Excerpts from Herman Hesse’s “Narcissus and Goldmund” (1930)

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“And so,” he concluded violently, “what is this world in which we are made to live? Is it not hell? Is it not revolting and disgusting?”

“Certainly, that’s how the world is.”

“Ah!” Goldmund cried with indignation. “And how often you told me that the world was divine, that it was a great harmony of circles with the Creator enthroned in its midst, that what existed was good, and so forth. You told me Aristotle had said so, or Saint Thomas. I’m eager to hear you explain the contradiction.”

Narcissus laughed. “Your memory is surprising, and yet it has deceived you slightly. I have always adored our Creator as perfect, but never his creation. I have never denied the evil in the world. No true thinker has ever affirmed that life on earth is harmonious and just, or that man is good, my dear friend. On the contrary. The Holy Bible expressly states that the strivings and doings of man’s heart are evil, and every day we see this confirmed anew.”

“Very good. At last I see what you learned men mean. So man is evil, and life on earth is full of ugliness and trickery—you admit it. But somewhere behind all that, in your thoughts and books, justice and perfection exist. They exist, they can be proved, but only if they are never put to use.”

“You have stored up a great deal of anger against us theologians, dear friend! But you have still not become a thinker; you’ve got it all topsy-turvy. You still have a few things to learn. But why do you say we don’t put justice to use? We do that every day, every hour. I, for instance, am an abbot and I govern a cloister. Continue reading