A Very Finite and Fixed Creature

‘Put shortly, these are the two views, then. One, that man is intrinsically good, spoilt by circumstance; and the other that he is intrinsically limited, but disciplined by order and tradition to something fairly decent. To the one party man’s nature is like a well, to the other like a bucket. The view which regards man as a well, a reservoir full of possibilities, I call the romantic; the one which regards him as a very finite and fixed creature, I call the classical.’

T. E. Hulme, Romanticism and Classicism.

‘That delightful inscription with which the Athenians commemorated Pompey’s visit to their city is in agreement with my view: ‘You are a god only in so far as you recognize yourself to be a man.’ The man who knows how to enjoy his existence as he ought has attained an absolute perfection, like that of the gods. We seek other conditions because we do not understand the proper use of our own, and go out of ourselves because we do not know what is within us. So it is no good our mounting on stilts, for even on stilts we have to walk with our own legs; and upon the most exalted throne on the world it is still our own bottom that we sit on.The finest lives are, in my opinion, those which conform to the common and human model in an orderly way, with no marvels and extravagances.’

Montaigne, ‘On Experience’, Essays, translated by J. M. Cohen.

‘The people I know are mostly just common people. Common as dirt, as the sayin goes. I told her that and she looked at me funny. She thought I was sayin somethin bad about em, but of course that’s a high compliment in my part of the world.’

Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men.


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