“A stockbroker”

A stockbroker in one sense really is a very poetical figure. In one sense he is as poetical as Shakespeare, and his ideal poet, since he does give to airy nothing a local habitation and a name. He does deal to a great extent in what economists (in their poetical way) describe as imaginaries.  When he exchanges two thousand Patagonian Pumpkins for one thousand shares in Alaskan Whale Blubber, he does not demand the sensual satisfaction of eating the pumpkin or need to behold the whale with the gross eye of flesh. It is quite possible that there are no pumpkins; and if there is somewhere such a thing as a whale, it is very unlikely to obtrude itself upon the conversation in the Stock Exchange. Now what is the matter with the financial world is that it is a great deal too full of imagination, in the sense of fiction. And when we react against it, we naturally in the first place react into realism.

The Outline of Sanity (1926).

A stockbroker in one sense really is a very poetical figure.
In one sense he is as poetical as Shakespeare, and his ideal poet,
since he does give to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.
He does deal to a great extent in what economists (in their poetical way)
describe as imaginaries.  When he exchanges two thousand
Patagonian Pumpkins for one thousand shares in Alaskan Whale Blubber,
he does not demand the sensual satisfaction of eating the pumpkin
or need to behold the whale with the gross eye of flesh.
It is quite possible that there are no pumpkins; and if there
is somewhere such a thing as a whale, it is very unlikely
to obtrude itself upon the conversation in the Stock Exchange.
Now what is the matter with the financial world is that it is
a great deal too full of imagination, in the sense of fiction.
And when we react against it, we naturally in the first place
react into realism.
Published in: on July 29, 2009 at 6:47 am  Leave a Comment  

“Not the same even when they are the same”

Those who talk about Pagan Christs have less sympathy with Paganism than with Christianity.  Those who call these cults ‘religions,’ and ‘compare’ them with the certitude and challenge of the Church have much less appreciation than we have of what made heathenism human, or of why classic literature is still something that hangs in the air like a song.  It is no very human tenderness for the hungry to prove that hunger is the same as food.  It is no very genial  understanding of youth to argue that hope destroys the need for happiness. And it is utterly unreal to argue that these images in the mind, admired entirely in the abstract, were even in the same world with a living man and a living polity that were worshipped because they were concrete.  We might as well say that a boy playing at robbers is the same as a man in his first day in the trenches; or that boy’s first fancies about ‘the not impossible she’ are the same as the sacrament of marriage.  They are fundamentally different exactly where they are superficially similar; we might almost say they are not the same even when they are the same. They are only different because one is real and the other is not. I do not mean merely that I myself believe that one is true and the other is not.  I mean that one was never meant to be true in the same sense as the other.

The Everlasting Man (1925).

Published in: on July 22, 2009 at 6:06 am  Comments (3)  

“A memorial of nothing”

The elusive, enormous, and nameless thing, with which I have so long wrestled, as with a slippery leviathan, in such places as this, suddenly heaved in sight the other day and took on a sort of formless form.  I am always getting these brief glimpses of the monster, though they seldom last long enough for me to make head or tail of it.  In this case it appeared in a short letter to the Daily Express, which ran, word for word, as follows:

In reply to your article ‘What Youth Wants in Church,’ I assert that it does not want sadness, ceremony, or humbug.  Youth wants to know only about the present and future, not about what happened 2000 years ago.  If the churches forsake these things, young people will flock to them.

The syntax is a little shaky, and the writer does not mean that the young people will flock to the things that happened 2000 years ago if only the churches will desert them.   He does actually mean (what is much more extraordinary) that the young people will flock to the churches merely because the churches have forsaken all the original objects of their existence.  Every feature of every church, from a cross on a spire to an old hymn-book left in a pew, refers more or less to certain things that happened about 2000 years ago.  If we do not want to be reminded of these things, the natural inference is that we do not want any of the buildings built to remind us of them.  So far from flocking to them, we shall naturally desire to get away from them; or still more to clear them away.  But I cannot understand why something which is unpopular because of what it means should become frightfully popular because it no longer means anything.  A War Memorial is a memorial of the war, and I can imagine that those who merely hate the memory might merely hate the memorial.  But what would be the sense of saying that, if only all the names of the dead were scraped off the War Memorial, huge pilgrimages would be made from all ends of the earth to visit and venerate the absence of names on a memorial of nothing?

All is Grist (1931).

Published in: on July 15, 2009 at 8:05 am  Leave a Comment  

“Through the imagination alone”

Certainly the pagan does not disbelieve like an atheist, any more than he believes like a Christian.  He feels the presence of powers about which he guesses and invents. St. Paul said that the Greeks had one altar to an unknown god. But in truth all their gods were unknown gods.  And the real break in history did come when St. Paul declared to them whom they had ignorantly worshipped.

The substance of all such paganism may be summarised thus. It is an attempt to reach the divine reality through the imagination alone; in its own field reason does not restrain it at all. It is vital to this view of all history that reason is something separate from religion even in the most rational of these civilisations. It is only as an afterthought, when such cults are decadent or on the defensive, that a few Neo-Platonists or a few Brahmins are found trying to rationalise them, and even then only by trying to allegorise them.  But in reality the rivers of mythology and philosophy run parallel and do not mingle till they meet in the sea of Christendom.  Simple secularists still talk as if the Church had introduced a sort of schism between reason and religion.  The truth is that the Church was actually the first thing that ever tried to combine reason and religion. There had never before been any such union of the priests and the philosophers.  Mythology, then, sought god through the imagination; or sought truth by means of beauty, in the sense in which beauty includes much of the most grotesque ugliness. But the imagination has its own laws and therefore its own triumphs, which neither logicians nor men of science can understand. It remained true to that imaginative instinct through a thousand extravagances, through every crude cosmic pantomime of a pig eating the moon or the world being cut out of a cow, through all the dizzy convolutions and mystic malformations of Asiatic art, through all the stark and staring rigidity of Egyptian and Assyrian portraiture, through every kind of cracked mirror of mad art that seemed to deform the world and displace the  sky, it remained true to something about which there can be no argument; something that makes it possible for some artist of some school to stand suddenly still before that particular deformity and say, ‘My dream has come true.’  Therefore do we all in fact feel that pagan or primitive myths are infinitely suggestive, so long as we are wise enough not to inquire what they suggest. Therefore we all feel what is meant by Prometheus stealing fire from heaven, until some prig of a pessimist or progressive person explains what it means.  Therefore we all know the meaning of Jack and the Beanstalk, until we are told. In this sense it is true that it is the ignorant who accept myths, but only because it is the ignorant who appreciate poems.

The Everlasting Man (1925).

Published in: on July 8, 2009 at 7:32 am  Leave a Comment  

“Quite casually ignorant”

Now against the specialist, against the man who studies only art or electricity, or the violin, or the thumbscrew or what not, there is only one really important argument, and that, for some reason or other, is never offered.  People say that specialists are inhuman; but that is unjust.  People say an expert is not a man; but that is unkind and untrue.  The real difficulty about the specialist or expert is much more singular and fascinating.  The trouble with the expert is never that he is not a man; it is always that wherever he is not an expert he is too much of an ordinary man.  Wherever he is not exceptionally learned he is quite casually ignorant.  This is the great fallacy in the case of what is called the impartiality of men of science.  If scientific men had no idea beyond their scientific work it might be all very well — that is to say, all very well for everybody except them.  But the truth is that, beyond their scientific ideas, they have not the absence of ideas but the presence of the most vulgar and sentimental ideas that happen to be common to their social clique.  If a biologist had no views on art and morals it might be all very well.  The truth is that the biologist has all the wrong views of art and morals that happen to be going about in the smart set of his time.

William Blake (1910)

Published in: on July 1, 2009 at 7:31 am  Comments (1)