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.


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