I AM A LITERARY CRITIC, mainly concerned with English literature, and I have recently developed a special interest in the way that the Bible has affected the structure and imagery of that literature. The first word to attract one's notice in both fields is the word creation. Page one of the Bible says that God created the world; page one of the critic's handbook, not yet written, tells him that what he is studying are human creations. In this book I should like to look at certain aspects of the conception or metaphor of creation, as it applies to both its divine and its human context, and, also, at what effect the extending of the same word to cover these two different areas has had on our habits of thought. I know that many questions connected with the word 'creation' are among the most hackneyed topics in both religious and secular culture, and I shall try to keep clear of what seems to me likely to have bored you already. On the other hand, I chose the topic because it is hackneyed, and is therefore easier to look at with a fresh eye. Through some closed-circuiting mechanism in the human mind, certain themes seem to get things said about them that are prescribed in [4] advance, so that they are not really explored at all, but are simply talked out, in a way familiar to members of parliament who introduce private bills. If there are students of mine among my readers, they will often catch glimpses of charted territory, but I am not offering a rehash of lecture notes.

I want to begin with what is called 'creativity' as a feature of human life, and move from there to some of the traditional religious ideas about a divine creation. It seems to me that the whole complex of ideas and images surrounding the word 'creation' is inescapably a part of the way that we see things. We may emphasize either the divine or the human aspect of creation to the point of denying the reality of the other. For Karl Earth, God is a creator, and the first moral to be drawn from this is that man is not one: man is for Earth a creature, and his primary duty is to understand what it is to be a creature of God. For others, the notion of a creating God is a projection from the fact that man makes things, and for them a divine creator has only the reality of a shadow thrown by ourselves. But what we believe, or believe that we believe, in sue h matters is of very little importance compared to the fact that we go on using the conception anyway, whatever name we give it. We are free, up to a point, to shape our beliefs; what we are clearly not free to do is to alter what is really a part of our cultural genetic code. We can throw out varieties of the idea of creation at random, and these, in Darwinian fashion, will doubtless descend through whatever has the greatest survival value; but abolish the conception itself we cannot.

A year or so ago, after agreeing to help teach an undergraduate course in Shakespeare, I settled down to reread one of my favourite pieces of Shakespearean criticism, Oscar [5] Wilde's essay on 'The Truth of Masks' The essay, however, was one in a collected volume of Wilde's critical essays, and I find it easy to get hooked on Wilde. His style often makes him sound dated, and yet he is consistently writing from a point of view at least half a century later than his actual time. He is one of our few genuinely prophetic writers, and, as with other prophets, everything he writes seems either to lead up to his tragic confrontation with society or reflect back on it. Partly because of this, he deliberately restricts his audience. He sets up a palisade of self-conscious and rather mechanical wit, which not merely infuriates those who have no idea what he is talking about but often puts off those who do. We may get so annoyed at his dandies waving their hands languidly at thick volumes labelled 'Plato' or 'Aristotle' that we may forget that Wilde could, and did, read Greek, and that his references to classical authors are usually quite precise. So before long I was back in the world of the essay called 'The Decay of Lying' now widely recognized to have said a great deal of what modern theories of criticism have been annotating in more garbled language ever since. The main thesis of this essay is that man does not live directly and nakedly in nature like the animals, but within an envelope that he has constructed out of nature, the envelope usually called culture or civilization. When Wordsworth urges his reader to leave his hooks, go outdoors, and let nature be his teacher, his 'nature' is a north temperate zone nature which in nineteenth-century England had become, even in the Lake District, largely a human artefact. One can see the importance, for poets and others, of the remoteness and otherness of nature: the feeling that the eighteenth century expressed in the word 'sublime' conveys to us that there is such a thing as creative alienation. The [6] principle laid down by the Italian philosopher Vico of verum factum, that we understand only what we have made ourselves, needs to be refreshed sometimes by the contemplation of something we did not make and do not understand. The difficulty with Wordsworth's view is in the word 'teacher.' A nature which was not primarily a human artefact could teach man nothing except that he was not it. We are taught by our own cultural conditioning, and by that alone.

We may see already that the word 'creation' involves us in a state of mind that is closely parallel with certain types of paranoia, which may give us a clue to what Wilde means by 'lying.' Our envelope, as I have called it, the cultural insulation that separates us from nature, is rather like (to use a figure that has haunted me from childhood) the window of a lit-up railway carriage at night. Most of the time it is a mirror of our own concerns, including our concern about nature. As a mirror, it fills us with the sense that the world is something which exists primarily in reference to us: it was created for us; we are the centre of it and the whole point of its existence. But occasionally the mirror turns into a real window, through which we can see only the vision of an indifferent nature that got along for untold aeons of time without us, seems to have produced us only by accident, and, if it were conscious, could only regret having done so. This vision propels us instantly into the opposite pole of paranoia, where we seem to be victims of a huge conspiracy, finding ourselves, through no will of our own, arbitrarily assigned to a dramatic role which we have been given no script to learn, in a state of what Heidegger calls 'thrown-ness.'

The cultural aura, or whatever it is, that insulates us from nature consists among other things of words, and the verbal [7] part of it is what I call a mythology, or the total structure of human creation conveyed by words, with literature at its centre. Such a mythology belongs to the mirror, not the window. It is designed to draw a circumference around human society and reflect its concerns, not to look directly at the nature outside. When man finally gets around to doing that, he has to develop the special language of science, a language which becomes increasingly mathematical in idiom. Many things have to come together in a culture before science can begin, and when it does begin it does not descend from or grow out of mythology directly. Mythological statements about nature are merely grotesque or silly if they are thought of as pre-scientific explanations of it.

Early students of mythology, it is true, liked to think of it as primitive science, because that view implied such a flattering contrast between primitive visions of nature and theirs. Thus we have Frazer defining myth as mistaken notions of natural phenomena, and Max Müller speaking of mythology as a disease of language. If he had said that language was a disease of mythology, the statement would have been just as untrue, but considerably more interesting. However, this attitude was mainly a by-product of a European ideology designed to rationalize the nineteenth-century treatment of non-European peoples. Mythology is the embryo of literature and the arts, not of science, and no form of art has anything to do with making direct statements about nature, mistaken or correct. Similarly, as science does not grow out of mythology, so it can never replace mythology. Mythology is recreated by the poets in each generation, while science goes its own way.

There is a kind of painting known as trompe l'oeil, which endeavours to render pictorial objects so accurately that the [8] viewer might be deceived into thinking that he was looking at the real thing. Trompe l'oeil is a quite legitimate form of painting, but the word 'deceive' indicates the paradox in it. Returning to our figure again, when it comes to representing the outer world, no painting can compare with a window pane. This principle applies much more forcibly to literature, because there is no verbal equivalent of the window pane. Words can describe things only approximately: all they do with any real accuracy is hang together, in puns, metaphor, assonances, and the self-contained fictions of grammar and syntax.

All this is contained in Wilde's conception of the creative arts as essentially forms of 'lying,' or turning away from the external world. As long as we can keep telling one another that we see the same things 'out there,' we feel that we have a basis for what we call truth and reality. When a work of literature is based on this kind of reality, however, it often tells us only what we no longer want to know. For this reason Wilde makes fun of the careful documentary realism of Zola and others which had such a vogue in his time, of Zola settling down to give us a definitive study of the Second Empire at the moment when the Second Empire had gone hopelessly out of date. But the attack on realism is a side-issue of a far more insidious disease of writing: the morbid lust for what Matthew Arnold calls seeing life steadily and seeing it whole. Recently a collection of early reviews of mine was published, and on looking over it I was amused to see how preoccupied I had been then with two writers, Spengler and Frazer, who haunted me constantly, though I was well aware all the time I was studying them that they were rather stupid men and often slovenly scholars. But I found them, or rather their central visions, unforgettable, [9] while there are hundreds of books by more intelligent and scrupulous people which I have forgotten having read. Some of them are people who have utterly refuted the claims of Spengler and Frazer to be taken seriously. But the thinker who was annihilated on Tuesday has to be annihilated all over again on Wednesday: the fortress of thought is a Valhalla, not an abattoir.

This is not merely my own perversity: we all find that it is not only, perhaps not even primarily, the balanced and judicious people that we turn to for insight. It is also such people as Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Holderlin, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, all of them liars in Wilde's sense of the word, as Wilde was himself. They were people whose lives got smashed up in various ways, but rescued fragments from the smash of an intensity that the steady-state people seldom get to hear about. Their vision is penetrating because it is partial and distorted: it is truthful because it is falsified. To the Old Testament's question: 'Where shall wisdom be found?' there is often only the New Testament's answer: 'Well, not among the wise, at any rate.'

What Wilde calls realism, the attempt to base the arts on the recognizable, to find a common ground of reality with the audience, is, he suggests, a search for some kind of emotional reassurance. I hear an echo of this whenever I listen to complaints about the difficulty or obscurity of contemporary art, complaints which often take the form 'but I think a work of art ought to communicate something.' The function of the recognizable in the arts is not aesthetic but anaesthetic. A painter of cows in a field is bound to be addressing some people who want to be reminded of cows more than they want to see pictures. The cows function as a tranquillizer, so that the more genuinely attentive part of the viewer's mind [10] is released for pictorial experience. A painter may, however, get fed up with the compromise involved, as most painters today in fact have done, and say: to hell with the cows; look at the form and colour of the picture. If this is his attitude he is not withdrawing from 'reality': he is seeing more intensely by means of his medium. The recognizable as such is, in human terms, the non-creative; it is the disturbing insight into it that we associate with the word creation.

All this has become a commonplace in a time like ours when we are so much more heavily insulated against 'nature' than we were even in Wilde's time. A glance out of the window of an aeroplane, to the patterns of the landscape or city lights below, will tell us why this is the century of Kandinsky and not that of Constable or Ruysdael; more important, it will also tell us that space for us has become a set of coordinated points: we do not live in a centred space any more, but have to create our own centres. In 'The Decay of Lying' Wilde is, verbally, defending the romantic against the realistic, but these are only the terms of his age: the positive thing he is defending is not the romantic but the unmediated. His point is that what is called realism is not founded on nature or reality at all. We never see these things directly; we see them only through a prism of conventionalized commonplaces, outworn formulas within the art itself, the fossilized forms of earlier attempts to escape from nature and reality. Only a distorted imagination that breaks away from all this and sees reality as a strange, wonderful, terrible, fantastic world is creative in the human sense of the term.

We are now perhaps beginning to glimpse something of the complexity of the situation we are trying to look at in this book. Traditionally, everything we associate with nature, reality, settled order, the way things are, the data of [11] existence that we have to accept, is supposed to go back to the creation, the original divine act of making the world. Now we find that if we apply the word creative to human activities, the humanly creative is whatever profoundly disturbs our sense of 'the' creation, a reversing or neutralizing of it. The encounter of God and man in creation seems to be rather like what some of the great poets of nuclear physics have described as the encounter of matter with anti-matter: each annihilates the other. What seems one of the few admirable forms of human achievement, the creation of the arts, turns out to be a kind of decreation: I might have called my lectures 'Creation and Decreation' if I had not been afraid of irritating you beyond the limits even of your tolerance.

I turn the pages of my Wilde book to the next essay, 'The Critic as Artist,' and there I read near the beginning the wonderful passage about music:
After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own. Music always seems to me to produce that effect. It creates for one a past of which one has been ignorant, and fills one with a sense of sorrows that have been hidden from one's tears. I can fancy a man who had led a perfectly commonplace life, hearing by chance some curious piece of music, and suddenly discovering that his soul, without his being conscious of it, had passed through terrible experiences, and known fearful joys, or wild romantic loves, or great renunciations.
First, of course, we cannot restrict the scope of this passage to music; it applies to all the arts, though it may well be true that music has some special mystery about its evocations. [12] Second, we see that Wilde is postulating two levels of experience, in which one level is remembered and the other repressed, though he gives repression a very different context from Freud. Our sense experience, our memories, our established habits and rituals, all act as filters: they screen out or accommodate whatever in our lives is disturbing or threatening. 'Had we the first intimation of the Definition of Life,' said Emily Dickinson, 'the calmest of us would be Lunatics!' It is only the arts that allow this screened-out emotion and experience to return in some bearable form, and make us realize that while we have been living our lives as 'normally' as we can, we have also been, all the time, citizens of the lunatic country of Don Quixote and Captain Ahab and King Lear. That is why their moods and behaviour can be intelligible to us.

This principle of the arts evoking the real and repressed past is familiar to us from Proust, whose narrator Marcel perceives the pattern of his own real past through an accidental glimpse of it, so that he comes to the beginning of the imaginative vision of his life at the moment when his reader comes to the end of it. The implication is that what Marcel sees at the end of his experience is the possibility of looking at it in the way that the reader should have been looking at it all along. This opens up the issue of the creative reader and his role in literature, which is Wilde's main concern in this essay, and to which I shall return in the last chapter.

If we apply this principle to social and historical existence we get some simpler and more familiar data. Out of the general welter of human life, the great works of literature and music and the plastic arts have been born. There is no cultural development in the past which did not have in its background all the cruelty and folly of which mankind is [13] capable; yet the works of culture themselves seem to be in a perpetual state of innocence. This is still true when the cruelty and folly are directly reflected from the art itself. The pottery and textiles and metalwork that we see in museums, when compared to the conditions of life that produced them, seem to float up from those conditions as, in Apuleius' story of The Golden Ass, the lovely fairy-tale of Cupid and Psyche floats up like a soap bubble out of the sickening brutality of its context. But, of course, we have to take the whole book, brutality and all, as a cultural product of its time, and similarly we cannot abstract some of the works of man from others. It is a gross error in perspective either to detach the cultural from the historical past or to confuse the two.

Our cultural heritage, then, is our real and repressed social past, not the past of historical record but the great dreams of the arts, which keep recurring to haunt us with a sense of how little we know of the real dimensions of our own experience. As I have insisted so often in different contexts, such words as 'classic' or 'masterpiece' mean very little except that some recurring dreams from the past refuse to go away, and remain staring at us silently until we confront them. They are the reality behind all ancestor worship, and the part of our own identity that extends into the past. It has been said that those who do not learn history are condemned to repeat it: this means very little, because we are all in the position of voters in a Canadian election, condemned to repeat history anyway whether we learn it or not. But those who refuse to confront their own real past, in whatever form, are condemning themselves to die without having been born.

The contemplation of the ordinary historical past, however, suggests another kind of vision that seems to start with [14] us and be independent of the arts. This is the vision of what humanity might conceivably do, and what human life could conceivably be, a vision that breaks with everything man has done and is projected on the future. This social vision of a future discontinuous with history as we have known it, turning history, in Joyce's phrase, into a nightmare from which we are trying to awake, is really a vision of human redemption, though the redemptive power is not necessarily one outside ourselves. Mary Shelley records with some wonder, in her note on Prometheus Unbound, that 'Shelley believed that mankind had only to will that there should be no evil, and there would be none.' But surely this is the kind of reflection that must occur to everybody at some time or other. It is particularly in youth, I suppose, that one feels most strongly the absurdity of ordinary human actions, and, even more, the absurdity or wickedness of believing that they are made necessary by fate or reason or nature or the will of God. Here again, in a different context, is the sense of the crucial importance of setting free something normally repressed in ordinary human experience. And here again is a sphere of creation, though social in reference rather than individual, linked to the future rather than the past, and with the imaginary rather than the imaginative.

Sometimes this feeling clashes with the claims of the past, however impressive. Black students reading a white man's literature, women bored by heroines presented as models of virtue because they conform to male codes, radicals of all persuasions, often develop an anti-cultural streak that wants to scrap the past, including its greatest imaginative achievements, in order to start doing something else and something better. A friend of mine travelling in China during the cultural revolution wanted to see some ancient frescoes in [15] Peking: her guide took her there, but said impatiently that if she had her way she would cover them all up with posters explaining how exploited the people of that day were. The difference between the actual and the cultural past was of little importance for this guide compared to the urgency of changing the direction of life entirely.

It is true that our course of action in life is guided, to an extent we seldom realize, by some underlying vision of what society could be. Such a vision has to be projected on the future, but it exists only in a metaphorical future. We do not know the future at all except by analogy with the past, and the future that will happen will not be much like anyone's vision of it. This gives our social ideals the intensity and purity of something that does not exist, yet they are born out of analogy with what has come to us through tradition. So all visions of a social future must be rooted in the past, socially conditioned and historically placed. I note a comment in Jacques Lacan, in an essay discussing the role of language in psychoanalytic treatment: 'the effect of a full Word is to reorder the past contingent events by conferring on them the sense of necessities to come.'

Some reactionaries deliberately model their visions of the future on a return to the past or what they imagine to have been the past; radicals, as we generally understand the word, have a vision of the future which is more of a break with the past. But all changes of direction in society, progressive, revolutionary, reactionary, or whatever, come to a point at which they have to establish continuity with what has gone before. Some rationalizing historical construct usually appears at that point, showing how certain tactical changes in the prospective future are outgrowths of certain trends in the past. But if we are dealing with the fundamental [16] social vision which underlies all creative action, the only element in the past deep enough to call to that deep is the tradition of human creative achievement. It is on that level of social insight that we realize why the vision of a new social order cannot be disconnected from the forms of past creation in the arts.

Wilde attempted to deal with this aspect of creation too, in his essay 'The Soul of Man under Socialism.' He remarks there that 'a map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.' By 'socialism,' however, Wilde means apparently only distributing wealth and opportunity more evenly, so that all people can become pure individualists, and hence, to some degree, artists. He says that in his ideal world the state is to produce the useful, and the individual or artist the beautiful. But beauty, like nature and reality, is merely another of those reassuring words indicating a good deal of ready-made social acceptance. Wilde is preoccupied in this essay by his contempt for censorship, and is optimistic that what he calls socialism would bring about the end of the tyranny of an ignorant and mischievous public opinion. This has not been our experience of socialism or any other system since Wilde's time, and his prophetic vision in this essay seems to have gone out of focus. But, as usual, his sense of context is very accurate: he identifies the two aspects of our subject, the creation of a future society and the continuing of the creativity of the past in spite of the past. As he says: 'the past is what man should not have been; the present is what man ought not to be; the future is what artists are.'

The issue of censorship, and other aspects of social resistance to creation, is a very important one, if we are right in [17] regarding the creative as expressing what ordinary experience represses. You will perhaps not be surprised to learn that I have no use for the lame-brained hysterics who go around snatching books by Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro out of school libraries. I also resent the mindless cliché that the best way to sell a book is to ban it, which means that all its extra readers will be attracted to it for silly reasons. But I sometimes wonder whether the work of creation in society is really effective if it meets with no social resistance at all. The conventions of painting, for example, have become so tolerated that it is difficult even to imagine what kind of pictures today would go into the salon des réfusés to which the impressionists were exiled a century or so ago. One applauds the tolerance, except that the public is so seldom tolerant about anything unless it has become indifferent to it as well. A world where the arts are totally tolerated might easily become a world in which they were merely decorative, and evoked no sense of challenge to repression at all.

What we see continually in the world around us is a constant and steady perversion of the vision of a free and equal social future, as country after country makes a bid for freedom and accepts instead a tyranny far worse than the one it endured before. There seems no escaping the inference that the real desire for freedom and equality is not only repressed too, but is in fact one of the most deeply repressed feelings we have. And if the vision of a social future is connected with the vision of the creativity of the past, which is our main thesis here, then there must be different layers of repression appealed to by art, some much deeper than others. At the deepest layer, if we are right, the enjoyment of the arts would be as strongly resisted as any other effort at freedom.

[18] Human life consists of leisure and work, and these provide the bases for, respectively, our visions of past art and social future. To the extent that leisure and work have been represented by different classes of society, each has been fostered on a rather superficial level. The leisure class on top was supposed to enjoy the world of culture as a special privilege; the working class below was supposed to work without a vision of any social future of which they could form a part. It seems to me that this set-up is slowly rearranging itself: the phrase 'leisure class' no longer means very much anywhere now, and the phrase 'working class' would probably not mean very much either if it had not become a pious cliché. Work and leisure are gradually becoming different aspects of the same life, not two different classes in society. But the old class habits keep persisting, at least in our thinking. It has puzzled many people that it is possible for someone, the commandant of a Nazi death camp, for example, to have a cultivated taste for the arts and still be what he is. It is possible because the response to the arts can also exist on an aesthetic level, of the sort indicated by Wilde's term 'beautiful,' where they are objects to be admired or valued or possessed.

But the arts actually represent an immense imaginative and transforming force in society, which is largely untapped because so much of our approach to them is still possessive and aesthetic. There is a much deeper level on which the arts form part of our heritage of freedom, and where inner repression by the individual and external repression in society make themselves constantly felt. That is why totalitarian societies, for example, find themselves unable either to tolerate the arts or to generate new forms of them. During the Nazi occupation of France, the French discovered that one of [19] the most effective things they could do was to put on classical plays like Antigone or The Trojan Women, in original or adapted versions. The Nazis had no excuse for censoring them, but because of the intense repression all around, the plays began to mean something of what they really do mean. As for the life of work, the more alienating and less creative it becomes, the more completely it becomes an observance of time, a clock-punching and clock-watching servitude. Leisure begins in the breaking of the panic of time, that unhurried commitment in which alone the study of the arts, which take their own speeds, is possible. On the aesthetic or possessive level there is still a preoccupation with time. We read at the end of Walter Pater's Renaissance:
We are all under sentence of death, but with a sort of indefinite reprieve ... we have an interval, and then our place knows us no more. Some spend this interval in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, at least among 'the children of this world,' in art and song. For our one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time.
The panic of the phrase 'as many as possible' indicates that for Pater the pursuit of experience has not yet broken free of the tyranny of time, nor of the aesthetic level of response which is really a collecting of impressions. In contrast, we have Marcel Duchamp, the painter of the 'Nude Descending the Staircase,' speaking of a picture as a 'delay':
Use 'delay' instead of 'picture' or 'painting'; 'picture on glass' becomes 'delay in glass'... It's merely a way of succeeding in no longer thinking that the thing in question is a picture - to make a 'delay' of it in the most general way possible ...
[20] This conception has been considerably expanded in our day by Jaques Derrida and others, where distancing in both time and space becomes central to the contact of text and reader.

To the extent that work becomes creative, it tends to incorporate and be based on a vision of an ideal society projected on the future. If we turn to biblical imagery, we can see that the core of this vision is that of the humanized creation out of nature that I spoke of at the beginning. So far, in speaking of creation in the Bible, I have referred only to the somewhat confusing activities of God at the beginning, who creates the world in Genesis 1, creates paradise in Genesis 2, destroys paradise in Genesis 3, and destroys the rest of the world in the deluge of Genesis 6. As a creator, the deity seems to have had other things on his infinite mind, or perhaps, as a poem of Thomas Hardy suggests, he had no real talent for creation at all. But there is also a partly human vision of creation in the Bible, associated with a future restoration of Israel to its Promised Land. Man lives, we said, isolated from nature by his own culture, and this culture is partly a technical achievement and partly a visionary one. At the centre of the technical achievement is his transformation of a part of his natural environment into a nature with a human shape and a human meaning. In biblical imagery we begin with the fruit trees and fresh water of paradise, and then go through various phases of social development: the pastoral phase of flocks and herds, the agricultural phase of harvest and vintage, and the urban phase of cities, buildings, streets, and highways.

Similar imagery lies at the heart of every mythology and every development of the arts, and indicates that what man really wants is what his genuine work shows that he wants. [21] When he is doing genuine work, that is, not making war or feeding a parasitic class, he is making a human artefact out of nature. Whatever the status of 'the' creation ascribed to God at the beginning, there is another creation which involves human effort, and the idealized forms of this creation are again projected on the future. I call this 'recreation,' or the counter-movement of creation set up by man. The destructive activities assigned to God in Genesis provide the motivation for this, and his original creative activities, such as the planting of the garden of Eden, provide the models.

But while all cultures reflect similar patterns of imagery in regard to nature, the Bible is distinctive in its attitude to nature. I shall be looking at this in more detail tomorrow night, but the general principle is that for the Bible there is nothing numinous, no holy or divine presence, within nature itself. Nature is a fellow creature of man: to discover divine presences in nature is superstition, and to worship them is idolatry. Man, according to the Bible, has to look to himself, his institutions, and more particularly his records of verbal revelation, to find the structural principles of the creation he is entrusted with.

Further, and by the same principle, the solution of the major human and social problems have to precede the real recreation of nature. We are gradually beginning to realize that the exploitation of man by man is evil, and not merely evil but unnecessary. Human nature being what it is, the transforming of some of the natural environment into a humanized one has not been wholly a creative operation: there has been an immense amount of spoiling, wasting, destroying, and plundering as well. But only recently have we come to feel much uneasiness of conscience about this: our cultural traditions insist that nature was provided for [22] the sake of man, and that the unlimited and uninhibited exploitation of nature has nothing to be said against it, except that we obviously have to call a halt after we have used up everything there is.

This view of nature as an unlimited field of exploitation is found in most human cultures, but with us is peculiarly a legacy of our biblical and Christian inheritance. We notice that the prophets in the Bible, when they speak of a final restoration of Israel, also speak of a regenerating of nature and a reconciliation with it, but they emphasize that this can take place only after man has stopped the destructive activities within himself. Hosea says, for instance:
And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely.
The implication is that the regenerating of human society must precede, though it forms a part of, the regeneration of nature.

The Bible has little or nothing to say about man's cultural past, and to that extent is deficient as a guide to human creative perspectives. The traditions of the literary critic are of classical origin, and for this aspect of our subject we have to depend mainly on secular literature. I began by referring to a course on Shakespeare that I had recently agreed to help teach, and in looking over the texts of Shakespeare I found myself once again absorbed, as I have been all my critical life, by the immense profundity and complexity of social vision in the final romances, Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, [23] The Tempest. I noticed, as I had noticed before, that they resemble the earlier comedies, but differ from them in that they seem to contain a tragic action as well as a comic one, instead of merely avoiding a tragic conflict as the earlier comedies do. I had realized for a long time that the comic vision in literature is one which is very close to what I have been calling the vision of a future society. In comedy a certain drive to freedom, generally symbolized by the impulse of two young people to marry, is being thwarted by something foolish and obstinate in the social order which nevertheless has control of that order temporarily. But normally, at the end of a comedy, the drive towards freedom succeeds, its opponents or blocking figures are baffled, and the action ends with most of the characters together on the stage, suggesting a new society being formed at the end of the play. The ideals of this new society have to be left undefined, because its activities are assumed to begin after the play itself is over.

Sometimes, more particularly in The Winter's Tale, this comic action is associated or identified with the fertility imagery of a renewal of nature, as spring succeeds winter and new life emerges from old. In The Winter's Tale the great sheep-shearing festival scene in the fourth act depicts the determination of two young people, Florizel and Perdita, to marry in the teeth of parental opposition, and in the background is the triumphant renewing vitality of 'great creating nature,' as spring in Bohemia follows hard on winter in Sicilia. But at the same time that Shakespeare gives us this vision of youth and spring victorious over age and winter, he puts as much or even more emphasis on the reintegrating of an older generation. It is the reunion of Leontes and Hermione, where the past folly and obsession of Leontes is cast out, that forms [24] the final scene, and this scene is as closely associated with art as that of Florizel and Perdita is with nature. It takes place in a chapel, an alleged work of painting and sculpture comes to life, and the miracle is accomplished by music and poetry. It seems as though two things must happen if either is to happen: there is a vision of a happy social future, but there is also a vision of a reintegrated past in which dead things come to life again under the spell of art.

All the romances seem to have something of this double resolution, of young people forming the nucleus of a new social order and a new outburst of fertility, and of older people restored to their original lives through the arts, the arts often being represented simply by music. In The Tempest the young lovers, Ferdinand and Miranda, are shown by Prospero the masque which symbolizes their future lives, where the main characters are Ceres, Juno, and Iris, the earth, the sky, and the rainbow, deities of fertility and promise. They are then ready to encounter what Miranda calls a brave new world. At the same time Prospero, whose art is symbolized by magic though it consists very largely of music and drama, is reintegrating his own past as Duke of Milan, transforming the society of his former enemies into a new shape.

In this play the reintegrating of the past through art and the renewal of the future through the energy of youth and nature are contrasted with the mere past and the mere future. The mere past, where everything vanishes into darkness and annihilation, is evoked by Prospero's great 'end of the revels' speech; the mere future is what we see in Prospero's return to Milan, to be as absent-minded and ineffectual a Duke as he was before. The positive action of the play, therefore, where reintegration and renewal both [25] take place, is not in the past or future at all, but in an expanded present where, as Eliot says, the past and the future are gathered.

This present is a resurrection which is not the reviving of a corpse, and a rebirth which is not an emerging of a new life from a dying older body to die in its turn. It is rather a transfiguration into a world we keep making even when we deny it, as though a coral insect were suddenly endowed with enough consciousness and vision to be able to see the island it has been helping to create.

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