Hermann Hesse

Hermann Hesse, an early 20th century German writer, has a fascinating novel called Narcissus and Goldmund. It’s about two medieval men – one an ascetic scholar/monk – the THINKER (Narcissus). The other an aesthetic artist/wanderer – the FEELER (Goldmund). It’s beautiful prose and very helpful for understanding people, though I fundamentally disagree with the underlying worldview.

In this section we find narrated Goldmund’s philosophical musings on life:

It was shameless how life made fun of one; it was a joke, a cause for weeping! Either one lived and let one’s senses play, drank full at the primitive mother’s breast – which brought great bliss but was no protection against death; then one lived like a mushroom in the forest, colorful today and rotten tomorrow. Or else one put up a defense, imprisoned oneself for work and tried to build a monument to the fleeting passage of life – then one renounced life, was nothing but a tool; one enlisted in the service of that which endured, but one dried up in the process and lost one’s freedom, scope, lust for life….

Ach, life made sense only if one achieved both, only if it was not split by this brittle alternative! To create, without sacrificing one’s senses for it. To live, without renouncing the nobility of creating. Was that possible?

Perhaps there were people for whom this was possible. Perhaps there were husbands and heads of families who did not lose their sensuality by being faithful. Perhaps there were people who, though settled, did not have hearts dried up by lack of freedom and lack of risk. Perhaps. He had never met one.

I take that as a challenge! The gospel truly provides a third way beyond this false dualism.


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