I am informed by philologists that the "rise to power" of these two words, "problem" and "solution" as the dominating terms of public debate, is an affair of the last two centuries, and especially of the nineteenth, having synchronised, so they say, with a parallel "rise to power" of the word "happiness" for reasons which doubtless exist and would be interesting to discover. Like "happiness", our two terms "problem" and "solution" are not to be found in the Bible-a point which gives to that wonderful literature a singular charm and cogency. . . . On the whole, the influence of these words is malign, and becomes increasingly so. They have deluded poor men with Messianic expectations .. . which are fatal to steadfast persistence in good workmanship and to well-doing in general. . . . Let the valiant citizen never be ashamed to confess that he has no "solution of the social problem" to offer to his fellow-men. Let him offer them rather the service of his skill, his vigilance, his fortitude and his probity. For the matter in question is not, primarily, a "problem", nor the answer to it a "solution".-L. P. JACKS: Stevenson Lectures, 1926-7.
The aesthetic view of life is not, however, confined to those who can create or appreciate works of art. It exists wherever natural senses play freely on the manifold phenomena of our world, and when life as a consequence is found to be full of felicity.-HERBERT READ: Annals of Innocence and Experience.
So far, we have been inquiring into the correspondence between the Christian Creeds and the experience of the artist on the subject of the creative mind and we have seen that there is, in fact, a striking agreement between them.
Now, how does all this concern the common man?
It has become abundantly clear of late years that something has gone seriously wrong with our conception of humanity and of humanity's proper attitude to the universe. We have begun to suspect that the purely analytical approach to phenomena is only leading us further and further into the abyss of disintegration and randomness, and that it is becoming urgently necessary to construct a synthesis of life. It is dimly apprehended that the creative artist does, somehow or other, specialise in construction, and also that the Christian religion does, in some way that is not altogether clear to us, claim to bring us into a right relation with a God whose attribute is creativeness. Accordingly, exhorted on all sides to become creative and constructive, the common man may reasonably turn to these two authorities, in the hope that they may shed some light, first, on what creativeness is, and, secondly, on its significance for the common man and his affairs.
Now we may approach this matter in two ways-from either end, so to speak. We may start from the artist himself, by observing that he has, in some way or other, got hold of a method of dealing with phenomena that is fruitful and satisfying to the needs of his personality. We may examine the workings of his mind when it is creatively engaged, and discover what is its intrinsic nature. Having done so, we may arrive at some conclusions about the nature of creative mind as such. And at this point we may set our conclusions over against those dogmatic pronouncements which the Church has made about the Creator, and discover that between the two there is a difference only of technical phraseology, and between the mind of the maker and the Mind of his Maker, a difference, not of category, but only of quality and degree.
Alternatively, we may begin with the Creeds, and ask what meaning for us, if any, is contained in this extraordinary set of formulae about Trinity-in-Unity, about the Eternal-Uncreate-Incomprehensible incarnate in spacetime-matter, about the begotten Word and the Ghost proceeding, and about the orthodox God-Manhood so finickingly insisted upon and so obstinately maintained amid a dusty mellay of mutually-contradictory heresies. We may take the statements to pieces, and translate them into the terms of an artistic analogy, only to discover that there then emerges a picture of the human artist at work-a picture exact to the minutest detail, familiar at every point, and corroborated in every feature by day-today experience. When we have done this, we may consider how strange and unexpected this must appear, if we hold it to be accidental. Obviously, it is not accidental. We may, of course, conclude that it is yet another instance of the rooted anthropomorphism of theologians. In seeking to establish the nature of the God they did not know, the Fathers of the Church began by examining the artist they did know, and constructed their portrait of Divinity upon that human model. Historically, of course, it is clear that they did not do this intentionally; nothing, I imagine, would be further from their conscious minds than to erect the Poet into a Godhead. But they may have done it unconsciously, proceeding from the human analogy, as human reasoning must. The theory is perfectly tenable. Let us, however, take note that if we hold this theory, we cannot, at the same time, hold that Trinitarian doctrine, as formulated, is obscure, apriorist and unrelated to human experience; since we are committed to supposing that it is a plain a posteriori induction from human experience.
On the other hand, we may conclude that the doctrine derives from a purely religious experience of God, as revealed in Christ and interpreted by abstract philosophic reasoning about the nature of the Absolute. In that case, we cannot call it irrational, however intricate and theoretical it may appear, since we have said it is a product of the reason. But if this theory, erected upon reason and religious experience, turns out to be capable of practical application in a totally different sphere of human experience, then we are forced to conclude also that the religious experience of Christianity is no isolated phenomenon; it has, to say the least of it, parallels elsewhere within the universe.
Now, when Isaac Newton observed a certain relationship and likeness
between the behaviour of the falling apple and that of the circling planets, it
might be said with equal plausibility either that he argued by analogy from the
apple to a theory of astronomy, or that while evolving a theory of astronomical
mathematics he suddenly perceived its application to the apple. But it would
scarcely be exact to say that, in the former case, he absurdly supposed the
planets to be but apples of a larger growth, with pips in them; or that, in the
latter case, he had spun out a purely abstract piece of isolated cerebration
which, oddly enough, turned out to be true about apples, though the movements
of the planets themselves had no existence outside Newton's mathematics.
Newton, being a rational man, concluded that the two kinds of behaviour
resembled one another-not because the planets had copied the apples, or the
apples copied the planets, but-because both were examples of the working of one
and the same principle. If you took a cross-section of the physical universe at
the point marked "Solar System" and again at the point marked "Apple", the same
pattern was exhibited; and the natural and proper conclusion was that this
pattern was part of a universal structure, which ran through the world of
visible phenomena as the grain runs through wood. Similarly, we may take a
cross-section of the spiritual universe (1) at the point marked "Christian
Theology" and at the point marked "Art", and find at both precisely the same
pattern of the creative mind; it is open to us to draw a similar conclusion.
(1 "Spiritual" is not quite the right word to oppose to "material"; nor yet is "vital" or "mental". Each is too limited, while "nonmaterial" is too purely negative. As R. 0. Lapp says (op. cit.) "we require a word which suggests that non-material reality possesses attributes lacking in matter"; and we require that this word shall cover the whole field of non-material reality. The word he suggests is "diathetic", meaning, "capable of disposing to a specification". Since this useful term is not yet common currency, we must make do with one of the others, intimating that we intend by it that which is purposive and orderly in its dealings with matter, as opposed to the random and chaotic habit of inanimate matter when left to itself.)
But if we do-if we conclude that creative mind is in fact the very grain of the spiritual universe, we cannot arbitrarily stop our investigations with the man who happens to work in stone, or paint, or music, or letters. We shall have to ask ourselves whether the same pattern is not also exhibited in the spiritual structure of every man and woman. And, if it is, whether, by confining the average man and woman to uncreative activities and an uncreative outlook, we are not doing violence to the very structure of our being. If so, it is a serious matter, since we have seen already the unhappy results of handling any material in a way that runs counter to the natural law of its structure.
It will at once be asked what is meant by asking the common man to deal with life creatively. We do not expect him to turn all his experience into masterpieces in ink or stone. His need is to express himself in agriculture or manufactures, in politics or finance, or in the construction of an ordered society. If he is required to be an "artist in living", the only image suggested by the phrase is that of a well-to-do person like Oscar Wilde, stretched in a leisured manner upon a sofa and aesthetically contemplating the lilies of the field. The average man cannot afford this. Also, he supposes that the artist exercises complete mastery over his material. But the average man does not feel himself to be a complete master of life (which is his material). Far from it. To the average man, life presents itself, not as material malleable to his hand, but as a series of problems of extreme difficulty, which he has to solve with the means at his disposal. And he is distressed to find that the more means he can dispose of such as machine-power, rapid transport, and general civilised amenities, the more his problems grow in hardness and complexity. This is particularly disconcerting to him, because he has been frequently told that the increase of scientific knowledge would give him "the mastery over nature"-which ought, surely, to imply mastery over life.
Perhaps the first thing that he can learn from the artist is that the only way of "mastering" one's material is to abandon the whole conception of mastery and to co-operate with it in love: whosoever will be a lord of life, let him be its servant. If he tries to wrest life out of its true nature, it will revenge itself in judgment, as the work revenges itself upon the domineering artist.
The second thing is, that the words "problem" and "solution" as commonly used, belong to the analytic approach to phenomena, and not to the creative. Though it has become a commonplace of platform rhetoric that we can only "solve our problems" by dealing with them "in a creative way", those phrases betray, either that the speaker has repeated a popular cliche without bothering to think what it means, or that he is quite ignorant of the nature of creativeness.
From our brief study of the human maker's way of creation, it should be fairly clear that the creator does not set out from a set of data, and proceed, like a crossword solver or a student of elementary algebra, to deduce from them a result which shall be final, predictable, complete and the only one possible. The concept of "problem and solution" is as meaningless, applied to the act of creation, as it is when applied to the act of procreation. To add John to Mary in a procreative process does not produce a "solution" of John's and Mary's combined problem; it produces George or Susan, who (in addition to being a complicating factor in the life of his or her parents) possesses an independent personality with an entirely new set of problems. Even if, in the manner of the sentimental novel of the 'nineties, we allow the touch of baby hands to loosen some of the knots into which John and Mary have tied themselves, the "solution" (meaning George or Susan) is not the only one possible, nor is it final, predictable or complete.
Again, there is no strictly mathematical or detective story sense in which it can be said that the works of a poet are the "solution" of the age in which he lived; indeed, it is seldom at all clear which of these two factors is the result of the other. Much breath and ink are continually expended in the effort to find out, under the impression that this also is a "problem" awaiting of a final, predictable, complete and sole possible "solution". The most one can say is that between the poet and his age there is an intimate connection of mutual influence, highly complex and various, and working in all directions of time and space.
Yet the common man, obsessed by the practice of a mathematical and scientific period, is nevertheless obscurely aware that that enigmatic figure, the creative artist, possesses some power of interpretation which he has not, some access to the hidden things behind that baffling curtain of phenomena which he cannot penetrate. Sometimes he merely resents this, as men do often resent an inexplicable and incommunicable superiority. Sometimes he dismisses it: "He is a dreamer; let us leave him. Pass." But at other times-especially when the disharmonies of contemporary existence force themselves on his attention with an urgency that cannot be ignored, he will lay hold of the artist and demand to be let into his secret. "Here, you!" he will cry, "you have some trick, some pass-word, some magic formula that unlocks the puzzle of the universe. Apply it for us. Give us the solution to the problems of civilisation."
This, though excusable, is scarcely fair, since the artist does not see life as a problem to be solved, but as a medium for creation. He is asked to settle the common man's affairs for him; but he is well aware that creation settles nothing. The thing that is settled is finished and dead, and his concern is not with death but with life: "that ye may have life and have it more abundantly". True, the artist can, out of his own experience, tell the common man a great deal about the fulfilment of man's nature in living; but he can only produce the most unsatisfactory kind of reply if he is persistently asked the wrong question. And, as I have (perhaps somewhat heatedly) maintained in my preface, an incapacity for asking the right question has grown, in our time and country, to the proportions of an endemic disease.
The desire of being persuaded that all human experience may be presented in terms of a problem having a predictable, final, complete and sole possible solution accounts, to a great extent, for the late extraordinary popularity of detective fiction. This, we feel, is the concept of life which we want the artist to show us. It is significant that readers should so often welcome the detective-story as a way of escape from the problems of existence. It "takes their minds off their troubles". Of course it does; for it softly persuades them that love and hatred, poverty and unemployment, finance and international politics, are problems, capable of being dealt with and solved in the same manner as the Death in the Library. The beautiful finality with which the curtain rings down on the close of the investigation conceals from the reader that no part of the "problem" has been "solved" except that part which was presented in problematic terms. The murderer's motive has been detected, but nothing at all has been said about the healing of his murderous soul. Indeed, a major technical necessity of the writing is to prevent this aspect of the matter from ever presenting itself to the reader's mind. (For if we know too much about the murderer's soul beforehand, we shall anticipate the solution, and if we sympathise with him too much after discovery, we shall resent his exposure and condemnation. If sympathy cannot be avoided, the author is at pains, either to let the criminal escape, or to arrange for his suicide, and so transfer the whole awkward business to a higher tribunal, whose decisions are not openly promulgated.)
Since, as I have already explained, I am more intimately acquainted with my own works than with other people's, may I illustrate this point from the novel Gaudy Night. This contains three parallel problems, one solved, one partially solved, and the third insoluble. All three are related to the same theme, which is the "Father-Idea" of the book.
The first problem is presented in purely problematical terms: "Who caused the disturbances at Shrewsbury College, and why?" This is solved, within the terms in which it was set, by the predictable, final, complete and sole possible answer: "The culprit was the maid Annie; and her motive was revenge for an act of justice meted out against her husband by a certain academic woman in the interests of professional integrity."
The second "problem" is not really a problem at all: it is a human perplexity: "How are Peter and Harriet to retrieve their relationship from a false emotional situation into which it has been forced by a series of faults on both sides?" Here, by an exercise on both sides of a strict intellectual integrity, that situation is so modified that they are enabled to enter into a new relationship, presenting fresh situations with the prospect of further errors and misunderstandings. This "solution" is neither final nor complete; and though it is both predictable and necessary under the law of the book's nature as an artistic structure it is neither so far as the general law of nature is concerned.
The third "problem" (if one likes to call it so) is presented, both to the reader and to the academic woman who carried out the act of justice on Annie's husband, in terms of a confrontation of values: Is professional integrity so important that its preservation must override every consideration of the emotional and material consequences? To this moral problem no solution is offered, except in terms of situation and character. Argument on both sides is presented; but judgment is only pronounced in the form: Here are this life and that life, these standards and those standards, these people and those people, locked in a conflict which cannot but be catastrophic. Where ever the quality of experience is enriched, there is life. The only judgment this book can offer you is the book itself.
The enriching (and also catastrophic) quality of Integrity is thus the Father-Idea of the book, providing the mechanics of the detective problem, the catalyst that precipitates the instability of the emotional situation, and also a theme which unites the microcosm of the book to the macrocosm of the universe. I have dealt with this story at rather egotistical length because of a criticism made by one intelligent reader, also a writer of detective fiction. He said:
"Why do you allow the academic woman to have any doubts that she pursued the right course with Annie's husband? She seems to think she may have been wrong. Doesn't that conflict with your whole thesis?"
What is obvious here is the firmly implanted notion that all human situations are "problems" like detective problems, capable of a single, necessary, and categorical solution, which must be wholly right, while all others are wholly wrong. But this they cannot be, since human situations are subject to the law of human nature, whose evil is at all times rooted in its good, and whose good can only redeem, but not abolish, its evil. The good that emerges from a conflict of values cannot arise from the total condemnation or destruction of one set of values, but only from the building of a new value, sustained, like an arch, by the tension of the original two. We do not, that is, merely examine the data to disentangle something that was in them already: we use them to construct something that was not there before: neither circumcision or uncircumcision, but a new creature.
The artist's "new creature" is not a moral judgment but his work of living art. If the common man asks the artist for help in producing moral judgments or practical solutions, the only answer he can get is something like this: You must learn to handle practical situations as I handle the material of my book: you must take them and use them to make a new thing. As A. D. Lindsay puts it:
In the morality of my station and duties [i.e. of the moral code] the station presents us with the duty, and we say "Yes" or "No". "I will" or "I will not". We choose between obeying or disobeying a given command. In the morality of challenge or grace the situation says, "Here is a mess, a crying evil, a need! What can you do about it?" We are asked not to say "Yes" or "No" or "I will" or "I will not", but to be inventive, to create, to discover something new. The difference between ordinary people and saints is not that saints fulfil the plain duties which ordinary men neglect. The things saints do have not usually occurred to ordinary people at all.... "Gracious" conduct is somehow like the work of an artist. It needs imagination and spontaneity. It is not a choice between presented alternatives but the creation of something new.' (A. D. Lindsay: The Two Moralities)
The distinction between the artist and the man who is not an artist thus lies in the fact that the artist is living in the "way of grace", so far as his vocation-is concerned. He is not necessarily an artist in handling his personal life, but (since life is the material of his work) he has at least got thus far, that he is using life to make something new. Because of this, the pains and sorrows of this troublesome world can never, for him, be wholly meaningless and useless, as they are to the man who dumbly endures them and can (as he complains with only too much truth) "make nothing of them". If, therefore, we are to deal with our "problems" in "a creative way", we must deal with them along the artist's lines: not expecting to "solve" them by a detective trick, but to "make something of them", even when they are, strictly speaking, insoluble.
I do not say that is is impossible to view all human activity, even the activity of the artist, in terms of "problem and solution". But I say that, however we use the words, they are wholly inadequate to the reality they are meant to express. We can think of Shakespeare, setting himself to solve the problem of Hamlet: that is, the problem of producing a reasonably "box-office" play from the recalcitrant material bequeathed to him by earlier dramatists. Or we can think of him solving incidental problems of production-e.g. how to arrange his scenes so as to give those actors who were doubling two parts time to change, without introducing "padding" into the dialogue. We can think of him solving the problem of Hamlet's character: how to reconcile, plausibly, his delay in revenging his father with his swiftness in disposing of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. But when we have solved all the Hamlet problems that puzzle the critics, we are no nearer to laying hold on the essential thing-the Idea and the Energy that make Hamlet a living power. Hamlet is something more than the sum of its problems. We can see St. Paul's Cathedral purely in terms of the problems solved by the architect-the calculations of stress and strain imposed by the requirements of the site. But there is nothing there that will tell us why men were willing to risk death to save St. Paul's from destruction; or why the bomb that crashed through its roof was felt by millions like a blow over the heart.
All human achievements can be looked on as problems solved-particularly in retrospect, because, if the work has been well done, the result will then appear inevitable. It seems as though this was the only "right" way, predestined and inevitable from the start. So it is the "right" way, in the sense that it is the way which agrees with the maker's Father-Idea. But there was no inevitability about the Idea itself.
It is here that we begin to see how the careless use of the words "problem" and "solution" can betray us into habits of thought that are not merely inadequate but false. It leads us to consider all vital activities in terms of a particular kind of problem, namely the kind we associate with elementary mathematics and detective fiction. These latter are "problems" which really can be "solved" in a very strict and limited sense, and I think the words "problem" and "solution" should be reserved for these special cases. Applied indiscriminately, they are fast becoming a deadly danger. They falsify our apprehension of life as disastrously as they falsify our apprehension of art. At the cost of a little recapitulation, I should like to make this quite clear.
There are four characteristics of the mathematical or detective problem which are absent from the "life-problem"; but because we are accustomed to find them in the one, we look for them in the other, and experience a sense of frustration and resentment when we do not find them.
1. The detective problem is always soluble. It is, in fact, constructed for the express purpose of being solved, and when the solution is found, the problem no longer exists. A detective or mathematical problem that could not be solved by any means at all, would simply not be what we understand by a "problem" in this sense. But it is unwise to suppose that all human experiences present problems of this kind. There is one vast human experience that confronts us so formidably that we cannot pretend to overlook it. There is no solution to death. There is no means whatever whereby you or I, by taking thought, can solve this difficulty in such a manner that it no longer exists. From very early days, alchemists have sought for the elixir of life, so reluctant is man to concede that there can be any problem incapable of solution. And of late, we note a growing resentment and exasperation in the face of death. We do not so much fear the pains of dying, as feel affronted by the notion that anything in this world should be inevitable. Our efforts are not directed, like those of the saint or the poet, to making something creative out of the idea of death, but rather to seeing whether we cannot somehow evade, abolish, and, in fact, "solve the problem of" death. The spiritual and mental energy which we expend upon resenting the inevitability of death is as much wasted as that which we from time to time have expended on attempts to "solve the problem" of perpetual motion.
Further, this irrational preoccupation curiously hampers us in dealing with such a practical question as that of the possibility of war. It encourages us to look on the evil of war as consisting, first and foremost, in the fact that it kills a great many people. If we concentrate on this, instead of thinking of it in terms of the havoc it plays with the lives and souls of the survivors, we shall direct all our efforts to evading war at all costs, rather than to dealing intelligently with the conditions of life which cause wars and are caused by wars. This, in fact, is precisely what we did in 1919-1939.
We did not, of course, really believe that, if only we could evade war, we should evade death altogether. We only talked and behaved as though we thought so. Death is less noticeable when it occurs privately and piecemeal. In time of peace we can pretend, almost successfully, that it is only a regrettable accident, which ought to have been avoided. If a wealthy old gentleman of ninety-two suddenly falls dead of heart-failure, the papers headline the event: "Tragic Death of Millionaire"; and we feel quite astonished and indignant that anybody so rich should be cut off in his prime. With all that money available for research, science should have been able to solve the problem of death for him. If we do not think this, then why use the word "tragic" about a death so clean, painless, and mature? (Do not say that the headline is too foolish to be true: I saw it with my own eyes.)
We said last time that we hated war because it killed the young and strong before their time. But we are just as angry this time to see the old and the infirm perish with the rest. No man can die more than once; but great disasters, great pestilences, and above all great wars, cram our eyes and ears with the detested knowledge that life intends to kill us.
Because of that, we would not risk war, for right or justice, or even in the hope of preserving peace. We threw down our arms, crying, "No More War!", and so delivered up Europe.
Yet we know perfectly well that the paradox "he that will lose his life shall save it" is a plain and practical fact. Unless we are willing to risk death by jumping from a burning house, we shall most certainly be burnt to death. Indeed, had not the will of our physical nature been ready to accept death, we could never have been born.
The "problem of death" is not susceptible of detective story solution. The only two things we can do with death are, first: to postpone it, which is only partial solution, and, secondly, to transfer the whole set of values connected with death to another sphere of action-that is, from time to eternity.
This brings us to consider the next two characteristics of the detective problem:
2. The detective problem is completely soluble: no loose ends or unsatisfactory enigmas are left anywhere. The solution provides for everything and every question that is asked is answered. We are not left with a balance of probabilities in favour of one conclusion or another; nor does the fixing of the crime on the butler involve the detective in fresh enigmas connected with the cook. Such uncertainties may appear to arise in the course of the story, but they are all cleared up in the end by the discovering of the complete solution. It should not be necessary to point out here that this happy result proceeds from the simple fact that the author has been careful not to ask the questions that the solution will not answer.
Now, our tendency to look for this kind of complete solution without lacunae or compensatory drawbacks badly distorts our view of a number of activities in real life. Medicine is a good example. We are inclined to think of health in terms of disease and cure. Here on the one hand is (we think) one definite disease, and there, on the other hand, should be the one, definite and complete "cure". Apply the cure to the disease, and the result ought to be an exact "solution" of the "problem" presented. If the physician cannot name the disease on sight and immediately produce the prescribed cure, we feel resentfully that the man does not know his business.
In the same way, there used to be a firmly-rooted belief that to every poison there existed "the antidote"-a benevolent drug which would exactly reverse, each by each, the effects of the original poison and restore the body to the status quo ante. There are in fact, I believe, only two drugs which are complementary in this way, atropine and physostigmine (1) (incidentally, neither of them is "benevolent"-both are deadly poisons). With other drugs which are used to counteract one another, the reversal of the effects is only partial, or is rather a counteraction of the symptoms than a healing of the mischief done to the organs. In most cases, the usefulness of the curative drug is only to hold off or mitigate the effects of the poison until the body can summon its physical resources to cure itself. In certain instances, one disease can only be got rid of at the cost of contracting another, as in the malaria treatment of syphilis. Or the treatment demanded by-let us say-a diseased condition of the lungs may be impossible for one particular patient, because his constitution could not stand its violent effects upon the heart. (1 Dixon Mann: Forensic Medicine: Art. "Antagonism of Poisons")
We have, perhaps, abandoned the superstitious belief in antidotes; but we continue to hug the delusion that all ill-health is caused by some single, definite disease, for which there ought to be a single, definite and complete cure without unfortunate after-effects. We think of our illness as a kind of cross-word of which the answer is known to somebody: the complete solution must be there, somewhere; it is the doctor's business to discover and apply it.
But the physician is not solving a cross-word: he is performing a delicate, adventurous, and experimental creative act, of which the patient's body is the material, and to which the creative co-operation of the patient's will is necessary. He is not rediscovering a state of health, temporarily obscured; he is remaking it, or rather, helping it to remake itself. This may indeed be looked upon as a problem; but it is not the same kind of problem as that presented by those in the algebra-book: "If a cistern is filled by pipes A and B in 25 and 32 minutes respectively"; and the answer is not likely to be so precise or to cover all the conditions so satisfactorily.
The patient's best way to health and peace of mind is to enter with understanding into the nature of the physician's task. If he does so, he will not only be better placed to co-operate creatively with him, but he will be relieved from the mental misery of impatience and frustration.
We may note, at the moment of writing, a similar kind of misconception about "the problem of the night bomber". The agony of our impatience with these horrid intrusions is only increased by imagining that "the solution" already exists somewhere or other and that nothing but the criminal folly and sloth of the authorities prevents it from being immediately discovered and applied. We shall feel better about the business if we scrap the whole misleading notion and think instead: "Now a new thing has to be made that has never been made before." It is not to detectives that we have to look for help, but to inventors-to the men of creative ideas; and by this time we know something of the way in which creative work is done.
"We are at work now upon various devices", says some harassed spokesman; and the imagination sees "us" industriously assembling the device, as though it had been delivered in parts from a celestial workshop, and had only to be fitted together according to the book of instructions and put into use the same evening. That is not creation's way. There is the wayward, the unpredictable, the not to-be-commanded Idea, which may make its presence felt in the mind after long hours of fruitless thought and work, or suddenly after no thought at all, or after a long fallow period of unconsciousness, during which the conscious has been otherwise employed, but always in a day and an hour which we know not. There is the long, bitter, baffled struggle of the Energy, calculating, designing, experimenting, eliminating error, resisting the slide into randomness; the first manifestation of the Idea in a model made with hands; the renewed labour of the Activity, testing, improving, unbuilding error to rebuild nearer to the Idea; the new model made with hands and re-checked, re-tested; the labour of a manifold Activity in the shops to multiply the image of the Idea and distribute it in space; the communication of the Idea in Power to the men who have to understand and use the device; after all of which, if the Idea is a true and powerful Idea, it can at length produce its final manifestation in Power, and bring, as we say, results. And even then, the result may not be a single and complete "answer to the problem"; because this problem is not like a cipher, which carries within itself the material for its own decoding. Very likely there may be no one conclusive "answer" to the night-bomber.
Another kind of inconclusive "problem" presents itself when we desire to enjoy, simultaneously and completely, two mutually incompatible things: such, for example, as liberty and order, or liberty and equality. I have discussed these elsewhere, (Begin Here: Chapter 2) and will only add here the brief reminder that individual liberty is compatible with social order only if the individual freely consents to restrictions on his personal liberty; and that if every man is free to develop all his powers equally to the utmost, there can be no sort of equality between the weak and the strong. Again, there is the hopeless dilemma that confronts every attempt to establish a Kingdom of God on earth: "Goodness, armed with power, is corrupted; and pure love without power is destroyed." (Reinhold Niebuhr: Beyond Tragedy) Such "problems" cannot be solved mathematically: there is no single solution that is wholly right: Either there must be compromise, or the situation must be considered again in other terms, for in the terms in which it is set, the problem is insoluble. This brings us to our third point.
3. The detective problem is solved in the same terms in which it is set. Here is one of the most striking differences between the detective problem and the work of the creative imagination. The detective problem is deliberately set in such a manner that it can be solved without stepping outside its terms of reference. This is part of its nature as a literary form, and the symmetry of this result constitutes a great part of its charm. Does not an initiate member of the Detection Club swear to observe this entirely arbitrary rule?
PRESIDENT: Do you promise that your Detectives
shall well and truly detect the Crimes presented to them, using those Wits
which it shall please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance upon,
nor making use of, Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo-Jumbo,
Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence or the Act of God?
CANDIDATE: I do.
But life is no candidate for the Detection Club. It makes unabashed use of all the forbidden aids (not excepting Mumbo-Jumbo and Jiggery-Pokery); and frequently sets its problems in terms which must be altered if the problem is to be solved at all.
Take, for example, the problem of Unemployment. Have we perhaps so far failed to solve it because of the terms in which we have chosen to set it? In the terms in which it is set, it is an economic problem, concerned with such matters as the proper balance between Labour and Capital, Hours and Wages, Property and Financial Returns. When tackled along these lines, it disconcerts us by producing as off-shoots all manner of confusing and contradictory questions; such as: Should wages be adjusted to the time worked, or to the amount and quality of the work done, or to the needs of the worker? At this point, we begin to notice irrelevancies and discrepancies, as though our detective-story had stepped outside its allotted terms of reference. We notice also that the "Problem of Unemployment" limits us to the consideration of Employment only; it does not allow us even to consider the Work itself-whether it is worth doing or not, or whether the workman is to find satisfaction in doing the work, or only in the fact of being employed and receiving his pay-envelope. We may then ask ourselves: Should a man work in order to get enough money to enable him to cease from working, or should he desire only such payment as will enable him to live in order to carry on his work? If the former is true, then blessed are the rich, for they are the flower of a leisured civilisation; but, if the latter is true, then blessed is the worker who gets no more than a living wage. When we have got so far, we may begin to suspect that the "problem of Unemployment" is not soluble in the terms in which it is set; and that what we ought to be asking is a totally different set of questions about Work and Money. Why, for example, does the actor so eagerly live to work, while the factory-worker, though often far better paid, reluctantly works to live? How much money would men need, beyond the subsistence that enables them to continue working, if the world (that is, you and I) admired work more than wealth? Does the fact that he is employed fully compensate a man for the fact that his work is trivial, unnecessary, or positively harmful to society: the manufacture of imbecile and ugly ornaments, for instance, or the deliberate throat cutting between rival manufacturers of the same commodity? Ought we, in fact, to consider whether work is worth doing, before we encourage it for the sake of employment? In deciding whether men should be employed at a high wage in the production of debased and debasing cinema films or at a lower wage in the building of roads and houses, ought we to think at all about the comparative worth and necessity of bad films and good houses? Has the fact that enthusiastic crowds cheer and scream around professional footballers, while offering no enthusiastic greetings to navvies, anything to do with the wages offered to footballers and navvies respectively?
When we have ceased to think of work and money in the purely economic terms implied by "the Problem of Unemployment", then we are on our way to thinking in terms of creative citizenship, for we shall be beginning to make something with our minds-instead of "solving a problem" we shall be creating a new way of life.( See Postscript at end of this chapter)
"Whose, therefore, shall she be in the Resurrection? for the seven had her to wife." In the terms in which you set it, the problem is unanswerable; but in the Kingdom of Heaven, those terms do not apply. You have asked the question in a form that is much too limited; the "solution" must be brought in from outside your sphere of reference altogether.
4. The detective problem is finite; when it is solved, there is an end of it-or, as George Joseph Smith casually observed concerning the brides he had drowned in their baths, "When they are dead, they are done with". The detective problem summons us to the energetic exercise of our wits precisely in order that, when we have read the last page, we may sit back in our chairs and cease thinking. So does the cross-word. So does the chess-problem. So does the problem about A, B, and C building a wall. The struggle is over and finished with and now we may legitimately, if we like, cease upon the midnight with no pain. The problem leaves us feeling like that because it is deliberately designed to do so. Because we can, in this world, achieve so little, and so little perfectly, we are prepared to pay good money in order to acquire a vicarious sensation of achievement. The detective novelist knows this, and so do the setters of puzzles. And the schoolboy, triumphantly scoring a line beneath his finished homework, is thankful that he need not, in the manner so disquietingly outlined by Professor Leacock, inquire into the subsequent history of A, B, and C.
But this is the measure, not of the likeness between problems in detection and problems in life, but of the unlikeness. For the converse is also true; when they are done with, they are dead.(1)
Consider how, in the last twenty years, we have endeavoured to deal with
the "problem of peace and security", and whether we do not still secretly hug
the delusion that it is possible to deal with it as a "problem". We really
persuaded ourselves that peace was something that could be achieved by a
device, by a set of regulations, by a League of Nations or some other form of
constitution, that would "solve" the whole matter once and for all. We continue
to delude ourselves into the belief that "when the war is over" we shall "this
time" discover the trick, the magic formula, that will stop the sun in heaven,
arrest the course of events, make further exertion unnecessary. Last time we
failed to achieve this end-and why? Chiefly because we supposed it to be
achievable. Because we looked at peace and security as a problem to be solved
and not as a work to be made.
(1 [Utopian theory] imagines that perfect innocency, a new childhood, lies at the end of the social process. It thinks itself capable of creating a society in which all tensions are resolved and the final root of human anarchy is eliminated. If that were really possible its new society would not be the beginning of history, as it fondly imagines, but its end.... The problem of good and evil cannot be completely resolved in history.-Reinhold Niebuhr: Beyond Tragedy.
The random "shaking down" of inanimate matter acts to produce states of increasing stability, and may be expected to reach a final state in which stability is complete and no further development possible. When, in the presence of life, matter is built into ordered pattern, it is maintained there only in a state of instability or tension. Thus, in the universe as we know it, the will to stability is the will to death.)
Now the artist does not behave like this. He may finish a book, as we may finish a war or set up the machinery of a League, and he may think it is very good and allow his Energy a brief sabbath of repose. But he knows very well that this is only a pause in the unending labour of creation. He does not subscribe to the heresy that confounds his Energy with his Idea, and the Son's brief sabbath in time with the perpetual sabbaths of the Trinity in Heaven. For the thing he has made is a living thing, and it is not sterile. It continually proliferates new themes and new fancies, and new occasions for thought and action. Each chapter concluded is only a day's end in the course of the book; each book concluded is only a year's end in the course of a life's pilgrimage. Or, if you like the metaphor better, it is a "still" cut out and thrown off from the endless living picture which his creative mind reels out. It is a picture in itself, but it only leads from the picture behind it to the picture in front of it, as part of a connected process.
This the artist knows, though the knowledge may not always stand in the forefront of his consciousness. At the day's end or the year's end he may tell himself: the work is done. But he knows in his heart that it is not, and that the passion of making will seize him again the following day and drive him to construct a fresh world. And though he may imagine for the moment that this fresh world is wholly unconnected with the world he has just finished, yet, if he looks back along the sequence of his creatures, he will find that each was in some way the outcome and fulfilment of the rest-that all his worlds belong to the one universe that is the image of his own Idea. I know it is no accident that Gaudy Night, coming towards the end of a long development in detective fiction, should be a manifestation of precisely the same theme as the play The Zeal of Thy House, which followed it and was the first of a series of creatures embodying a Christian theology. They are variations upon a hymn to the Master Maker; and now, after nearly twenty years, I can hear in Whose Body? the notes of that tune sounding unmistakably under the tripping melody of a very different descant; and further back still, I hear it again, in a youthful set of stanzas in Catholic Tales:
I make the wonderful carven beams
Of cedar and of oak
To build King Solomon's house of dreams
With many a hammer-stroke,
And the gilded, wide-winged cherubims.
I have no thought in my heart but this:
How bright will be my bower
When all is finished; My joy it is
To see each perfect flower
Curve itself up to the tool's harsh kiss.
How shall I end the thing I planned?
Such knots are in the wood!
With quivering limbs I stoop and stand,
My sweat runs down like blood
I have driven the chisel through My hand.
I should not write it quite like that to-day-at least, I hope I should avoid the bright bower and the quivering limbs and the exclamation-mark in the last verse. But the end is clearly there in the beginning. It would not be quite exact to say that the wheel has come full circle, or even, in the image that the time-students have made fashionable, that the spiral has made another turn over its starting-point. The Idea was from the beginning in every corner of the universe which it contains, and eternally begets its manifestations. There is never any point in time that can conclude or comprehend the Idea. The problem is never so solved that it is abolished: but each time it is restated, a new thing is made and signed with the formula "Q.E.F."
The desire to solve a living problem by a definitive and sterile conclusion is natural enough: it is part of the material will to death. It is bred in the bones of the most enlightened and "progressive" of mankind, who hate it when they see it in others, not realising that what appears to them to be a detestable stranger is in fact their own face in a mirror.
The man who uses violent invective against those that seek to "uphold the status quo" or cling to an "outworn tradition", is justified in doing so only if he himself contemplates no fixed point of achievement ahead. If he thinks within himself, "after the war", or "after the revolution", or "after the Federation of Europe", or "after the triumph of the proletariat", the problem will be solved, then he is no better than they are. And he is horribly deluding both himself and others-the blind leading the blind into a blind alley. In fact, by saying or thinking any such thing, he is establishing precisely the conditions which make any approach to achievement impossible.
When we examine these four characteristics of the detective problem, we begin to see why it is so easy to look upon all the phenomena of life in terms of "problem and solution", and also why the "solution" is so seldom satisfactory, even when we think we have reached it. For in order to persuade ourselves that we can "solve" life, we have only to define it in terms which admit of solution. Unless we do this, not only the solution but the problem itself is unintelligible. Take any phenomenon you like: Take a rose. How will you proceed to solve a rose? You can cultivate roses, smell them, gather and wear them, make them into perfume or pot-pourri, paint them or write poetry about them; these are all creative activities. But can you solve roses? Has that expression any meaning? Only if you first define the rose in terms which presuppose the answer. You can say: If the rose is regarded as an arrangement of certain chemical components, then the chemical formula for the rose is x. Or you can say: If the rose is regarded geometrically as a complex system of plane surfaces, then the formula for this rose is so-and-so. Or you can say: If the rose is regarded as an example of the Mendelian heredity of colour variations, then the method for cultivating blue roses is as follows. But none of these answers is going to solve the rose; and if the first is complete and final for the chemist, it remains altogether inadequate for the woman putting roses in a vase; and if the second may give some assistance to the painter, it leaves the gardener dissatisfied; while the third is probably undiscoverable, and, even if it were not, would do nothing to help the perfumer. Yet the perfumer, the gardener, the woman and the painter, being occupied with the rose itself and not with its solution, can all present the world with new manifestations of the rose, and by so doing communicate the rose to one another in power.
The danger of speaking about life exclusively in terms of problem and solution is that we are thus tempted to overlook the limitations of this detective game and the very existence of the initial arbitrary rule that makes the playing of it possible. The rule is to exclude from the terms of the problem everything that the solution cannot solve. It is diverting and useful to know that, for the chemist, a man is made up of a few pennyworth of salt, sugar, iron and what not, together with an intolerable deal of water. But we must not assert that, "Man is, in fact, nothing but" these things, or suppose that the solution of the pennyworths in the water will produce a complete and final solution of man. For this means that we have forgotten the qualification "for the chemist". That qualification reduces our assertion to the more limited form: "If man is nothing but a chemical, this is his chemical formula"-a very different matter. Somewhat similarly, the popular game of debunking great men usually proceeds by excluding their insoluble greatness from the terms of the problem and presenting a watery solution of the remainder; but this is, by definition, no solution of the man or of his greatness.
It was said by Kronecker the mathematician: "God made the integers; all else is the work of man." Man can table the integers and arrange them into problems which he can solve in the terms in which they are set. But before the inscrutable mystery of the integers themselves he is helpless, unless he calls upon that Tri-Unity in himself which is made in the image of God, and can include and create the integers.
This is the vocation of the creative mind in man. The mind in the act of creation is thus not concerned to solve problems within the limits imposed by the terms in which they are set, but to fashion a synthesis which includes the whole dialectic of the situation in a manifestation of power. In other words, the creative artist, as such, deals, not with the working of the syllogism, but with that universal statement which forms its major premise. That is why he is always a disturbing influence; for all logical argument depends upon acceptance of the major premise, and this, by its nature, is not susceptible of logical proof. The hand of the creative artist, laid upon the major premise, rocks the foundations of the world; and he himself can only indulge in this perilous occupation because his mansion is not in the world but in the eternal heavens.
The artist's knowledge of his own creative nature is often unconscious; he pursues his mysterious way of life in a strange innocence. If he were consciously to pluck out the heart of his mystery, he might say something like this:
I find in myself a certain pattern which I acknowledge as the law of my true nature, and which corresponds to experience in such a manner that, while my behaviour conforms to the pattern, I can interpret experience in power. I find, further, that the same pattern inheres in my work as in myself; and I also find that theologians attribute to God Himself precisely that pattern of being which I find in my work and in me.
I am inclined to believe, therefore, that this pattern directly corresponds to the actual structure of the living universe, and that it exists in other men as well as in myself; and I conclude that, if other men feel themselves to be powerless in the universe and at odds with it, it is because the pattern of their lives and works has become distorted and no longer corresponds to the universal pattern-because they are, in short, running counter to the law of their nature.
I am confirmed in this belief by the fact that, so far as I conform to the pattern of human society, I feel myself also to be powerless and at odds with the universe; while so far as I conform to the pattern of my true nature, I am at odds with human society, and it with me. If I am right in thinking that human society is out of harmony with the law of its proper nature, then my experience again corroborates that of the theologians, who have also perceived this fundamental dislocation in man.
If you ask me what is this pattern which I recognise as the true law of my nature, I can only suggest that it is the pattern of the creative mind-an eternal Idea, manifested in material form by an unresting Energy, with an outpouring of Power that at once inspires, judges, and communicates the work; all these three being one and the same in the mind and one and the same in the work. And this, I observe, is the pattern laid down by the theologians as the pattern of the being of God.
If all this is true, then the mind of the maker and the Mind of the Maker are formed on the same pattern, and all their works are made in their own image.
It is not at all likely that, if you caught the first artist you saw passing and questioned him, he would explain himself in these terms. He is no more accustomed than the rest of us to look for any connection between theology and experience. Nor, as I said at the beginning, do the theologians of to-day take much trouble to expound their doctrine by way of the human maker's analogy. They are ready to use the "Father-symbol" to illustrate the likeness and familiarity between God and His children. But the "Creator-symbol" is used, if at all, to illustrate the deep gulf between God and His creatures. Yet, as Berdyaev says, "The image of the artist and the poet is imprinted more clearly on his works than on his children". Particularly when it comes to the Trinity of the Godhead, the emphasis is always placed on the mystery and uniqueness of the structure-as though it were a kind of blasphemy to recognise with Augustine that this, at least, is to man a homely and intimate thing, "familiar as his garter".
The disastrous and widening cleavage between the Church and the Arts on the one hand and between the State and the Arts on the other leaves the common man with the impression that the artist is something of little account, either in this world or the next; and this has had a bad effect on the artist, since it has left him in a curious spiritual isolation. Yet with all his faults, he remains the person who can throw most light on that "creative attitude to life" to which bewildered leaders of thought are now belatedly exhorting a no less bewildered humanity.
Nor is the creative mind unpractical or aloof from that of the common
man. The notion that the artist is a vague, dreamy creature living in retreat
from the facts of life is a false one-fostered, as I shrewdly suspect, by those
to whose interest it is to keep administrative machinery moving regardless of
the end-product. At the irruption of the artist into a State department,
officialdom stands aghast, not relishing the ruthless realism which goes
directly to essentials. It is for the sacrilegious hand laid on the major
premise that the artist is crucified by tyrannies and quietly smothered by
bureaucracies.(1) As for the common man, the artist is nearer to him than the
man of any other calling, since his vocation is precisely to express the
highest common factor of humanity-that image of the Creator which distinguishes
the man from the beast. If the common man is to enjoy the divinity of his
humanity, he can come to it only in virtue and right of his making.
(1 "At home [in 1939], the Foreign Office whole-heartedly shared the general view of Whitehall that the war was to be one of officials, by officials, for officials. In the previous conflict [1914-1918] many outsiders-mere intellectuals and journalists-had been introduced into the administrative machine. No doubt they had contributed materially to the winning of the war, but they had been a confounded nuisance with their unconventional ideas. This must not be allowed to happen again, and, as we have seen, the `closed shop' became the order of the day. To this initial blunder all subsequent mistakes were due, and these in their turn contributed materially to the disasters of the following spring and summer."-Sir Charles Petrie: Twenty Years' Armistice and After)
The wisdom of a learned man cometh by opportunity of leisure and he that
hath little business shall become wise.
How can he get wisdom that holdeth the plough, and that glorieth in the goad, that driveth oxen, and is occupied intheir labours, and whose talk is of bullocks?
He giveth his mind to make furrows; and is diligent to give the kine fodder.
So every carpenter and workmaster, that laboureth night and day; and they that cut and grave seals, and are diligent to make great variety, and give themselves to counterfeit imagery, and watch to finish a work:
The smith also sitting by the anvil, and considering the iron work, the vapour of the fire wasteth his flesh, and he fighteth with the heat of the furnace: the noise of the hammer and the anvil is ever in his ears, and his eyes look still upon the pattern of the thing that he maketh; he setteth his mind to finish his work, and watcheth to polish it perfectly:
So doth the potter sitting at his work, and turning the wheel about with his feet, who is alway carefully set at his work, and maketh all his work by number;
He fashioneth the clay with his arm and boweth down its strength before his feet; he applieth himself to lead it over; and he is diligent to make clean the furnace:
All these trust to their hands: and every one is wise in his work.
Without these cannot a city be inhabited: and they shall not dwell where they will, nor go up and down:
They shall not be sought for in public counsel, nor sit high in the congregation: they shall not sit on the judges' seat, nor understand the sentence of judgment; they cannot declare justice and judgment; and they shall not be found where parables are spoken.
But they will maintain the state of the world, and all their desire is in the work of their craft. ( Ecclesiasticus xxxviii. 24-34)
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