The Universal Order - Study Group Paper 10
The Literary Arts
I. The impulse to create is in all people, but the genius is rare. By all his thoughts, actions, and words man communicates himself to his fellow beings, but when he deliberately sets out to communicate a definite form and meaning, such a communication has a correspondingly greater significance and effect.
The creative artist, whether he be a writer, a musician, or a painter, has something which he burns to communicate to the world, and it is this urge to pour out that which is known or possessed, for the enriching and enlightenment of others, that produces all masterpieces. In the painter it is characterized mainly by the desire to communicate beauty, but in literary activities, although beauty may be incidental, the dominant note is the communication of truth. As this urge takes fuller and fuller possession of the literary artist, so his creations become more and more perfect vehicles for that which he has to communicate, he attains a greater and greater mastery over his medium, and becomes a more potent factor in influencing his fellow men.
II. The purpose of literary art might therefore be described as the interpretation of life and experience. It is impossible to describe any thing or event without putting some interpretation, implicit or explicit, upon it; and even the art whose aim is mainly expressive or representative must inevitably carry with it some interpretation of that which is described. The greatest literature is that which is most interpretative of life. It is satisfying because, by its presentation of events and characters, it reveals the underlying causes and relations of circumstances and actions, and confirms the natural human belief that life is not chaotic and meaningless, but has a real and definite purpose behind it.
The sublimity and greatness of any work of literature is to be gauged by the degree in which its interpretation of life is a true one, the extent to which it really helps its readers in fulfilling their ultimate ends and aspirations, and the force and potency with which truth is revealed by it. Great works of literature are not merely diversions: they teach as well as delight, and may be vital factors in human progress, and powerful aids in the perfection of life.
Reading of whatever kind modifies the thought of the reader, and the modification of thought leads to the modification of action; hence all who communicate themselves and their thoughts by means of books or any other writings are in some measure morally responsible for the actions which result. It is therefore of the greatest importance that the interpretation of life which any work of literature contains or implies should be a true one, and imbued with a right sense of relative values. If this is not the case, such a work, by giving a wrong interpretation to certain aspects of existence, will cause wrong action and retard instead of hasten the progress of mankind. For the ultimate purpose of all literary works, as of all other human works of every description, is the perfection of man.
III. The process of literary creation consists in the bringing of the aspect of Truth, or of Beauty, or of Goodness, which the writer desires to communicate, from the subjective realm of ideas to the objective realm of actual things. As an idea it is formless; therefore it must be clothed, as it were, in words suitable for its expression. The writer may have the idea of composing a work showing the invincibility of the human soul; he may then decide to put it into the form of a novel describing the adventures of a certain individual; finally these adventures are described in words, and the expression of the idea is complete. In this act of bringing into actuality that which before was latent, a new form of beauty or a new vehicle of truth is created and the world is enriched thereby.
In the expression of the idea a number of subsidiary ideas will spring from the central one, and the numerous trains of thought, all originating from the one main theme, will be worked out. In proportion as these ideas are marshalled in their logical order and not expressed in chaotic confusion, so will the work gain in power and intelligibility. But intelligibility depends in great measure upon lucidity of expression, and this again is dependent upon the measure in which the idea itself is really and fully grasped by the mind. To be able to think clearly is therefore the first essential of the writer.
This process, however, does not depend merely upon deliberate thought or the mechanical action of the mind. There enters into every great literary work the mysterious something called inspiration. This is the in-breathing into the soul of Reality itself, of those eternal principles and causes of all things. The writer whose thought reaches up to them is filled with that which the ancient Druids called Original Awen, the creative imagination, or the inspirational genius which is in every man, though usually in a latent condition. When this fiery breath of inspiration enters the mind, creation ceases to be a laboured or painful process: there is a spontaneous and irrepressible coming forth of ideas which, by their own dynamic force, naturally clothe themselves in beautiful and forceful language. The inspiration which enters mainly into literary composition Plato terms the prophetic, for by it the artist is enabled to interpret that which he observes or experiences for his own benefit and for that of his fellows, to relate the present to the past and the future, and to make clear to all the beauty, truth and goodness of life.
IV. The criterion of all works of literary composition is their originality. The most profound truths may be expressed as the dreariest platitudes - this occurs when the mind of the writer is not in touch with truth at first hand, but has accepted it on the authority of another. Thus his words may contain the corpse of truth but they have lost its living spirit. Truth itself is infinite, and since every human being is different from all other human beings, each will express the one truth in a different manner. But when the real and living truth is expressed, which the writer has experienced in his own life, the expression of it will cause delight to all, because in it they will recognize that which they themselves are seeking. Originality is the essence of genius: it is, indeed, the expression of the native genius or Awen of each individual, which constitutes his originality. Each one has his own vision of truth to communicate, his own message to give, his own story to tell.
This uncovering or lighting up of the indwelling genius is accompanied by a kind of discovery or invention, as aspect after aspect of reality is unfolded within the mind, each one more profound and wonderful than the last. For inventive originality is not the mere fashioning of fantastic images soon to be dispelled by the breath of reality: it is the finding of reality itself within the soul - the reality which alone can give truth and power and immortality to any work of art.
To him who is master of the art of expressing himself, language is like living clay in the hands of some divine sculptor. He begins to do his true work, to make the contribution which he and he alone can make to the enlightenment of the world; he becomes an original genius.
It is the work of man to gain the capacity to solve for himself every problem which can engage the mind; to acquire the knowledge of the root causes, principles and ends of all things which any man whose work influences others must have if he is not to be a blind leader of the blind. If it is within his power, he has a duty to train his mind so that it can attain that perfect clarity of thought from which will follow the utmost lucidity of expression, and discover the means whereby he may open himself to receive that supernal inspiration which is the breath of genius and by the strength of which his words may be infused with immortality.
© The Universal Order 2002