by Molly Lambert
After marrying his second wife Ruth Wenger in 1924, German author Herman Hesse became deeply depressed, left Wenger, and isolated himself into a suicidal despair. In 1926 Hesse started psychoanalysis with Dr. I. Lang, a student of Carl Jung.
Jung broke from Sigmund Freud’s teachings by defining the “self” as an indivisible series of multiple overlapping selves, whose desires are continually in conflict. Jung believed the unconscious mind to be as important and enlightened as waking consciousness. Jungian Psychoanalysis relies on personality typology, where a patient’s level of introversion is used to individuate them.
Our favorite Personality Type Indicator test, the Myers-Briggs, was promoted by Jung. (Although apparently the M-B might be bunk due to Personal Validation Fallacy, also known as the Forer or Barnum effect.) Jung’s typology also promotes Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch, the man who is naturally superior to all other men.
Nietzsche didn’t believe such a man necessarily existed yet, but admired Goethe, Michaelangelo, and Shakespeare (among others) for having coming closest to the ideal. Nietzsche, ever the narcissist, devoted considerable explanation to The Differentiated Loner as archetype, terming him “Beast” and “Genius” and suggesting that each side is necessary and integral to the other.
Herman Hesse, by Andy Warhol
in 1928 Herman Hesse wrote his tenth novel, Der Steppenwolf, heavily incorporating Jungian concepts like the Anima and Animus, mythological archetypes, and phenomenology. Steppenwolf is the story of Harry Haller, a German man undergoing a midlife identity crisis who is one day stopped on the street by a stranger working for an establishment called The Magic Theater and handed a mysterious pamphlet.
The pamphlet, Treatise On The Steppenwolf, explains that every man has two equally true natures, one spiritual, high, and human, and the other low, base, and animalistic, and that they are often in combat. Haller becomes increasinly desperate and unhinged, isolated from society and incapable of interacting with the real world. He feels his genius has made him a hedonistic monster, an individualistic wolf among follower sheep.
He dreams about Goethe and obsesses over Mozart, declaring him the perfect genius for his skills combining musical order and chaos, creating what Haller calls the The Golden Thread connecting works with immortal artistic merit throughout time. Haller meets a pleasure-seeking younger woman named Hermie, and witnesses the joy with which she experiences life, and it inspires him to keep living and rejoin society. And then there’s a spooky twist ending, which I won’t ruin for you.
I bring this up as relevant to the works of one Charles M. Schulz, heavily eulogized and critically re-examined of late. Although he helped bring psychology into the mainstream with Peanuts, Schulz himself was never on a couch. He was a highly Christian straight arrow with every conceivable chip on his shoulders a White Guy can have that aren’t racism (Franklin) and homophobia (Peppermint Patty and Marcie). Dare we call him emosogynist?
Like Herman Hesse and Harry Haller, Schulz’s characters venerate the spiritual and profound (see Schroeder’s love of classical music, Snoopy’s secret fiction-writing desires), but end up falling victim to the many indignities of terrestrial life. His creations reveal his splintered insecurities in a way one monolithic character couldn’t represent. I’m not suggesting it’s as easily broken down as Man (Charlie Brown) and Beast (Snoopy) and the many selves within those, but Schulz’s layering of characters and complexes mimics brilliantly the internal disagreements we all undergo as our wants and needs battle it out with unconscious impulses.
David Michaelis’s new biography unmasks certain Peanuts characters as thinly veiled versions of Schulz and his enemies. Most of the rejections he suffered were imaginary or petty. Picked last in gym and unnoticed by girls? Get in line Charlie. It’s both despite and due to his depression and narcissism that Schulz was able to give us Peanuts. What’s the Differentiated Loner Genius‘s job if not to turn pain and humiliation into Great Art, spinning their own personal misery and suffering into the Golden Thread connecting artists with their audiences?
“Peanuts” was almost transparently autobiographical. There really was an unattainable Little Red-Haired Girl. Her name was Donna Mae Johnson, and she jilted Schulz in July 1950; he nursed the rejection, along with all the other slights he suffered from wished-for girlfriends, for the rest of his life.
Charlie Brown, wishy-washy, disillusioned, but also secretly ambitious, was the artist himself, of course; and so were Linus, the oddball; Schroeder, meticulous and gifted; and, above all, Snoopy, with his daydreams, his fantasies, his sense of being undervalued and misunderstood. Violet, with her mean streak; and Lucy, bossy, impatient and sarcastic, were all the controlling, withholding women in Schulz’s life, especially his mother and his first wife, Joyce.
Despite his success, Schulz was prickly, lonely, depressed and increasingly subject to panic attacks; Joyce felt overburdened and underappreciated. Their feuds, their long bouts of coldness, inspired some of the most Thurber-like stretches of “Peanuts” — the strips where Charlie and Lucy seem to be locked in the eternal struggle of male and female, with the latter always wielding the upper hand.
TEN SWEET BLOGS EVEN MORE PRETENTIOUS (WORDY! WE MEAN WORDY!) THAN THIS RECORDING:
You know who else loves wolf imagery and knows a thing or two about Differentiated Loners and the Golden Thread? Unofficial T.R. mascot Will Oldham, a man I would peg on the Myers-Briggs scale as an ISFP.
He made a Bonnie ‘Prince‘ Billy album with Matt Sweeney (one of the venerable men of Chavez) called Superwolf that may or may not have anything to do with Steppenwolf, either the novel or the the band who wrote Magic Carpet Ride.
My Home Is The Sea – Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Matt Sweeney: mp3
Lift Us Up – Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Matt Sweeney: mp3
Bed Is For Sleeping – Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Matt Sweeney: mp3
Death In The Sea – Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Matt Sweeney: mp3
Blood Embrace – Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Matt Sweeney: mp3
Molly Lambert is Senior Editor of This Recording. Like Carl Jung, she has made an in-depth study of Alchemy. As a natural-born woman, she is different from all other men.
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
Ed Koch reviewed Superbad.
Pavement and Weeds: Two Great Tastes That Go Great Together.
Alex wants you to know what kind of shampoo Rashida Jones uses.
Danish puts a water gun to your head and forces you to listen to Britney (betch!)