The particular myth that's been organizing this talk, and in a way the whole series, is the story of the Tower of Babel in the Bible. The civilization we live in at present is a gigantic technological structure, a skyscraper almost high enough to reach the moon. It looks like a single world-wide effort, but it's really a deadlock of rivalries; it looks very impressive, except that it has no genuine human dignity. For all its wonderful machinery, we know it's really a crazy ramshackle building, and at any time may crash around our ears. What the myth tells us is that the Tower of Babel is a work of human imagination, that its main elements are words, and that what will make it collapse is a confusion of tongues. All had originally one language, the myth says. The language is not English or Russian or Chinese or any common ancestor, if there was one. It is the language that makes Shakespeare and Pushkin authentic poets, that gives a social vision to both Lincoln and Gandhi. It never speaks unless we take the time to listen in leisure, and it speaks only in a voice too quiet for panic to hear. And then all it has to tell us, when we look over the edge of our leaning tower, is that we are not getting any nearer heaven, and that it is time to return to earth. [p.98]
Because every book of art, be it a poem or a cupola, is understandably a self-portrait of its author, we won't strain ourselves too hard trying to distinguish between the author's persona and the poem's lyrical hero. As a rule, such distinctions are quite meaningless, if only because a lyrical hero is invariably an author's self-projection.
The artist usually sets out -- or used to -- to point a moral and adorn a tale. The tale, however, points the other way, as a rule. Two blankly opposing morals, the artist's and the tale's. Never trust the artist. Trust the tale. The proper functions of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it.
Dark influences from the American past congregate among us still. If we are a democracy, what are we to make of the palpable elements of plutocracy, oligarchy, and mounting theocracy that rule our state? How do we address the self-inflicted catastrophes that devastated our natural environment? So large is our malaise that no single writer can encompass it. We have no Emerson or Whitman among us. An institutionalized counterculture condemns individuality as archaic and depreciates intellectual values, even in the universities. (The Anatomy of Influence)
What Kant took to be the necessary schemata of reality,' says a modern Freudian, 'are really only the necessary schemata of repression.' And an experimental psychologist adds that 'a sense of time can only exist where there is submission to reality.' To see everything as out of mere succession is to behave like a man drugged or insane. Literature and history, as we know them, are not like that; they must submit, be repressed. It is characteristic of the stage we are now at, I think, that the question of how far this submission ought to go--or, to put it the other way, how far one may cultivate fictional patterns or paradigms--is one which is debated, under various forms, by existentialist philosophers, by novelists and anti-novelists, by all who condemn the myths of historiography. It is a debate of fundamental interest, I think, and I shall discuss it in my fifth talk. Certainly, it seems, there must, even when we have achieved a modern degree of clerical scepticism, be some submission to the fictive patterns. For one thing, a systematic submission of this kind is almost another way of describing what we call 'form.' 'An inter-connexion of parts all mutually implied'; a duration (rather than a space) organizing the moment in terms of the end, giving meaning to the interval between tick and tock because we humanly do not want it to be an indeterminate interval between the tick of birth and the tock of death. That is a way of speaking in temporal terms of literary form. One thinks again of the Bible: of a beginning and an end (denied by the physicist Aristotle to the world) but humanly acceptable (and allowed by him to plots). Revelation, which epitomizes the Bible, puts our fate into a book, and calls it the book of life, which is the holy city. Revelation answers the command, 'write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter'--'what is past and passing and to come'--and the command to make these things interdependent. Our novels do likewise. Biology and cultural adaptation require it; the End is a fact of life and a fact of the imagination, working out from the middle, the human crisis. As the theologians say, we 'live from the End,' even if the world should be endless. We need ends and kairoi and the pleroma, even now when the history of the world has so terribly and so untidily expanded its endless successiveness. We re-create the horizons we have abolished, the structures that have collapsed; and we do so in terms of the old patterns, adapting them to our new worlds. Ends, for example, become a matter of images, figures for what does not exist except humanly. Our stories must recognize mere successiveness but not be merely successive; Ulysses, for example, may be said to unite the irreducible chronos of Dublin with the irreducible kairoi of Homer. In the middest, we look for a fullness of time, for beginning, middle, and end in concord. For concord or consonance really is the root of the matter, even in a world which thinks it can only be a fiction. The theologians revive typology, and are followed by the literary critics. We seek to repeat the performance of the New Testament, a book which rewrites and requites another book and achieves harmony with it rather than questioning its truth. One of the seminal remarks of modern literary thought was Eliot's observation that in the timeless order of literature this process is continued. Thus we secularize the principle which recurs from the New Testament through Alexandrian allegory and Renaissance Neo-Platonism to our own time. We achieve our secular concords of past and present and future, modifying the past and allowing for the future without falsifying our own moment of crisis. We need, and provide, fictions of concord.
The formerly absolute distinction between time and eternity in Christian thought--between nunc movens with its beginning and end, and nunc stans, the perfect possession of endless life--acquired a third intermediate order based on this peculiar betwixt-and-between position of angels. But like the Principle of Complementarity, this concord-fiction soon proved that it had uses outside its immediate context, angelology. Because it served as a means of talking about certain aspects of human experience, it was humanized. It helped one to think about the sense, men sometimes have of participating in some order of duration other than that of the nunc movens--of being able, as it were, to do all that angels can. Such are those moments which Augustine calls the moments of the soul's attentiveness; less grandly, they are moments of what psychologists call 'temporal integration.' When Augustine recited his psalm he found in it a figure for the integration of past, present, and future which defies successive time. He discovered what is now erroneously referred to as 'spatial form.' He was anticipating what we know of the relation between books and St. Thomas's third order of duration--for in the kind of time known by books a moment has endless perspectives of reality. We feel, in Thomas Mann's words, that 'in their beginning exists their middle and their end, their past invades the present, and even the most extreme attention to the present is invaded by concern for the future.' The concept of aevum provides a way of talking about this unusual variety of duration-neither temporal nor eternal, but, as Aquinas said, participating in both the temporal and the eternal. It does not abolish time or spatialize it; it co-exists with time, and is a mode in which things can be perpetual without being eternal. We've seen that the concept of aevum grew out of a need to answer certain specific Averroistic doctrines concerning origins. But it appeared quite soon that this medium inter aeternitatem et tempus had human uses. It contains beings (angels) with freedom of choice and immutable substance, in a creation which is in other respects determined. Although these beings are out of time, their acts have a before and an after. Aevum, you might say, is the time-order of novels. Characters in novels are independent of time and succession, but may and usually do seem to operate in time and succession; the aevum co-exists with temporal events at the moment of occurrence, being, it was said, like a stick in a river. Brabant believed that Bergson inherited the notion through Spinoza's duratio, and if this is so there is an historical link between the aevum and Proust; furthermore this durée réelle is, I think, the real sense of modern 'spatial form,' which is a figure for the aevum.
Tick is a humble genesis, tock a feeble apocalypse; and tick-tock is in any case not much of a plot. We need much larger ones and much more complicated ones if we persist in finding 'what will suffice.' And what happens if the organization is much more complex than tick-tock? Suppose, for instance, that it is a thousand-page novel. Then it obviously will not lie within what is called our 'temporal horizon'; to maintain the experience of organization we shall need many more fictional devices. And although they will essentially be of the same kind as calling the second of those two related sounds tock, they will obviously be more resourceful and elaborate. They have to defeat the tendency of the interval between tick and tock to empty itself; to maintain within that interval following tick a lively expectation of tock, and a sense that however remote tock may be, all that happens happens as if tock were certainly following. All such plotting presupposes and requires that an end will bestow upon the whole duration and meaning. To put it another way, the interval must be purged of simple chronicity, of the emptiness of tock-tick., humanly uninteresting successiveness. It is required to be a significant season, kairos poised between beginning and end. It has to be, on a scale much greater than that which concerns the psychologists, an instance of what they call 'temporal integration'--our way of bundling together perception of the present, memory of the past, and expectation of the future, in a common organization. Within this organization that which was conceived of as simply successive becomes charged with past and future: what was chronos becomes kairos. This is the time of the novelist, a transformation of mere successiveness which has been likened, by writers as different as Forster and Musil, to the experience of love, the erotic consciousness which makes divinely satisfactory sense out of the commonplace person.
At some very low level, we all share certain fictions about time, and they testify to the continuity of what is called human nature, however conscious some, as against others, may become of the fictive quality of these fictions. It seems to follow that we shall learn more concerning the sense-making paradigms, relative to time, from experimental psychologists than from scientists or philosophers, and more from St. Augustine than from Kant or Einstein because St. Augustine studies time as the soul's necessary self-extension before and after the critical moment upon which he reflects. We shall learn more from Piaget, from studies of such disorders as déj? Vu, eidetic imagery, the Korsakoff syndrome, than from the learned investigators of time's arrow, or, on the other hand, from the mythic archetypes. Let us take a very simple example, the ticking of a clock. We ask what it says: and we agree that it says tick-tock. By this fiction we humanize it, make it talk our language. Of course, it is we who provide the fictional difference between the two sounds; tick is our word for a physical beginning, tock our word for an end. We say they differ. What enables them to be different is a special kind of middle. We can perceive a duration only when it is organized. It can be shown by experiment that subjects who listen to rhythmic structures such as tick-tock, repeated identically, 'can reproduce the intervals within the structure accurately, but they cannot grasp spontaneously the interval between the rhythmic groups,' that is, between tock and tick, even when this remains constant. The first interval is organized and limited, the second not. According to Paul Fraisse the tock-tick gap is analogous to the role of the 'ground' in spatial perception; each is characterized by a lack of form, against which the illusory organizations of shape and rhythm are perceived in the spatial or temporal object. The fact that we call the second of the two related sounds tock is evidence that we use fictions to enable the end to confer organization and form on the temporal structure. The interval between the two sounds, between tick and tock is now charged with significant duration. The clock's tick-tock I take to be a model of what we call a plot, an organization that humanizes time by giving it form; and the interval between tock and tick represents purely successive, disorganized time of the sort that we need to humanize. Later I shall be asking whether, when tick-tock seems altogether too easily fictional, we do not produce plots containing a good deal of tock-tick; such a plot is that of Ulysses.
I hope I have now made it clear why I thought it best, in speaking of the dissonances between fiction and reality in our own time, to concentrate on Sartre. His hesitations, retractations, inconsistencies, all proceed from his consciousness of the problems: how do novelistic differ from existential fictions? How far is it inevitable that a novel give a novel-shaped account of the world? How can one control, and how make profitable, the dissonances between that account and the account given by the mind working independently of the novel?For Sartre it was ultimately, like most or all problems, one of freedom. For Miss Murdoch it is a problem of love, the power by which we apprehend the opacity of persons to the degree that we will not limit them by forcing them into selfish patterns. Both of them are talking, when they speak of freedom and love, about the imagination. The imagination, we recall, is a form-giving power, an esemplastic power; it may require, to use Simone Weil's words, to be preceded by a 'decreative' act, but it is certainly a maker of orders and concords. We apply it to all forces which satisfy the variety of human needs that are met by apparently gratuitous forms. These forms console; if they mitigate our existential anguish it is because we weakly collaborate with them, as we collaborate with language in order to communicate. Whether or no we are predisposed towards acceptance of them, we learn them as we learn a language. On one view they are 'the heroic children whom time breeds / Against the first idea,' but on another they destroy by falsehood the heroic anguish of our present loneliness. If they appear in shapes preposterously false we will reject them; but they change with us, and every act of reading or writing a novel is a tacit acceptance of them. If they ruin our innocence, we have to remember that the innocent eye sees nothing. If they make us guilty, they enable us, in a manner nothing else can duplicate, to submit, as we must, the show of things to the desires of the mind. I shall end by saying a little more about La Nausée, the book I chose because, although it is a novel, it reflects a philosophy it must, in so far as it possesses novel form, belie. Under one aspect it is what Philip Thody calls 'an extensive illustration' of the world's contingency and the absurdity of the human situation. Mr. Thody adds that it is the novelist's task to 'overcome contingency'; so that if the illustration were too extensive the novel would be a bad one. Sartre himself provides a more inclusive formula when he says that 'the final aim of art is to reclaim the world by revealing it as it is, but as if it had its source in human liberty.' This statement does two things. First, it links the fictions of art with those of living and choosing. Secondly, it means that the humanizing of the world's contingency cannot be achieved without a representation of that contingency. This representation must be such that it induces the proper sense of horror at the utter difference, the utter shapelessness, and the utter inhumanity of what must be humanized. And it has to occur simultaneously with the as if, the act of form, of humanization, which assuages the horror. This recognition, that form must not regress into myth, and that contingency must be formalized, makes La Nausée something of a model of the conflicts in the modern theory of the novel. How to do justice to a chaotic, viscously contingent reality, and yet redeem it? How to justify the fictive beginnings, crises, ends; the atavism of character, which we cannot prevent from growing, in Yeats's figure, like ash on a burning stick? The novel will end; a full close may be avoided, but there will be a close: a fake fullstop, an 'exhaustion of aspects,' as Ford calls it, an ironic return to the origin, as in Finnegans Wake and Comment c'est. Perhaps the book will end by saying that it has provided the clues for another, in which contingency will be defeated,..