I’ve started reading Steppenwolf (by Hermann Hesse) again, for the first time in quite a few years. It’s always been one of my favourites. As with most books of this type, there are many angles and thoughts one could express about. Here, I’ve copied out a particular passage, one I found quite striking from the opening pages.
“…When a celebrated historian and art critic, a man of European fame, had announced a lecture in the university hall…I had succeeded in persuading the Steppenwolf to attend it, though at first he had little desire to do so. When the lecturuer ascended the platform and began his address, many of his listeners, who had expected a sort of prophet, were disapointed by his rather spruce and conceited air. And when he proceeded, by way of introduction, to say a few flattering things to the audience, thanking them for their attendance in such numbers, the Steppenwolf threw me a quick look, a look which critisised both the words and the entire personality of the speaker – an unforgetable and frightful look which spoke volumes! It was a look that did not simply critisise that lecturuer, annihlating the celebrated man with its crushing yet delicate irony. That was the least of it. It was more sad than ironical; it was indeed utterly and hopelessly sad; it conveyed a quiet despair, born partly of conviction, partly of a mode of thought which had become habitual with him. This despair of his not only unmasked the conceited lecturer and dismissed with its irony the matter at hand, the expectant attitude of the public, the somewhat presumptuous title under which the lecture was announced – no, the Steppenwolf’s look pierced our whole epoch, its whole overwrought activity, the whole surge and strife, the whole vanity, the whole superficial play of a shallow, opinioated intellectuality. And alas! the look went still deeper,went far below the faults, defects and hopelessness of our time, our intellect, our culture alone. It went right to the heart of all humanity, it bespoke eloquently in a single second the whole despair of a thinker, of one who perhaps knew the full worth of meaning of man’s life. It said: ‘See what monkeys we are! Look, such is man!’ and at once all renown, all intelligence , all the attainments of the spirit, all progress towards the sublime, the great and the enduring in man fell away and became a monkey’s trick!”
There are three main things that struck me, regards this passage, that I think we should be very mindful of. Firstly, ‘a celebrated historian and art critic’; you could preface the word ‘critic’ with most any profession or area of expertise – ‘social media’ for instance. The listeners who ‘expected a sort of prophet’; struck me as, well, that if you’re going to stand up and speak, or write to an audience, have something of substance to say, beyond what in the back of their heads they already know. As a suplimentary, certainly don’t lucidate on one thing you know much about, and try and pass off that you know where and how it fits in another world you do not inhabit (or one you do but only through conjecture – personally I find it to be insulting and heretic). Lastly, ‘the whole superficial play’ and it’s surrounding words; talking about social media is, on it’s own, superficial, it is a play. To me, this is the most crucial point (the other two are merely personal gripes) – Apply this ‘superficial’ premise in local government, not as a negative, but as a platform, a warning that lights fires in our bellies to go and turn the superficial into something real and meaningful for the citizens we serve.
I’ve written my words above, as I occaisionally do. I always hope they are liked. Equally, I always realise that they are simply outpourings of blurb, superficial. What I know is though, is that the five days from Monday to Friday, every working week, are becoming less and less superficial in my local gov.