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Monday, November 7, 2011

"You say yes to the sunlight..."


I've been pondering this quotation by Herman Hesse for some time.  I don't know that so many people read Hesse in a big way any more, but I went on a binge a while back and read four of his novels in a row.  Clarice Lispector was a fan of Steppenwolf so maybe that's what got me going.  I'm still under the spell of Steppenwolf, I think.  So here is the quotation:


"There is no escape. You can't be a vagabond and an artist and still be a solid citizen, a wholesome, upstanding man. You want to get drunk, so you have to accept the hangover. You say yes to the sunlight and pure fantasies, so you have to say yes to the filth and the nausea. Everything is within you, gold and mud, happiness and pain, the laughter of childhood and the apprehension of death. Say yes to everything, shirk nothing. Don't try to lie to yourself. You are not a solid citizen. You are not a Greek. You are not harmonious, or the master of yourself. You are a bird in the storm. Let it storm! Let it drive you! How much have you lied! A thousand times, even in your poems and books, you have played the harmonious man, the wise man, the happy, the enlightened man. In the same way, men attacking in war have played heroes, while their bowels twitched. My God, what a poor ape, what a fencer in the mirror man is- particularly the artist- particularly myself!"
~ Herman Hesse



I suppose what gave me pause was this idea that you can't be both an artist and a solid citizen.  What exactly is a solid citizen?  Am I not a solid citizen, am I not an artist?  Do I have to concede one or the other?  Okay, I'd rather be an artist then.  And anyway, I'm not what many consider, in this time, this age, to be a solid citizen, there's that.  He repeats, as though he knows, this will be the point that sticks:  "Don't try to lie to yourself. You are not a solid citizen."  I think he sees into me perfectly - I am not harmonious.  You want to see beauty, feel the joys and loveliness of the world - you also have to accept the filth and nausea.  It won't be harmonious. (You wish for it to be harmonious, you can play at that as well).


I have always imagined myself a bird, the storm coming on.  


Anyway.  This is quite the quotation to live with, to think about for a span of time.  

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