« PreviousContinue »
they may be, they are the very pink of modernity. Before sharing their conviction it might be well to do a little prelimi
a nary defining of such terms as modern and the modern spirit. It may then turn out that the true difficulty with our young radicals is not that they are too modern but that they are not modern enough. For, though the word modern is often and no doubt inevitably used to describe the more recent or the most recent thing, this is not its sole use. It is not in this sense alone that the word is used by writers like Goethe and Sainte-Beuve and Renan and Arnold. What all these writers mean by the modern spirit is the positive and critical spirit, the spirit that refuses to take things on authority. This is what Renan means, for example, when he calls Petrarch the "founder of the modern spirit in literature,” or Arnold when he explains why the Greeks of the great period seem more modern to us than the men of the Middle Ages.
Now what I have myself tried to do is to be thoroughly modern in this sense. I hold that one should not only welcome the efforts of the man of science at his best to put the natural law on a positive and critical basis, but that one should strive to emulate him in one's dealings with the human law; and so become a complete positivist. My main objection to the movement I am studying is that it has failed to produce complete positivists. Instead of facing honestly the emergency created by its break with the past the leaders of this movement have inclined to deny the duality of human nature, and then sought to dissimulate this mutilation of man under a mass of intellectual and emotional sophistry. The proper procedure in refuting these incomplete positivists is not to appeal to some dogma or outer authority but rather to turn against them their own principles. Thus Diderot, a notable example of the incomplete positivist and a chief source of naturalistic tendency, says that "everything is experimental in man.” Now the word experimental has somewhat narrowed in meaning since the time of Diderot. If one takes the saying to mean that every thing in man is a matter of experience one should accept it unreservedly and then plant oneself firmly on the facts of experience that Diderot and other incomplete positivists have refused to recognize.
1 See his Oxford address on the Modern Element in Literature.
The man who plants himself, not on outer authority but on experience, is an individualist. To be modern in the sense I have defined is not only to be positive and critical, but also - and this from the time of Petrarch - to be individualistic. The establishment of a sound type of individualism is indeed the specifically modern problem. It is right here that the failure of the incomplete positivist, the man who is positive only according to the natural law, is most conspicuous. What prevails in the region of the natural law is endless change and relativity; therefore the naturalistic positivist attacks all the traditional creeds and dogmas for the very reason that they aspire to fixity. Now all the ethical values of civilization have been associated with these fixed beliefs; and so it has come to pass that with their undermining by naturalism the ethical values themselves are in danger of being swept away in the everlasting flux. Because the individual who views life positively must give up unvarying creeds and dogmas “anterior, exterior, and superior” to himself, it has been assumed that he must also give up standards. For standards imply an element of oneness somewhere, with reference to which it is possible to measure the mere manifoldness and change. The naturalistic individualist, however, refuses to recognize any such element of oneness. His own private and personal self is to be the measure of all things and this measure itself, he adds, is constantly changing. But to stop at this stage is to be satisfied with the most dangerous of half-truths. Thus Bergson's assertion that "life is a perpetual gushing forth of novelties" is in itself only a dangerous half-truth of this kind. The constant element in life is, no less than the element of novelty and change, a matter of observation and experience. As the French have it, the more life changes the more it is the same thing.
If, then, one is to be a sound individualist, an individualist with human standards - and in an age like this that has cut loose from its traditional moorings, the very survival of civilization would seem to hinge on its power to produce such a type of individualist - one must grapple with what Plato terms the problem of the One and the Many. My own solution of this problem, it may be well to point out, is not purely Platonic. Because one can perceive immediately an element of unity in things, it does not follow that one is justified in establishing a world of essences or entities or “ideas” above the flux. To do this is to fall away from a positive and critical into a more or less speculative attitude; it is to risk setting up a metaphysic of the One. Those who put exclusive emphasis on the element of change in things are in no less obvious danger of falling away from the positive and critical attitude into a metaphysic of the Many.' This for example is the error one finds in the contemporary thinkers who seem to have the cry, thinkers like James and Bergson and Dewey and Croce. They are very far from satisfying the requirements of a complete positivism; they are seeking rather to build up their own intoxication with the element of change into a complete view of life, and so are turning their backs on one whole side of experience in a way that often reminds one of the ancient Greek sophists. The history of philosophy since the Greeks is to a great extent the history of the clashes of the metaphysicians of the One and the metaphysicians of the Many. In the eyes of the complete positivist this history therefore reduces itself largely to a monstrous logomachy.
Life does not give here an element of oneness and there an element of change. It gives a oneness that is always changing. The oneness and the change are inseparable. Now if what is stable and permanent is felt as real, the side of life that is always slipping over into something else or vanishing away
1 These two tendencies in Occidental thought go back respectively at least as far as Parmenides and Heraclitus.
entirely is, as every student of psychology knows, associated
We are such stuff
Is rounded with a sleep. But, though strictly considered, life is but a web of illusion and a dream within a dream, it is a dream that needs to be managed with the utmost discretion, if it is not to turn into a nightmare. In other words, however much life may mock the metaphysician, the problem of conduct remains. There is always the unity at the heart of the change; it is possible, however, to get at this real and abiding element and so at the standards with reference to which the dream of life may be rightly managed only through a veil of illusion. The problem of
the One and the Many, the ultimate problem of thought, can therefore be solved only by a right use of illusion. In close relation to illusion and the questions that arise in connection with it is all that we have come to sum up in the word imagination. The use of this word, at least in anything like its present extension, is, one should note, comparatively recent. Whole nations and periods of the past can scarcely be said to have had any word corresponding to imagination in this extended sense. Yet the thinkers of the past have treated, at times profoundly, under the head of fiction or illusion the questions that we should treat under the head of imagination. In the "Masters of Modern French Criticism" I was above all preoccupied with the problem of the One and the Many and the failure of the nineteenth century to deal with it adequately. My effort in this present work is to show that this failure can be retrieved only by a deeper insight into the imagination and its all-important role in both literature and life. Man is cut off from immediate contact with anything abiding and therefore worthy to be called real, and condemned to live in an element of fiction or illusion, but he may, I have tried to show, lay hold with the aid of the imagination on the element of oneness that is inextricably blended with the manifoldness and change and to just that extent may build up a sound model for imitation. One tends to be an individualist with true standards, to put the matter somewhat differently, only in so far as one understands the relation between appearance and reality — what the philoso
1 In his World as Imagination (1916) E. D. Fawcett, though ultraromantic and unoriental in his point of view, deals with a problem that has always been the special preoccupation of the Hindu. A Hindu, however, would have entitled a similar volume The World as Illusion (māyā). Aristotle has much to say of fiction in his Poetics but does not even use the word imagination (parraola). In the Psychology, where he discusses the imagination, he assigns not to it, but to mind or reason the active and creative rôle (volls TOINTIKÓS). It is especially the notion of the creative imagination that is recent. The earliest example of the phrase that I have noted in French is in Rousseau's description of his erotic reveries at the Hermitage (Confessions, Livre 1x).