In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

A WRITER'S CLASSIFICi\TION OF W..RITERS AND THEIR WORK FREDERICK PHILIP GROVE I N OTHING is in itself either beautiful or ugly, bu seeing makes it so. I believe it was Croce wh< first said that or something to the same effect. I is undoubtedly true that we see beauty to-day where tw< or three centuries ago few people saw anything but horro: or ugliness. The Alps ·of Europe furnish a convenien· example.. Creative minds had to see and to interpret tha· beauty for us before we could see it. They saw harmonie~ where previous observers had seen confusion; they sa~ significances where previous observers had seen chaos; and mankind at large has learned from them. What the} actually did was, of course, an act of interpretation. Ir other words, they arranged these mountain landscapes ir conformity to human predispositions: and lo, terral became awe; the desire to close one's eye heca1ne un. conscious selection: the result was picturesque perception Picturesque perception of the kind hinted at is c: special case of a wider phenomenon which I venture tc call creative perception; and it is the purpose of this firs1 section of the present article to elucidate what I mean by the help of a figure of speech. It is my fundamenta! belief, as I have more fully explained elsewhere, that al: our precious knowledge consists in metaphors which an designed to make the universe around us capable of bein§ grasped by the constructive imagination. Truth, a~ again I have said elsewhere, is what .we can grasp.. So: in the general dearth of aesthetic insight, I may be patcloned if I attempt to break new ground by labouring a 236 WRITERS AND THEIR WORK perhaps rather crude :figure of speech in order to :find some approach to obscure-phenomena. What, then, any person sees when looking at a simple object, as, e.g., the :flower-vase on my desk in front of me, is in itself a construct arrived at by the unconscious comparison and composition of two separate i1nages. It is only by this process of comparison and composition that we are enabled to see things with.the proper distribution of their parts in space or, as I shall call it in the sequence, "plastically'·'; this word I use in the very sense in which the plastic arts are distinguished from the graphic arts. You can walk around a statue and look at it from all sides; but even if you look at it from only one point of view, you remain conscious of the fact that the various parts of it are not represented in a single plane. We cannot, so, walk around a painting, no matter how skilfully the painter has tried to force upon us the illusion of plastic vision. . To apply our figure of speech we may explain what is involved in ordinary plastic vision. In judging the relative distances from the eye of parts of the same object, complex processes of induction and deduction are employed which, in the case of objects within the range of ordinary vision, remain unconscious only because, with the help of a lifelong experience, they are carried on with lightning speed. Whenever the object looked at is either farther or less far removed fron1 the eye than the distance which I have just loosely called the range of ordinary vision (and which varies considerably according to the variation of many factors), that ability fails us: sun and moon we see as fiat disks instead of as hemispheres; we need a conscious , and that means an unusual process of deduction and interpretation in order to decide which of two ships just within our horizon at sea is the nearer and 237 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY which the farther from ourselves; provided, of course~ that it has not been, for long periods, our business to arrive at such decisions quickly: in other words, the greater, in any given decision, the extent of our previous experience has been, the less time will ·the process of deduction and interpretation take and the Jess shall we become conscious of it. Now it is a familiar fact that, within the range of ordinary vision, we see a different aspect of any object according as we look at it with our right or our left eye; and it is no less well known that, the farther the object within that range is removed, the more nearly will the two images be alike, till, when the distance exceeds that range, they become identical. Ways and means have been found to increase the range at which, -by using both eyes at the same time and artificially increasing the distance between the points from which they look, we see objects plastically. If it were possible--as, no doubt, it will be some day-to combine, in one human vision, images seen, let me say, of the constellation of Orion, from points separated from each other by the diameter of the earth, then that vision would, at a glance, see the various stars composing the constellation in their true distribution through space, not only in a graphic sense, or as that distribution is at right angles to the path of the light proceeding from those stars, but also plastically, or along the radii of vision. In other words, a very complex process of computation in spherical trigonometry will be reduced to an act of spontaneous and instantaneous perception. If what I have said about the importance of the fact that our two eyes do not occupy the same point in space, is true, how much more would it not be true if two distinct observers looked at the same object and were yet able to combine, in a single mind, the process of interpretation 238 WRITERS AND THEIR WORK of what was seen by the two separate sets of eyes. I lay special stress on the process of interpretation conducted by a single mind: for a mind able to do just that, by some mysterious gift, I contend, has what I call creative perception. So long as the interpretation is carried on by two separate minds which are served by separate sets of sense organs, the best we can hope for is the combination of these interpretations by a process similar to that used by spherical trigonometry in interpreting two observ~tions made from antipodal points ofthe globe. If, instead of limiting ourselves to the observation of a single object, we admit as the object of perception complex sets of facts or human relationships, such a process of interpretation of separate observations by a third mind, and the consequent computation of their relative merits, is, by the way, nothing uncommon in daily life: it is the function of the judge or the jury in our courts of law; two people or groups look at the same set of facts or human relationships and cannot agree; they refer the case to the arbitration of a third person whom they supply or are presumed to supply with all the data of their own perception and whose task it is to interpret the two different aspects in the perspective of the law. Now let the things looked at he as complex as they can be: let them embrace any two or more sets of data in the infinite number of combinations or permutations of human relationships; till we arrive at the vast complexity of human life which forms the subject matter of artistic creation, at least in narrative and dramatic art; and we arrive at once at a critical distinction between at least two sets of artists or writers. For this is the strange thing about it that every observer of any such complex set of circumstances as is 239 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY presented by any aspect of human life almost invariably thinks the aspect seen by himself, not only the one correct aspect, but also the only morally justifiable one; he, therefore, quite conscientiously condemns the man who sees a different aspect, not only as blind to obvious truth, but also as morally perverse: as not only unable but unwilling to see what is so clear to himself. Similarly, there are among writers of narrative or dramatic works of art those who refuse to see the conflict (for every true work of narrative or dramatic art deals with son1e forensic case) which forms the object of their narrative or drama (I intentionally do not say "subject") from more than one point of view-that point which is usually the one of their cchero"·; and, on the other hand, there are those who see this conflict simultaneously from the points of view of all concerned. This distinction might perhaps be expressed in a somewhat naiver way thus: there are writers who look at human life from the moral point of view (their hero being the representative of morals); and there are writers who look at it from the purely artistic point of view (which would be the creative way). Tentatively I have, in a different context, called the former group romanticists; the latter, classicists (for the word "realist'-' has, in AngloSaxon parlance, assumed a narrow and misleading connotation ; though, strictly speaking, it would be the better term). In trying to determine (quite internationally, of course, and with complete abstraction from domestic conditions; for, as far as the general public goes, Canada is a nonconductor with regard to any kind of spiritual current)in trying, I say, to determine the trend of present-day art in narrative and dramatic literature, I have come to the conclusion that we are slowly once more approaching a vVRITERS AND THEIR WORK period of classic art. It goes without saying that there is much in the world's ·literature which does not admit of a rigorous classification in one or other of these categories. Shakespeare's work, e.g., is a ·mixture of the two kinds: Percy Hotspur and Henry IV are di.fferentiated classically; Edgar and Edmund romantically. But that does not affect the validity of the fundamen tal distinction which depends on the analysis of work at either of the two extremes: let me say of Scott and Aeschylus if I may eliminate questions of rank for the moment; Aeschylus, e.g._, in the Oresteia where Clytemnestra commands throughout as much of our sympathy and understanding as Agame1nnon, Cassandra, Electra, Orestes. By this time we have reached a point where our initial ,figure of speech-that of the actual observation of objects by means of eyes removed fro1n each other to a more or less considerable distance--ceases to serve as a clarifier of thought. For in moral vision the observing organ is not a mere eye, alike in all, at least in kind of vision (though not, perhaps, in the degree of accuracy with which it sees)_, but itself a whole moral complex and organism with likes and dislikes, passions and powers, blind spots peculiar to itself and similar perspicacities. Above all, every human being sees the human world surrounding him in the perspective of his own experience of life; just as the judge is at least supposed to se·e the matters at issue between contending parties in the perspective of the law. Nor do we look_, through the medium of narrative or dramatic art, at mere objects which release sensations and emotions in the beholder. Conflicts, such as form the subject n1atter of narrative or dran1atic art, are conflicts between human beings or between human beings and sets of conditions and circumstances created by human beings. THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY And human beings are our kin and, in life, our friends o: enemies, our rivals or helpers, our admirers, perhaps, OJ detractors. No doubt there has been a time in the evolu. tion of mankind when one human being was to the othe1 little more than an object; just as to-day animals are tc many men, less highly developed than others, no morf than objects. But by a long and painful process, by nc means ended, a good many men have come to see a common substratum of humanity in all of their brethren: and in this process art has played a far from subordinate part. After all, as Longinus puts it, "it was art that has made gentle the ways of the world." Yet the fact of individuality remains. In life, it dominates our relation to the surrounding world of men; we hear only their words, which are not our words; we see only their actions, which are not our actions. But it is one of the functions of art to break through that barrier of individuality and to make us understand: to show up· that ·common background of humanity-or, as we may metaphorically call it, "the divine"-in even those who, seen superficially, seem farthest removed from ourselves because we did not happen to live under the circumstances under which they lived; because we were not burdened with their heredity; because, perhaps, we were not exposed to the same temptations; because ours was a different Moira or "share of life," and therefore a different destiny. Now it is the artist's task to understand and to make us understand; and, therefore, the rank of the artist is necessarily conditioned, among other things, by the range of individuals potentially contained in his own common humanity; or, to fall back on our initial figure of speech, by his ability to shift the point of view from which he sees, with at least one of his two eyes, to that point from which WRITERS AND THEIR WORK other individualities look upon the circumstances conditioning a given conflict. This has been expressed by saying that the dramatist or novelist must successively feel with, think with, act with his various (Ccreations'·': he must successively "be" every one of the characters whom he presents to us. This, it has also been said, will be the easier to him the less he is himself individualised; the more nearly his whole being coincides with the common substratum. of humanity (or divinity) which pervades us all; that is, so they say, why, in life, the artist is so rarely what is called a strong character; or one who sees the world and acts with regard to the world as though he were he by divine right, entitled to impose himself upon a reluctant environment and to force it to · adapt itself to his demands upon it. That is also why the artist, the true artist-not the sham variety so common all about us-so often finds himself unable to cope with the ordinary problems of life, as, e.g., that of earning his living, in spite of the fact that, on the other hand, it is the very reason why, in a well-ordered civilisation , he is an indispensable factor in the life of the commonwealth, one with which only immature civilizations think it possible for themselves to dispense. But, of course, no artist ever is·completely merged in the common substratum of humanity. If he were, or rather if any two of them were, the individuality of their work would also disappear; and, apart from accidental differences in subject matter, their work would be indistinguishable . No true artist of the first order will ever emphasize his own individuality: it will pervade his work in spite of himself; and, strange to say, by his very failure in completely merging himself in that substratum, he adds a new interest to his work; for, after all, it is a fundamental 243 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY peculiarity of that common substratum of humanity that it "appears" never as a "pure culture" in the biological sense) but only in the disguise of individuality. Yes, more; it is precisely through this disability of the artist that he becomes truly creative. Let us take a concrete example of a conflict enacted between two characters who are at issue because each is wholly individual. Let us take Agamemnon and Clytemnestra . Let the artist be Aeschylus, that is, an individual vlho fought at Marathon and whose significant life was lived between 499 and 456 B.C., now at Athens, now in Sicily. Let us suppose, as Aeschylus' contemporaries probably supposed, · that Agamemnon and Clytemnestra were historical personalities who had had their actual being at the time of an actual Trojan war and between whom a tragic fate enacted itself. According as we look at the conflict brought about by that fate (that is, by the rea~tion of character to a given set of circumstances and events) from the point of view of Agamemnon or from that of Clytemnestra, we side for or against one or the other, and we feel that one or the other was a hero or a villain; one or the other was human or inhuman; we can never inwardly participate in, or be reconciled to,_the fates of both at once. Life consists of judgments; without judging , all action would cease; but while we are under the influence of art, that judgment is suspended, and, if art is a potent factor in the life of the spectators, some tempering of ordinary judgment is carried beyond the brief spell of art's direct influence. In the first part of Aeschylus ' trilogy enough is said, though only just enough (a11d that is the artificial part of the art in it) to make us understand, and sympathize with, both these great characters. Neither is such that our sympathies readily :Bow out to it (and this is one of the great secrets of the 244 WRITERS AND THEIR WORK powerful effect of tragedy). But both are fused with· Aeschylus himself in such a·way that we look simultaneously at the issue between them from both their individual sides, seeing it, to revert once more to our initial figure of speech, "plastically" as a co·smic event in which human lives are ground up: similar to other cosmic events all of which are in a very deep sense symbolical of human life as such-of a life which, though one and the same in all, yet, as it were, ties itself up in the knots of individual destinies. The common substratum lies dormant in the characters who can not see beyond themselves; it lies · dormant, but it is there: and Aeschylus calls it Zeus, that Aeschylean Zeus who learns by suffering, and the truth of this statement remains unaffected even if we presume that Zeus was to Aeschylus, as an individual living his significant life in the first half of the fifth century B.C., a personal god who had his dwelling on Mount Olympus in Thessaly. In other words, Aeschylus had looked at the data which legend offered, and he had perceived them creatively. II I will now shift my ground entirely and look at the same problem (more or less) from a different point of vi~w, drawing some conclusions from my data. Unfortunately, writers are also living human beings, not gods placed outside of life and endowed with the power of making men's souls transparent. One understands that I am speaking of writers of imaginative liter- . ature only: ·of epics, lyrics, drama, and of prose narratives such as we call "novels". In order to make clear why I group these various, heterogeneous types together, opposing them to writers on history, science, and other subjects which ~ave to be approached, at least in part, 245 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY by the reasoning faculties~ it may be well to state my belief that all art which is truly art has an ultimately lyrical aim: that is to say, only where that lyrical aim can be clearly traced-whether it be in a work of fiction, of the arts of painting and sculpture, or arch.itetcture, or of music-do I acknowledge that the result is entitled to be classified as a work of art instead of being the product of a craft. In just what that lyrical aim consists may be a matter of controversy. I have expounded my personal view.elsewhere, and, for reasons of space, do not intend to - enter upon the question here. Writers, I said, are "unfortunately" also human beings: unfortunately for themselves, not necessarily for those connected with them in daily life, and not at all for those who read their works. Whether, for the outer universe, we accept the hypothesis of a benevolent creator or not, the only purpose of life that we can discover is that it be lived; but if life were simply lived as the vegetative and animal creation lives it, it would resolve itself into a succession of generations without history, science, or art; and the slow evolution of mankind, if such there be, has precisely proceeded through history, science, and art. Besides, there is this contradiction in any theory oflife as a putely mechanistic or vegetative process that the differentiations of pain and pleasure have led within life and, therefore, within nature, to a fundamental criticism of values which, .in turn, has led to the position of many "ifs',; and thus life, itself created, whether by_ a personal creator or by such processes as evolutionary science tries to trace, has become creative in t'urn, though the word creative here assumes a somewhat modified sense. Whether we approve of it or not, creative it is to-day. Creation, however, means at bottom simply a reconstitution of given elements in new combinations. Even in WRITERS AND THEIR WORK Genesis there was chaos before the creative process began. But the creator's position is, there, imagined to be outside the elements from the recombination of which he fashions the new creation. Where, on the other hand, man hecomes a creator in an artistic sense (that is, where the writer is a great writer; and the same applies to all other arts though it is, perhaps, harder to trace the process in arts other than literature), the trouble is that he himself forms at least one of the elements out of which he creates: in fact, every single element which he uses (be it an element of sensation, emotion, or pure observation) assumes, in art, its significance only by that relation to the central ego which gathers them and recombines them, tinged by that admixture of itself. It is in this very circumstance that the ultimately lyrical nature of all art at bottom resides. Now the process of life consists fundamentally in a passive or active reaction to all that is not "I"; and certain philosophies would reduce even the active reaction to a passive one, denying free-will. The "I", in life pure and simple, remains, at any rate, almost unconscious of itself, except in as much as all reaction is either pain or pleasure or a combination, in varying proportions, of the two. But the process of artistic creation, as I have pointed out, consists in a conscious or unconscious relating , of everything that touches the creator, to his ego; in a reconstitution of its elements with himself as one of these elements. That we do not know just what this ego is, need not enter into the discussion. At any given moment of creation the artist treats at least part of himself (mysterious as that ''himself-' may be to him) as something objective and outside of himself, as though it were matter of observation. In other words, he reconstitutes himself, as it were, in two planes, one of these reconstitutions watching, the other watched. With regard 247 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY to all his reactions he has, in a sense, lost his innocence; and thus the spantaneity of life is lost to him: a tragedy which all great .artists have, at one time or another of their lives, profoundly felt as a curse afflicting them. In the artist, the very process of external observation is vitiated. Let an artist and a trained reporter listen to a conversation and write out what they have heard. Let them both do their best to reproduce what) in such a conversation we may, for the present purpose, call nature. And compare the results. The- artist, so the average critic will say, saw and heard more than the mere reporter. In reality, it is very likely to be the other way around. But the reproduction of the artist is certain to be richer in connotations~ it carries the utterances of the conversants to their final conclusions; it interprets gesture or expression of face or hands; not, it needs to be said, in the sense of the conversants; but in the sense of himself, or·of a third being mysteriously come to life, as though he and either or any of the conversants, at each successive moment, had become one and the same person, or rather a person which might be the resultant of a subtle mixture of their two essences. . · Incidentally, it might here be noted that, the farther this process of.a subtle replacement of at least part of the personality observed by the personality observing goes, the more we approach, in the resultant reproduction, to a truly creative process and to an art which I would call classic, in contradistinction to an ar~ which, correspondingly , I call romantic. That is the reason why romantic art, in narrative, knows angels and devils, whereas in classic art both sides to a conflict (and a conflict of one kind or another is the inevitable theme of narrative as well as dramatic art) are right because both are human and, therefore, more or less cognate to the artist; and why, 248 WRITERS AND THEIR WORK in Milton's Paradise Lost, e.g., Satan engages our sympathies : he js as much of Milton's fibre as Adam or God. That is also the reason why Dickens'· "charming" young ladies fail to charm us, for Dickens, being at bottom a romanticist, failed to make them human or to mix into the stuff of which he made them some of the ingredients of his own ·coarser nature. From what I have said, writers, then, may be classified according to the share of themselves which they put into their creations. In all creations of the great writer that share will be considerable; and the greater the writer, the more various will be the creations which he thus shows himself able to fuse with himself. The greatest of writers will be man, woman, and child at the same time; god, angel, and devil; and they will live simultaneously·in youth, in the prime of life, and in old age; in poverty and wealth, power and impo.tence. But the share of themselves which they put into their creations will vary even within their own work; occasionally it will vary through very considerable gradations; and according to these gradations the value of their work will vary. Thus, strange to· say, the strong personality, the one that, in his life, aims at nothing less than a complete conquest of the outside world and of himself: the objective, highly disciplined, much embracing personality (Goethe, Shakespeare) will produce work the value of which is almost directly proportional to the degree in which his own intensely human and subjective nature penetrates it, perhaps in spite of himself It takes very intense emotions to stir such personalities to their depths -so that they surrender themselves to that fusion of which we have been speaking. But once they are stirred, their souls glimmer and shimmer in a thousand colours never seen by mortal eye before; anci the result is a Hamlet, a 249 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY Lear, or a Tasso or Faust. Then they succeed in revealing to us lesser men hidden potentialities of ourselves and of human life, and they enlarge our own personalities by enforcing in us a fusion of ourselves with their own (CErlebnis" (a Goethean word so charged with Goethean meaning that it has become untranslatable by the colourless English word experience). Whereas others, of the second order, more readily swayed themselves, but nearer the surface (Heine or Shelley), rise in power, the greater the share of the objective world becomes in their creation. Occasionally we find an artist who, like Ibsen, produced work of his first order (though, as a personality , he may rank considerably below such encyclopedic beings as Goethe), no matter whether in that fusion of object and subject (to use these outgrown terms) the one or the other prevails; and the reason will be clear in a moment. I have indicated my belief that the life of the creative artist is fundamentally different from that of the noncreative person that merely lives. In order that art may live, the artist must, at least temporarily, die to life. That, by the way, is one of the reasons why it is dangerous to live with artists: to the artist, everything and everybody they cotne in contact with is neither more nor less than what we may call, very imperfectly and almost in- .delicately, a model. But though an artist is, -in a sense, always an artist, he is so, at di.fferent times, in varying degrees; and consequently_ he is, at different times and in varying degrees a non-artist and lives the life of ordinary folk. The more intensely he does so, and the longer the periods he does so, the greater will be the volcanic pressure , the eruptive vehemence with which he creates when the degree ofsaturation with life at last forces him into the process of creation: the time will come when, whether WRITERS AND THEIR WORK .he wants to or not, he must create. The "it" in him, whatever it be which forces him to create has been at work all the time, unsuspected even by himself; and suddenly, like a flood, it forces its way, perhaps bringing ruin to the landscape and the human habitations that have grown up along its hill-slopes. Thus Goethe left Weimar and Frau von Stein. The creation takes on an uncanny life of its own, like a child in gestation, with rights of its own, rights so imperative as to impose themselves on the creator. A book produced under such circumstances is what I caJl a book that "has grown'- ': it will always outrank, in any scale of ultimate values, any work produced under circumstances of greater control. It will, perhaps, show flaws; and dead matter may be embedded 1n 1t. But it will carry those :flaws and that dead matter as a flow of lava may carry whole masses of unfused rock or debris which it has swept before its onset. Such are the greatest works that constitute the true classics of all times and climes. There are other great works, near-classics, that were not grown but made. By far the greater part of what constitutes the world's abiding literature consists of them; and there are two ways in which such works may originate. In the first place, the great artist has, as I have hinted, his periods of uncreativeness. Suppose such a one has ordered his whole external life with a view towards creation. When his truly creative powers have gone into a sort of hibernation, he will feel as though all meaning had gone out of his life, as though he were living in a great void; and almost unconsciously he will search for something to write about. If his art be that of nar-. ration or of the drama, he will perhaps take to a more intensive observation of the life about him and will there find the conflict which he needs to exercise his plastic THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY powers on. If he be sufficiently great as an artist, he will bring about an artificial fusion between himself and such characters as figure in that conflict, till they are imbued with a semblance of life sufficiently striking to i1npose themselves on reader, hearer, or spectator. There are rare cases where such a process of artificial creation is so successful as to deceive all but the finest critics. There need be no false note left in the product; but the real critic will detect a subtle difference between the work that is "made" by such an artist and the work that has "grown." Some last fusion is missing; some last power, therefore, of carrying away the reader, surface and subsoil and all. Thus Ibsen created his "Hedda Gabler," whereas the same author's "Ghosts" was "grown." It might be well to add that other artists (the greatest among them) are apt, in such periods of dormancy, to produce the utter inanity, the hopelessly mediocre and uninspired; and that- for the very reason that they have never ordered their external lives with a view towards that creation which has always· overtaken them like a catastrophe-as, so it often seems to then1, a by-product of their lives which, to the1nselves, becomes the redemptive factor of their existence only in their old age when, to their own surprise, they become a problem to themselves, so that they speak and almost think of the1nselves in the third person: the case of Goethe. In the second place, there are those who are in love with art and yet are not, fundamentally and by a psychological necessity, artists. Let me mention Lesage or Walter Pater or Gustave Flaubert. In their productions, these are inevitably stylists. They scrupulously avoid the trite (which the great artist imbues with a new life); they will never fall to the level of the mediocre; but neither will they attain the heights. They are the only WRITERS AND THEIR WORK ones among those that count who are at bottom capable of "objectivity,'. They are often clever (the great artist never is, just as a mountain-range is never clever, though a landscape-garden is nothing unless it is cleverly done). They may offer us an entertainment of a very high order; but they do .not write the last chapter of Hardy's Jude nor the second fragment of Sappho; they do not even reach out for an Eroica or such lines as "Lasciate ogni . h' ,, speranza vo1 c entrate . And there it stands: one has the choice whether he will live among the peaks of mountain ranges or in the pretty walks of terraced gardens. 253 ...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 236-253
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.