You are here

Chapter VIII: Solitude in Literature and Philosophy

Chapter VIII: Solitude in Literature and Philosophy1

‘I understood that the world was nothing, a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist. All the rest, I saw, is merely what pushes me, or what I push against, blindly — as blindly as all that is not myself pushes back. I create the whole universe, blink by blink — An ugly god pitifully dying in a tree.’

These words are from a novel which will be, I imagine, familiar to many. It is by John Gardner and was first published in 1971. Some greeted it with wild enthusiasm, as a modern masterpiece of imaginative writing, others were repelled by the stark horror which the occasional pity does little to relieve as the terrible story unfolds itself. The title of the novel is Grendel and it offers a terrifying picture of a modern Beowulf.

The torment of Grendel lies in his inability to communicate. He has grown out of the world of his beast-mother though remaining partly dependent upon her, on her mindless pity and affection as well as her help. But she provides nothing that he needs even though they both move at some kind of supernatural level. But neither can he communicate with men, he makes nothing of their talk; and while he aspires initially to be like them or with them, their total inability to make anything of him, beyond the menace of his power and preter natural presence, drives him to unmitigated hate and destructive malice. An object of pity to himself, he is otherwise the symbol of total evil. This is the theme, presented in less colourfully fantastic forms, of a great deal of recent literature. On occasion the world of fantasy becomes dominant again, and one is not certain when one is moving in a realm of fable and allegory and when in the community of real persons, as in another much admired and perplexing work of fiction. Surfacing by Margaret Atwood. But the upshot, even when not so explicitly stated, is the same rejection of the world as we initially have it, the retreat into a world, sometimes a very hateful one, where we ourselves weave all that matters into some fashion of a projection of ourselves, not simplistically into what we wish but quite often into what we ourselves know to be most repulsively degrading. There is even a craving, but in a horrifying sophisticated human way, for animal existence without the unawareness of beasts. We cannot escape our destiny to be human, but we also fail to relate to the world as we ourselves apprehend it in the proper community of our awareness of each other. When fantasy is not invoked to bring out the full horror of this incarceration in a world that is not fitted to our proper needs and aptitudes, there is a more explicit portrayal of essentially the same situation in a more overtly and properly human context. We are dealing with people as they normally are, but in the same appalling situation of a failure of involvement, an estrangement for which there is no easement in outright madness.

Take a novel that moves easily in the normal liberated culture of today. It is The Instrument by John O’Hara. The author is, I suspect, a little underestimated by our finest critics. Few would deny that he is a highly gifted and lively story teller. He gets on with his uninhibited, unvarnished story, without pausing to ponder the impact of it or point his moral, obliquely or in any other way. The story is everything. But it is, in its forthright narrative, very profound all the same. The main character, Yank Lucas, is a fine friendly person, with complete integrity although without any ostentation — there is no parade of virtues. Not all his standards would be widely endorsed. But he is, in a detached and genuinely amused way, interested in people and concerned about them for just what they are. He is fully and perceptively aware that he cannot pass from his fantasies about Anna Phelps, with whom he lodges in the New England village, to which he has escaped from the complications and publicity of sudden fame, as he can flirt and amuse himself with the more wanton girl at the Post Office. His much more serious involvement had been with Zena Gollum, the glamorous star of the play which had brought him instant prominence and asssured success. But an affair with Zena, even a deep and lasting one, would make demands upon him not consistent with total commitment to his art and future projects. At all costs these must come first. His break with Zena is savagely ruthless, though kindlier in that way. It is also tragic and prepares for the disintegration of the character of Zena Gollum, already on the way, and her suicide. Lucas returns to New York, grieving but not devastated, his art and his career still untarnished. But he has another deeper tragedy of which he will never be rid, namely that normal vicissitudes will never break him, for he can never be sufficiently involved for them to touch him at the core of his being. Nice fellow though he is he cannot take on the burden of any ultimate care. He never gets properly outside himself. The story of Yank Lucas is the story of the failure of ultimate involvement, far deeper and more desperate than ordinary destitution, and it is not inappropriate that another character should sum it up himself, in the closing words of another story,2 with the sang froid and simple but frightening detachment of his clear-sighted understanding of himself, and, as he sees it, and rightly in one way, of all others — ‘What’, he exclaims ‘did he know about me?’

What really, can any of us know about any of us, and why must we make such a thing of loneliness when it is the final condition of us all? And where would love be without it?

It is the same course that is taken in another work of fiction that is much better known, Memoirs of Hecate County, by Edmund Wilson. This is usually considered by literary critics in the context of an author’s reaction to life and attitudes in America at the time (the book was first published in 1946). But it has importance of a much less transitory kind, and much profundity. The mood for the book is set by the story of ‘The Man Who Shot Snapping Turtles’, the turtles steadily eliminating the beautiful ducks that were the admiration of a man on whose pond they settled. Evil and ugliness seemed invariably to triumph.

In the main story, ‘The Princess with the Golden Hair’, the narrator carries on a love affair simultaneously with two very different persons. One of these, the ‘Princess’ in the title, is the sophisticated, elegant wife of a business acquaintance, the other is the very simple, but not naive, girl he has got to know at the Tango Casino where she works. In both cases there is deep affection and respect, patience and restraint towards the more sophisticated woman in her physical disability, tenderness and practical kindness towards the girl from the Casino caught up in the wretchedness of her background and distressful family relations and her illness. But when various circumstances bring the two affairs abruptly to an end, the lover is not really deprived of anything vital in his own existence. He declares at the close of the story:

She had given me this vision…it was something so strong and instinctive that it could outlive the hurts and infections, the defilements, among which we lived — so organic that it could not be analysed. She had transmitted a belief and a beauty that could not be justified or explained. Nor could they ever be paid for or sold — And what had I been able to give in return? What had I to compare with these? My passion for painting, perhaps. But I had not been able to give her even that.3

In all his admiration and concern for the one lovely and superior person, and his tender sharing of the wry humour and trust of the other, a sort of saintliness that shone through the sordidness of their encounters, he had remained inviolable, he had given away nothing that was truly himself; there was no totality in any of his generosity or his pity; at the deepest level he had not been hurt, for his love had not touched him there. He remained confined in the solitariness of his proper existence, radically unaffected but lost; ‘I was felled by a sudden glumness as I knew, and found it bitter to know, that I was back now in Hecate County’.4

A similar strain runs through much of the work of Iris Murdoch, both in explicity philosophical discussion and in fiction. In The Sovereignty of Good5 we are warned against the false ‘consolations of self-pity, resentment, fantasy and despair’ and urged to seek help, through art and the world of nature, to pierce ‘the falsifying veil’ and look at the world as it really is, to ‘be realistic, to perceive justly’. In some passages in her novels, Miss Murdoch presents very vividly the horror of the enclosure in one’s own inner existence that comes about by failure of involvement: and this becomes the central theme of many of her writings, for example, The Sea, the Sea.6 Here we have two young persons deeply and unaffectedly in love with the prospect of a happy life together, but the girl feels the demand of this particular love so excessive that she breaks away from it altogether and in due course enters into another happy but more commonplace marriage. Many years later the two meet by sheer chance, the man by now at the peak of a fine career, and a celebrity. In fancy at least the flame of the earlier romance is kindled, nothing in all the man’s amours and successes having filled the void. He seeks to re-establish their love more deliberately, but the woman feels the force and the depth of it as well; and there ensues in this way a bizarre situation of partially requited love between an ageing and not too obviously attractive woman and almost her opposite in the confident, liberated and much admired person the man has become. Only exceptional literary skill can redeem this. In the end it all comes to nothing, the opportunity for the one involvement that would have been properly fulfilling having been lost and irretrievably abandoned in the first failure to come to terms with it.

In Nuns and Soldiers7 we have the many convolutions of several loves leading, by their desperation again, into near bizarre situations where an almost too determined, cultivated, giving of oneself is frustrated at all crucial points (alike for a young couple — a raffish and rather shiftless young man and his girlfriend determined to wound herself with a rebellious bloody-mindedness which does not seem to be her true nature — and the sophisticated sensitive group into which their lives are strangely drawn) by an equally inevitable drawing away into the security of life as each person seems to see it to be for himself. At the centre is Anne who, having left her bright and talented existence at Oxford to spend many years in a convent, came out to find that the impulse and frame of mind which sent her there is still with her, a need, surviving the loss of her initial faith, to give herself wholly without knowing how this could be done.

She had been so wise not to tell her love…some great necessary integrity, some absolute availability, some eternal aloneness would have been lost by the revelation. She had kept her mouth shut, she had never told her love, and that at least was for her salvation. She was still ‘empty and clean’, transparent and invisible, although the voice that said this was still the voice of her pride. And she was homeless and free. She had left the convent because it was a home. Foxes have holes, but the Son of Man…only now, after the safety of her service to Gertrude,8was she facing the void which she had chosen.

But was not the idea of ‘void’ itself an illusion?…Or would she perhaps end up after all as a priest in another church? At least she knew that she must now seek solitude, innocence and the silence of being totally uninteresting.9

It would be easy to multiply examples in the same vein. Indeed, a most impressive survey has in fact been undertaken by Professor Ben Mijuskovic of the University of Carbondale in his fine book, Loneliness in Philosophy, Psychology and Literature.10 He shows most effectively how prominent the themes of loneliness and inwardness have been in creative literature from quite early times, in the myth of Prometheus, the Odyssey, in parts of Plato and Aristophanes, and in the Upanishads, down to most recent writers of fiction and philosophy. ‘Robinson Crusoe’ recovers the importance it had earlier for speculative thought (the ‘History of Robinson and Friday’ as we have it in Hegel’s ‘Outlines of the Phenomenology of Mind’) and is shown to be part of a concern which continues through Proust to the British novelist Arthur Machen and his frightening portrayal, in his own words, of ‘a Robinson Crusoe of the soul’11 and to Thomas Wolfe’s ‘We walk the streets of life alone’,12 matched by Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ and Golding’s Pincher Martin.

Mijuskovic concludes that, on the ‘philosophical foundation’ of the ability of thought to ‘curl back on itself, ‘the disciplines of literature, philosophy and psychology have erected a significant and true insight into man’s fundamental nature, namely that each of us, separately, exists in isolation, in a state of desolate loneliness, enclosed within the confines of a nomadic prison which we continually strive to escape’.13

But it is not only from writers of fiction that we learn of inwardness and the desolation that comes from being enclosed within it. Philosophers, as we have seen already, have also been much occupied with it. They have been so in various ways. In more severely professional concerns, they have been profoundly aware, in theories of knowledge and perception, of the danger that the phantom lights of solipsism may draw them into places where no progress is possible. Solipsism is a position in which no thinker can rest. No one can go on communicating just with himself, and it is rumoured that those who have tried it have ended in literal madness. It goes against all we assume, in all our undertakings, namely, that we are in genuine communion with other beings; and a philosophical theory which denies this, or logically leads to such a conclusion, is usually thought to have refuted itself completely.

All the same, we have sometimes to veer very close to that danger. The privacy of our experience is not to be denied. No one literally lives the life of anyone but himself, he can have no experience literally besides his own. This may often seem a very daunting thought, and it is often a thought that we resist; it tends to induce its own kind of claustrophobia. But there is some inevitable privacy even in the media through which we normally, on some views always, break out into genuine intercourse and a properly public world. Perception involves various forms of extendedness. We function in Space and never escape it — short at least of some paranormal power or experience. But Space itself seems also initially private.

This may seem very paradoxical. Our thoughts and other experiences, including so-called physical sensations, are not themselves extended. If we locate them, it is in some association with our bodies. But our awareness of Space is nonetheless bound up with variable individual perceptions. What comes in our fields of vision varies, not only with external factors like the quality of the light, but with the situation of our own bodies and the functioning of our sense organs and neurological systems. What is presented to each one in this way varies from moment to moment and from each case to the next. Naive realism, in its strict form, takes it all to be real all the time, and much more that is not disclosed. Few, if any, accept this today; there would be a preposterous overlap within the same allegedly external extendedness. But short of that, our entry into a public world of extended objects is via an endless variety of intitially private experiences.

There are some features of our awareness of Space which may complicate the matter much further. For there is a case to be made, and it has been impressively made by Professor H. H. Price, for ascribing some depth even to immediate perceptual awareness. If this is sound, the question of overlap becomes an acute and crucial one, and also most intriguing. For example, if the persons and furniture I seem to see in a large mirror on the wall of a room are immediately apprehended in some sort of depth, we must deem them to occupy some private space of my own which cannot be strictly part of any other private or public space; otherwise there would be an impossible overlap. This makes it hard to avoid the view that what space itself is for each of us initially is in some radical way different from one case to another. There is a radical privacy in our apprehension of Space.

To speculative thought this presents some exciting possibilities. It introduces us to new modes or dimensions of the endless variety of the universe. But I shall not pursue this intriguing theme further here.14 But it is not without some bearing, for reflective persons especially (and I include lay as well as professional attitudes here), on the sense that the immediate enclosure of the total world of our experiences is essentially private and enhances also in its way the marvel and the finality of individual existence. That is also relevant to the sanctity of persons. We are curiously made in ways that go far beyond the remarkable functioning of bodies.

But there is nothing properly daunting in this, notwithstanding that it gives rise to much sobering thought. For the privacy is never unrelieved. From within our initially private experience we have firm and dependable communion with one another, and this comes about so easily that the complexity and mediation of it goes wholly unnoticed most of the time, and is not understood at all by a great many, even when oddities of our experience suggest it. Some critics have argued that the alleged immediacy of our presentations cannot possibly be the basis of dependable communication, or indeed of any communication at all. This is because they assume that the only form such communication could take would be by establishing directly some co-ordination between certain sounds, gestures, etc., as made or received by one person and those of others. The snag, it is stressed, lies in establishing the correlation initially. We never, ex hypothesi, cross the boundaries to see how things go there.

This argument has counted heavily of late, reinforced by the prevailing reductionism and allegedly down to earth spirit of much recent philosophy. It led the late Professor Ryle to declare, apropos the Cartesian dualism of which he was such a formidable opponent, that on such a view, ‘the workings of one mind are inevitably occult to everyone else’15 and that ‘Absolute solitude is on this showing the ineluctable destiny of the soul’.16 In spite of the weight behind it and the remorseless finality with which it was taken to sweep away a vast area of contemporary thought and much earlier philosophy as well, I have never been much disturbed by these moves. My detailed comment upon them may be found in The Elusive Mind and elsewhere. It must suffice here to say that there is no question of establishing a correlation by explicitly inspecting the minds of other persons. It is more a matter of making sense of the pattern of events within our perceptual experience, with seemingly immediate responses to our own initiatives, which would be totally bewildering if not ascribed to ways in which agents other than ourselves affect the course of our own experience and impose their will upon us in some ways.

If, in reaction against the alleged inwardness of experience and in shocked execration of Descartes and all his kind, we revert to the notion that all that is true about us can be comprehended exhaustively in terms of our observable behaviour and dispositions, we shall of course have little to say to the witness and perplexities of the creative writers of whose work some samples were instanced earlier. For, on that view, there is no inner world of experience other than the observable world of our normal commerce. The same goes for those who, while admitting some kind of inner existence, identify it with the brain and other bodily processes. For an inner existence as tenuous as that, and lacking any mode of shaping its destiny of itself, is allowed no real play as between involvement in the world around us and in ourselves. Issues of involvement or withdrawal just do not arise.

There could, no doubt, be some ingenious way in which a distinction might be drawn between experiences which are public and those which are private, and some sense of desolate isolation, in terms of a Rylean account of mental existence. Ingenuity can go a long way. as outright materialists have shown from time to time. Misunderstanding could have some place in a Rylean view or its like; and this could be a source of painful isolation and distress. But it would be most partial and occasional; it would have little to match up to the sense of a despairing imprisonment within oneself, as a constant liability of being as we are, which is so disturbingly vivid in the literature to which I have alluded.

To meet the requirements of the human situation we have both to recognise the finality of each being the ultimate subject of his experiences, involving the immediacy of such experiences in having them, together with rich and fulfilling commerce with a world which is not ourselves and with one another, such commerce being mediated in a way whose amazing complexity does not obtrude at all into the easy and normally dependable way our encounter with the world and other creatures comes about.

This duality is of the essence of our human situation. All that is of worth depends upon it, and all that goes wrong. Solipsism is the way of madness, in theory and practice, Experience, even if it could be sustained of itself, has no point except in the transmutation of itself to awareness of what is not itself. But experience, however unobtrusive and elusive as I have said it is, is not to be merged into the world it knows. The world is not all there is, though we have often to behave as if that were so, giving some the impression that there is nothing further to be noted. But experience is as real as its reference. We live through or ‘enjoy’ it but always as individual subjects of experience. To insist on the latter is no hostage to solipsism. But the way philosophical solipsism has to be confronted, in all its threat and horror, in philosophical thinking, is the intellectual aspect of the appalling semblance of it in expedients of escape and withdrawal into the recesses of our private existence.

To warn us against this peril has been the theme of some notable philosophical writing, but the concern expressed in those writings has sometimes over-reached itself, very markedly in the case of Plato. No one has insisted more steadily than Plato on the need for us to align ourselves with genuine reality, to shun the world of shadows and climb out of the cave to a world that is inescapably real and other than illusions and fantasies of our own. But Plato is thinking here of the Forms and it is not likely that these realities, for such Plato himself took them to be, attuned as they are expressly to the intellect, can provide the encounter which is effectively enriching and redeeming.

Indeed, it appears that the themes in Plato’s thought with which we are most prone to disagree derive from disregard of the particular and its importance, notwithstanding the partial reality accorded to it. This has often been noted in explanation of Plato’s extraordinary views about art and literature. It also helps us to understand the account he gives of the family and personal relations, including the dim view he takes of the aptitudes and place of the ordinary citizen. It is in our encounter with the fortuitous particular, and the intriguing varieties of the world of change and living existence, and in our personal relations, with one another and with God who must here be thought of as a like distinct reality, notwithstanding the mystery of his transcendence — it is in such encounter that we have our turning to the world that fulfils and restores.

It is to this that the testimony of men of letters and philosophers alike bears witness when they speak of the desolation of their not being able to reach properly beyond themselves. We have an excellent modern example in Bertrand Russell.

No one would think of Bertrand Russell as a lonely or solitary person. Even when he was most unpopular he was surrounded by people devoted to him. He was at the centre of much public attention and esteem. He was married many times, he had children in whom he took the closest interest, he had many lovers. And yet he returns in his autobiography many times to the theme of a ‘sombre solitude’ by which he was oppressed for most of his life. These are not the terms in which we would normally expect him to speak. His diagnosis of the malaise from which he thought D. H. Lawrence suffered is also significant. Russell wrote:

‘His thought was a mass of self-deception masquerading as stark realism… When he realized that other people existed, he hated them. But most of the time he lived in a solitary world of his own imaginings, peopled by phantoms as fierce as he wished them to be. His excessive emphasis on sex was due to the fact that in sex alone he was compelled to admit that he was not the only human being in the universe. But it was so painful that he conceived of sex relations as a perpetual fight in which each is attempting to destroy the other.17

Little is said very explicitly in the contexts to which I have just referred about guilt and wrongdoing. But a brooding sense of guilt runs through much of these writings. The authors are not primarily moralists. They do not denounce, they expose; they are more full of pity than condemnation. They have a fair place for genuine goodness and describe it well. All the same there runs through all the dismay and sadness a deep undercurrent of guilt as well. It lies at the heart of the horror, not disentangled from other ingredients, but starkly there. It is not an unhealthy affectation, as in much theology and psychology today, it is not collective but a form of the nemesis to which each one contributes.

This may be seen very clearly in one of the stories mentioned already, The Heart of Darkness. The central figure here, as Conrad presents him, is elusive and barely enters at all directly into the narrative. He is the employee of a trading company, trading especially in ivory in the heart of African forests and wilderness at the time when darkest Africa was more apt a physical description than today. The title is doubly symbolical; the trader about whom it revolves, highly skilled and with immense charisma, has destroyed himself soul and body, in the desperate effort to so exploit his position as to gain vast power and wealth for himself. The mystique of his ways and achievement, awesome in its ruthlessness as in its scale, is conveyed obliquely, and thereby with greater effect and significance, in the narration of another man, himself also a remarkable character, who is irresistibly drawn, through terrible toils and disasters, to the search for the elusive legendary figure presented in the story by an author whose exceptional flair for drawing the natural environment into the toning and deepening of his tale has rarely been equalled.

The story must be read for itself. I can only refer to the climax with its terrible undertones of horror and corruption. Solitude becomes a more dominant theme — ‘a solitude, a solitude, nobody’18, ‘A great silence around and above’19, ‘we penetrated deeper into the heart of darkness’20 to find ‘that shadow — this wandering and tormented thing’21 which could only cry ‘in a whisper’ ‘that was no more than a breath’ ‘the horror, the horror’.22 There was still some kind of nobility, ‘a moral victory paid for by innumerable defeats, by abominable terrors, by abominable satisfactions’.23 When it was over, the narrator could only remember ‘mistily, with a shuddering wonder, like a passage through some inconceivable world that had no hope in it and no desire’24.

Note should be taken also of one important consequence of the essential initial privacy of our experience, one that affects especially the fear of withdrawal into one’s own inner existence. It is a misguided way in which we are apt to try to cope with this situation, namely to seek to establish an assured contact with others as other by seeking to penetrate directly to their own inner existence. This is bound to fail, it is, for reasons noted already, inherently impossible. But there is deep in our nature, induced by dismay and misery, an urge, unformulated and not usually reflective, to seek relief and fulfilment in these essentially impossible ways, to push beyond the barrier which finitude itself imposes upon us. This is perverse but understandable. The most overt and immediately damaging forms of this perversion are found when we force one another into situations where the normal disguises and adaptations are dropped, when we see, as we seem to think, the naked soul. The pretences, the normal conformities, fall away in extremes of passionate excitation, or in anguish and terror. At last we are truly at one with the other as he really is. In one way this is true: there is some kind of bond between the tormentor and his victim; passion is often stark. But it is also wrongheaded, it provides realism without worth. The impulse which induces it defeats itself. For the inner citadel of the being of the other remains unassailed — as it must be.

How extensively these reactions affect our lives today may not be too easy to determine, and I must leave the matter mainly to the reader. I am well aware of the danger, so expertly exhibited by Lady Wootton,25 of providing one exclusive explanation or solution of some social malaise. But it seems plain that, all over the world, people are lapsing into various forms of madness and destructiveness. In part this is due to the exceeding rapidity of some of our advances, the ensuing complexities and alarmed reactions; it is helped by the kind of power, and the concentration of power, that can be wielded today. The evil in our lives can also be highlighted and exaggerated, to the extensive disregard of normality and decency, by the threat it poses and its news value. Even so, when all caution is exercised and allowance is made, we seem faced with an astounding upsurgence of violence and barbarism, in our own community and in unbelievably degraded and fanatical regimes all over the world.

My submission is that this may not be accounted for entirely in terms of the complexities of our social situation, but rather that the final explanation, the disclosure of the basic factors involved — and with that the ultimate solutions — must be sought deep in our nature and finite existence; and, in this enterprise, we need to heed especially the implications of the limited finite existence we have and the proper way to cope with the inwardness which is an inescapable feature of our being creatures with the sort of potentialities we do have. What is the proper way to cope? It must clearly be found in the compensating apprehension of the world around us, including other persons, existing in its own right with appropriate claims on our interest and regard. A sickly interest in the world merely as it relates to us will not do. We have to acquire the right sort of realism. This will involve our own role, in contemplation and action, as well as the impact of the world itself. In the case of persons, there must be the regard which takes them on their own merit, establishing a rapport with them in and for themselves, but which is also distanced. There is a restraint, a holding back, in genuine love, not in the cautious reluctance to enter into total commitment but in the concern not to violate the sanctity of the genuine inner existence of the other. We should not aspire to possess one another, or to be one another, but to love with appreciation and reverence. We have to put off our shoes when we step on the holy ground of the genuine being of others. They are not extensions of ourselves.

Iris Murdoch has taught us much about the way to achieve this kind of realism. I have referred to her work in this vein with warm approval elsewhere.26 For her the remedy is found pre-eminently in art. ‘Art’, she says, ‘pierces the veil and gives sense to the notion of a reality which lies beyond appearance.’27 ‘The love which brings the right answer is an exercise of justice and realism and really looking. The difficulty is to keep the attention fixed upon the real situation and to prevent it from returning surreptitiously to the self with consolations of self-pity, resentment, fantasy and despair.’28 A person may be brooding over some hurt to his prestige. Then suddenly he observes a ‘hovering kestrel. In a moment everything is altered. The brooding self with its hurt vanity has disappeared. There is nothing now but kestrel.’29 Miss Murdoch has much to say, in the same vein, in works of fiction as in her essays and I have myself given much prominence elsewhere to the healing power of art. This, in its many forms, available to high and low in diverse ways, has certainly a central place in the restoration of men and societies. But it is not enough.

Or so it seems to me. There is a void which the world made alive and articulate to us in art does not fill, a despair and destructiveness which it cannot wholly correct, a hunger which it does not assuage. In my view, but I can only touch on this in closing here, there is only one ultimate solution, the salve in which our distinctness and its dignity remains unimpaired. It is found in our openness to transcendent being, the inexhaustible richness of an ultimate which not only sustains us but keeps us, as it will always keep us, straining after a surpassing holiness which does not crush or overwhelm us or eliminate what we severally are, but which draws us, in ever more complete and satisfying ways, measured in the modes in which it may be received of us, to varieties of worth and attainment that do not pall.

  • 1.

    This chapter draws heavily on my H. B. Acton Lecture given to The Royal Institute of Philosophy in its course on Philosophy and Literature and published in the volume under that title by the Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Institute and under the editorship of its Director. Professor Phillips Griffiths. I am grateful for permission to make use of it here.

  • 2.

    Sermons and Soda-Water (London: The Crescent Press. 1961) p.265.

  • 3.

    Memoirs of Hecate County, p.313.

  • 4.

    Memoirs of Hecate County, p.313.

  • 5.

    Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970.

  • 6.

    Chatto and Windus.

  • 7.

    Chatto and Windus.

  • 8.

    Whose life she had saved from drowning.

  • 9.

    Nuns and Soldiers p.498-499.

  • 10.

    1979, Van Gorcum Press. Assen. The Netherlands.

  • 11.

    The Hill of Dreams, Introduction, viii.

  • 12.

    Of Time and the River, xiv.

  • 13.

    Of Time and the River, p.25.

  • 14.

    For a further discussion see my ‘Public and Private Space’ Proc. Arist. Soc. 1952–53 and reproduced in the addendum to my The Elusive Mind.

  • 15.

    The Concept of Mind, p. 14.

  • 16.

    op.cit., p. 15.

  • 17.

    The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell Vol II (Allen and Unwin. 1969, p. 23.) The quotation does not mean that Russell had no regard for Lawrence, He despised Lawrence’s ideas, and found him impossible personally, but he was fully aware of Lawrence’s gifts — ‘His descriptive powers were remarkable’ op.cit., p. 23.

  • 18.

    op.cit., p.70

  • 19.

    op.cit., p.71.

  • 20.

    op.cit., p.95.

  • 21.

    op.cit., p. 143.

  • 22.

    op.cit., p. 149.

  • 23.

    op.cit., p. 151.

  • 24.

    op.cit., p. 152.

  • 25.

    In her Social Science and Social Pathology, and elsewhere.

  • 26.

    Jesus in the Faith of Christians 23–27.

  • 27.

    The Sovereignty of Good p.88.

  • 28.

    op.cit., p.91.

  • 29.

    Ibid. p.84.

From the book: