning during loftier intellectual/spiritual pursuits.

Like Hesse, jaded, suicidal Harry despairs of the soullessness of the triumph of the mechanical and functional in the industrial age (long before most other artists were even getting to grips with it). Thankfully Hesse was also a student of eastern mysticism for whom the usual western good/evil, culture/nature, mind/body dualisms didn’t hold much truck, which is why I suppose the book is aeons ahead of its time, still has such resonance and cult status.

So during a Russian doll's nest sequence of events, all very David Lynch, various gatekeepers and key-masters introduce us to the Steppenwolf: Harry's inner demon, alter ego... mortal enemy. Summoned to terrorise the bourgeois world Harry detests and critiques [but can’t help loving, like all good blasphemers & rebellious children] the lonely wolf of the steppe lives inside him; everything savage and unrestrained Harry fears, has purportedly had educated out of him, but knows that he is also made of.

Then he's invited out, into a world of earthly delights: jazz, dancing, shagging, opium. His senses awaken and the tediously tortured self-image begins to fracture.

The finale, fittingly, takes place at the end of a masked ball, an all-nighter: most appealing at the time, what with our preoccupation with masks and dressing up and with the vogue for the burlesque seemingly enjoying a style revival in 2005; everywhere from the self conscious ‘risque’ of Beechwood Hotel cabarets at the Mint Lounge in Manchester, modelled on London’s Whoopee Club, to the messiness and pretension of the Lost Vagueness Ballroom at Glastonbury.

So after a false start, Harry loses his self in the bacchanalia. During the whirling communitas of dance, carnival and orgy, he finds and falls for his soul’s mate, his real other half in both male & female form; the wise woman courtesan who has been his guide throughout. Finally he is admitted to the surreal magic theatre of his own soul by louche jazz supremo and homo love interest Pablo. Wandering through rooms suffused with all the fantasy, timelessness and peculiar juxtaposition of a K-hole, Harry watches wolf and gentleman finish each other off and finally discovers a sense of humour, thank fuck.

And as for my 'alter ego'? Well I suppose the cautionary tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was less about the dangers of unleashing the inner beast than about the perils of constructing such polar characters and moral chasms within the personality and soul to begin with. Still pretty relevant while the judaeo-christian orthodoxies and limiting scientific positivism that dominated the Victorian era still permeate western culture, albeit perhaps on subtler levels.

What scared the shit out of me was when the divide between our worlds dissolved unexpectedly. It didn’t take much, just a misuse of props at a masked ball. No longer safe and sane, things inside and out became dangerous, out of control… I teetered on the edge as alter ego and I exploded into each other. Null and voided. I had to go to London soon after, and have no memory of the trip… descending into darkness with the subway, I rode the tube round in a fog, missing my stops for days. At some point I comprehended the power of what I’d been messing with. Fire walk with me ... and she'd smiled and complied without me even noticing how sharp the teeth of her many-headed dog...

Lol, how ridiculous. There i go again, slipping into the fire and brimstone vernacular of the worldview I was trying to fuck off... way too serious. So you see, it can be tricky...

So the moral of the story is:
‘Don’t be too serious’

Or, maybe it’s:
‘Therapy: do it yourself, it’s more fun than shopping and TV’

Or …
‘Masks: well good, if a little creepy…?!’

Here’s to 2006 anyways: to everything and to nothing. x

P.S. My Pisces sister and I met for a brew on Christmas eve. She’s glowing with Buddhism, well on her way down a particularly tantric path to ordination and enlightenment.

# I fucking hate NYE.
though the Greg Wilson / El Diablo Social at the Kings Arms and the ensuing mess at Islington Mill was pretty good from what I can remember.


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