Between Angel and Beast

‘Indecision is such an an obvious and easily deplored weakness, such a sure butt for contempt by saint and satanist alike. So the poor mugwump simultaneously admires and is horrified by those who seem to have the strength of will to go one way or the other – those who decide to stand at all costs by the domineering and rational spirit, and those who wish to abandon themselves with glee to the intense pleasures of sensuality.

Especially deplorable is the kind of person who might be called the extreme mugwump – the one who has his extremities on both sides of the fence. There is, for example,  the common scandal of the saint-sinner, the individual who appears in public as the champion of the spirit, but who is in private some kind of rake. Very oten his case is not as simple as that of the mere hypocrite. He is genuinely attracted to both extremes.

It is high time to ask whether it is really any scandal, any deplorable inconsistency , for a human being to be both angel and animal with equal devotion. Is it not possible, in other words, to be the extreme mugwump without inner conflict, to be mystic and sensualist without actual. contradiction? It is hard to see how a human being can be anything but a mediocrity on the one hand or a fanatic on the other unless he can give rein to both sides of their nature, avoiding, however, the deceit and degradation which attach themselves to the animal side of our life when it is associated with shame.’

Alan Watts, This is It, and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience.

‘The absurdity which, in common with many French writers of his generation, he [Montherlant] sees at the root of the human condition is for him a natural state of affairs, a fact of life, neither to be luxuriated in nor to be deplored. Humankind is at once capable of great evil and self destruction… and of great courage and sacrifice… Wisdom for Montherlant lies in accepting these extremes; a healthy balance must be struck between Angel and Beast, the empire of the sense and the world of the mind. Only mediocrity is to be eschewed at all costs.’

John Fletcher, ‘Montherlant, Encyclopedia of the Essay, edited by Tracy Chevalier.

‘Man is neither angel nor beast, and it unfortunately the case that anyone trying to act the angel acts the beast.’

Blaise Pascal, Pensées, translated by A. J. Krailsheimer.

Simply and Plainly

‘I might say much on the commodities that death can sell a man, but briefly, death is a friend of ours, and he who is not ready to entertain him, is not at home.’

Francis Bacon, An Essay on Death.

‘The whole life here at the front is permeated with a sublime solemnity. Death is a daily companion who hallows everything. One no longer receives him with pomp or lamentation. One treats his majesty simply and plainly. He is like many people whom one loves even though one respects and fears them.’

Rudolf Fischer, philosophy student, killed in action in 1914, from German Students’ War Letters, collected by Phillipp Witkop.

Entombed in the Urns and Sepulchres of Mortality

‘I have laboured to make a covenant with myself that affection may not press upon judgement; for, I suppose, there is no man that hath any apprehension of gentry or nobleness but his affection stands the continuance of so noble a name and home and would take hold of a twig or twine-thread to uphold it. And yet Time hath his revolutions; there must be a period and an end to all temporal things, finis rerum, an end of names and dignities and whatsoever is terrene; and why not of De Vere? – for where is Bohun? Where is Mowbray? Where is Mortimer? Nay, what is more and most of all where Plantagenet? They are entombed in the urns and sepulchres of mortality. Yet let the name of De Vere stand as long as it pleaseth God.’

Ranulph Crewe, quoted in The Lives of the Chief Justices of England from the Norman Conquest to the Death of Lord Tenterden, John Campbell.

‘And therefore restless inquietude for the diuturnity of our memories unto present considerations, seems a vanity almost out of date, and superanuated piece of folly. We cannot hope to live so long in our names, as some have done in their persons, one face of Janus holds no proportion unto the other. ‘Tis too late to be ambitious. The great mutations of the world are acted, or time may be too short for our designs. To extend our memories by monuments, whose death we daily pray for, and whose duration we cannot hope, without injury to our expectations, in the advent of the last day, were a contradiction to our beliefs. We whose generations are ordained in this setting part of time, are providentially taken off from such imaginations. And being necessitated to eye the remaining particle of futurity, are naturally constituted unto thoughts of the next world, and cannot excusably decline the consideration of that duration, which maketh pyramids pillars of snow, and all that’s past a moment.

Circles and right lines limit and close all bodies, and the mortal right-lined circle, must conclude and shut up all. There is no antidote against the opium of time, which temporally considereth all things; our fathers find their graves in our short memories, and sadly tell us how we may be buried in our survivors. Grave-stones tell truth scarce forty years: generations pass while some trees stand, and old families last not three oaks. To be read by bare inscriptions like many in Gruter, to hope for eternity by ænigmaticall epithetes, or first letters of our names, to be studied by antiquaries, who we were, and have new names given us like many of the mummies, are cold consolations unto the students of perpetuity, even by everlasting languages.

To be content that times to come should only know there was such a man, not caring whether they knew more of him, was a frigid ambition in Cardan: disparaging his horoscopal inclination and judgement of himself, who cares to subsist like Hippocrates Patients, or Achilles horses in Homer, under naked nominations, without deserts and noble acts, which are the balsame of our memories, the Entelecchia and soul of our subsistences. To be nameless in worthy deeds exceeds an infamous history. The Canaanitish woman lives more happily without a name, then Herodias with one. And who had not rather have been the good thief, then Pilate?

But the iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity. Who can but pity the founder of the pyramids? Herostratus lives that burnt the Temple of Diana, he is almost lost that built it; Time hath spared the epitaph of Adrians horse, confounded that of himself. In vain we compute our felicities by the advantage of our good names, since bad have equall durations; and Thersites is like to live as long as Agamenon. Who knows whether the best of men be known? or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot, then any that stand remembered in the known account of time? Without the favour of the everlasting register the first man had been as unknown as the last, and Methuselahs long life had been his only chronicle.’

Sir Thomas Browne, Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial, or A Brief Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns Lately Found in N O R F O L K.

All that is Form, System, Category, Frame or Plan

‘Those who write under the spell of inspiration, for whom thought is an expression of their organic nervous disposition, do not concern themselves with unity and systems. Such concerns, contradictions and facile paradoxes indicate an impoverished and insipid personal life…People who know only a few spiritual states and never live on the edge do not have contradictions, because their limited resources cannot form oppositions…All that is form, system, category, frame or plan tends to make things absolute and springs from a lack of inner energy, from a sterile spiritual life.’

Emil Cioran, On the Heights of Despair, translated by Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston.

‘I distrust all systematizers, and avoid them. The will to a system shows a lack of honesty.’

Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, translated by Anthony M. Ludovici.


‘So long as we believe there must be a reason why what is, is the way it is, we will continue to fuel superstition, which is to say, that there is an ineffable reason underlying all things. Since we will never be able to discover or understand such a reason, all we can do is believe in it, or aspire to believe in it. So long as we construe our access to facticity in terms of thought’s discovery of its own intrinsic limits and its inability to uncover the ultimate reason for things, our abolition of metaphysics will only have served to resuscitate religiosity in all its forms, including the most menacing ones. So long as we construe facticity as a limit of thought, we will abandon whatever lies beyond this limit to the rule of piety. Thus, in order to stop this see-sawing between metaphysics and fideism, we must transform our perspective on unreason, stop construing it as the form of our deficient grasp of the world and turn it into the veridical content of this world as such – we must project unreason into things themselves, and discover in our grasp of facticity the veritable intellectual intuition of the absolute. ‘Intuition’, because it is actually in what is that we discover a contingency with no limit other than itself, ‘intellectual’ because this contingency is neither visible nor perceptible in things and only thought is capable of accessing it, just as it accesses the chaos that underlies the apparent continuity of phenomena…The speculative releases us from the phenomenal stability of empirical constraints by elevating us to the purely intelligible chaos that underlies every aspect of it’.

Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency.

‘Reason, the controller, has perfect understanding of the conditions, the purpose, and the materials of its work.

Either the world is a mere hotch-potch of random cohesions or dispersions, or else it is a unity of order and providence. If the former, why wish to survive in such  a purposeless and chaotic confusion; why care about anything, save the manner of the ultimate return to dust; why trouble my head at all; since, do what I will, dispersion must overtake me sooner or later? But if the contrary be true, then I do reverence, I stand firmly, and I put my trust in the directing Power.’

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, translated by Maxwell Staniforth.

Truly There is No Good Place Here on Earth, Truly There is Another Place We Must Go

And I say,
truly there is no good place
here on earth,
truly there is another place where we must go,
there is joy in the beyond.
Is all only in vain on earth?
There is another place where life becomes disembodied.
I am going over there,
I am going to sing
at the side of the varied and precious birds,
there I would enjoy the gorgeous and fragrant flowers,
the most pleasing ones,
those that bring joy,
those that enrapture one with pleasure,
those that intoxicate, that with their fragrance
bring joy.

From the Cantares Mexicanos, translated by Earl and Sylvia Sasson Shorris.

And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.

Revelation 22:1-5

Jacobitism of the Mind

‘”The positive counterpart of the anarchist is the anarch. The latter is not the adversary of the monarch, but his antipode, untouched by him though also dangerous. He is not the opponent of the monarch but his pendant. After all, the monarch wants to rule many, nay all, people; the anarch only himself. This gives him an attitude both objective and sceptical towards the powers that be; he has their figures go past him – and he is untouched, no doubt, yet inwardly not unmoved, not without historical passion. Every born historian is more or less an anarch; if he has greatness, then on this basis he rises without partnership to the judge’s bench.”

“For me, nothing basic has changed; my character, that of an anarch, remains intact. For the historian, the yield is actually richer in that it become more vivid. The political trend is always to be observed, partly as spectacle, partly for one’s own safety. The liberal is dissatisfied with the regime; the anarch passes through their sequence – as inoffensively as possible – like a suite of rooms. This is the recipe for anyone who cares more about the substance of the world than its shadow – the philosopher, the artist, the believer.”‘

Ernst Juenger, Eumeswil.

‘In what sense can there be a Christian Conservatism? Certainly as self-enactment, in Oakeshott’s sense: a self-regarding creation of the self as Christian Conservatives imagine it. Certainly also as the hope that a dominating Christian intelligence can be reconstituted, however unlikely it will be reconstituted in England in the immediate future. Primarily, however, for the moment, most certainly in England, as dissent, a Jacobitism of the mind which can do little more than protest that the modern mind is corrupt.’

Maurice Cowling, Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England.

Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

Luke 17:21.

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.

John 18:36.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…

Romans 12:2

‘When nothing in society deserves our respect, we should fashion for ourselves in solitude new silent loyalties.’

Nicolás Goméz Dávila, Notes.

A New Universe, a False World

‘I am still obsessed with creating a false world, and will be until I die. Today I don’t line up spools of thread and chess pawns (with an occasional bishop or knight sticking out) in the drawers of my chest, but I regret that I don’t, and in my imagination I line up the characters- so alive and dependable! – who occupy my inner life, and this makes me feel cosy, like sitting by a warm fire in winter.’

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, translated by Richard Zenith.

‘If I were commissioned to design a new universe, I would be mad enough to undertake it.’

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, apparently as quoted by Jacques Guillaume Legrand in Notice historique sur la vie et les ouvrages de J. B. Piranesi.

We Merely Come to Dream

‘I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. My worst sorrows have evaporated when I’ve opened the window on to the street of my dreams and forgotten myself in what I saw there. I’ve never aspired to be more than a dreamer. I paid no attention to those who spoke to me of living.’

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, translated by Richard Zenith.

‘We merely come to stand sleeping, we merely come to dream. It is not true, not true, that we come to live on earth.’

Cantares Mexicanos, translated from the Nahuatl by John Bierhorst.

It’s Pretty, Isn’t It?

Natsume Soseki was once an English literature teacher, and a student attempted to render the phrase “I love you” into Japanese.

The scene: a starry, moonlit, romantic night, the man turns to his lover and says, “I love you”. The student plopped the clunky corresponding words, “as-for-me-I love you”, into the translated document.

“No no no,” said Soseki. “You must write this the way a Japanese author would write it: ‘The moon is beautiful tonight.‘”

‘A continental gentleman seeing a nice panorama may remark:

‘This view rather reminds me of Utrecht, where the peace treaty concluding the War of Spanish Succession was signed on the 11th April, 1713. The river there, however, recalls the Guadalquivir, which rises in the Sierra de Cazoria and flows south-west to the Atlantic Ocean and is 6^0 kilometres long. Oh, rivers. . . . What did Pascal say about them? “Les rivieres sont les chemins qui marchent. . . .” ‘

This pompous, showing-off way of speaking is not permissible in England. The Englishman is modest and simple. He uses but few words and expresses so much – but so much – with them. An Englishman looking at the same view would remain silent for two or three hours and think about how to put his profound feeling into words. Then he would remark: ‘It’s pretty, isn’t it?”

George Mikes, How to Be an Alien: A Handbook for Beginners and Advanced Pupils.