A LITERARY TRINITY

 

The painting I had commissioned from Nigel Hughes was at last finished.My desire to see what I liked to think of as 'the blessed trinity' of twentieth-century literature exhibited on one canvas was about to be realized.The artist had only to remove the drape under which he had ceremoniously concealed it ... for me to witness the realization of a desire I had cherished these past five months.I was on tenterhooks.Would it meet with my expectations, I wondered?Seated in an armchair in front of the easel on which the finished product was resting, I bade my friend go ahead with the unveiling.The drape slid to the floor and there, before my eager eyes, the nude body of the canvas was at last revealed!

††††† "You like it?" he asked hopefully.

††††† So great was my excitement at seeing the completed work, at last, that I could scarcely reply!Besides, the question seemed a little premature, not allowing me sufficient time in which to come to a proper appreciation.But it was soon apparent to him, by the spontaneous appearance of delight on my face, that I did like it, and very much so!For he sighed his relief and turned a proudly complacent smile upon me.

††††† "Exactly as you specified," he declared.

††††† "Even better," I managed to correct, looking from the elderly face of John Cowper Powys on the left of the canvas to the middle-aged one of Hermann Hesse in the centre, and then across to the youthful face of Aldous Huxley on the right.The 'blessed trinity' of twentieth-century literature as I conceived of it, the three great cultural authors of the age.From Nature-Worship to Buddhism via Zarathustrianism.Pantheism, dualism, and mysticism; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.And each face portrayed with consummate skill and infinite care!

††††† "It will look even better hanging in my study," I opined, once this reassuring inspection had run its course and enabled me to relax, in some measure, from the anticipatory strain experienced prior to the unveiling."I shall grant it a privileged position above the mantelpiece.The presence of such a painting there will have a salutary effect on my writing."

††††† Nigel smiled sympathetically and, abandoning the canvas, sat himself down in the nearest armchair."And who is the one whom you most relate to as a writer?" he at length asked.

††††† "Undoubtedly Hesse," I replied, centring my attention on the central face of 'the trinity'."His dualistic conception of reality is certainly more in accord with my work at present than are the comparatively lopsided conceptions of the other two.... Not that they're particularly lopsided.But their philosophical focus on either Nature, as in Powys, or the Clear Light of the Void, as in Huxley, does, I think, justify my generalizing them into lopsided positions."

††††† "Yes, I take your point," Nigel responded, smiling a shade contemptuously."Hesse's approach to reality was arguably more synthetic.But what of your own work, is it still more so?"

††††† "In some respects I dare say it is," I answered, turning my attention full upon him, "since my dualism incorporates the integration of antitheses not only on a theological plane but also on an ethical one, the plane of good and evil generally.Unlike Hesse, and to an even greater extent Tolstoy, whom it's probably worth mentioning in this respect, I don't make a point of creating characters who are either angels or demons, as it were, but strive to integrate good and evil in each of them.Thus instead of one character being good and another evil, my characters are both good and evil, and therefore men rather than lopsided monsters.The character who loses our respect in one context or place in the novel is just as likely to win it back in another, and vice versa."

††††† "Tolstoy certainly wouldn't have approved of that approach," Nigel frowningly averred."He wanted the author to take a moral stance on the side of good and to denounce the evil character or characters in no uncertain terms!"

††††† "Which is something I cannot bring myself to do," I said."For Tolstoy wanted authors to create either angels or demons, not men.But angels and demons are merely figments of the imagination rather than reflections of human reality.The man who's incapable of evil is no man at all.He would be just as incapable of good.But even Tolstoy, moral cretin that he aspired to being in theory, was fundamentally a man, not an angel, and consequently he was perfectly capable of facing-up to reality and indulging in evil."

††††† Nigel looked puzzled."What kind of evil?" he asked.

††††† "Oh, the usual kind: the actions or thoughts which proceed from negative as opposed to positive feelings," I answered.

††††† "You mean, one's feelings inevitably condition the nature of one's morality, whether one is doing good or evil?" said Nigel doubtfully.

††††† "Of course!" I confidently declared."What other criterion can one have?There's no escaping reality, no doing away with evil for the sake of good.Everything competitive pertains to evil, everything cooperative to good.Why?Because in the first case one's feelings are negative, whereas in the second case they're positive.So when he attacked other authors in print, Tolstoy was doing evil, a perfectly legitimate and sensible form of evil admittedly, but evil nonetheless!"

††††† "Even when the authors fully deserved being attacked?" Nigel queried, a somewhat sceptical expression marring an otherwise handsome countenance.

††††† "Most especially then," I assured him, nodding."For one is likely to write more scathingly against them in consequence.One can only combat evil with evil, not with good, which, by contrast, would lead one to ignore it, to 'turn the other cheek', as the saying goes.And, in combating evil with evil, one inevitably produces more evil.For evil thrives on negativity, and aggression of whichever kind in whatever context pertains to the negative.So even the lopsided preacher of goodness was a man, a scowler as well as a smiler.And because he knew how to utilize both good and evil to his advantage, if unconsciously so, he was a successful man, a famous one.That's the way of the world. Those who most successfully approximate to reality, who accept the responsibility of being human, have their kingdom in this world rather than in any other.They're enabled to indulge their good and evil sides, within the framework of the law, to the limit of their ability, as demanded by their integrity as men."

††††† "How d'you mean?" Nigel wanted to know.

††††† "Take the case of a composer," I proceeded to explain, "a composer, shall we say, who writes for the piano.Supposing he transmitted only positive vibrations, only good feelings through his music, it would be akin to that of an angel's and we would eventually grow tired of it.The gently lyrical sounds would be pleasing for a while, but the longer they persisted the less we would appreciate them.Conversely, supposing he transmitted only negative vibrations, only evil feelings through his music, it would be akin to that of a demon's and, similarly, we would eventually tire of it.In both cases, the composer, transmitting only one of the two sides of man's dual nature, would hardly achieve lasting recognition as a truly great musician.In fact, the chances are that he wouldn't be appreciated.But as soon as he combines both the good and the evil approach, the positive and the negative vibrations, in the most balanced and ingenious manner, ah! then our attention is held and he would be recognized as the genuine man he was, the whole rather than part man.Now his greatness as a composer would depend upon the extent of the good and evil to which he could attain, and would accordingly be in direct proportion to this.Thus the greatest composers would combine in the same work, though not necessarily in the same movement, the most angelic sounds with the most demonic, the sweetest with the sourest, through various gradations in between."

††††† "Hence the greatness of Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Saint-SaŽns, Rubenstein, Franck, and other such manly composers?" Nigel suggested with a slightly roguish - or romantic - glint in his eyes.

††††† "Absolutely!" I agreed without a moment's hesitation."Their greatness as men is reflected in the spectrum of their music, which is somewhat wider than that of lesser men.Indeed it's, above all, in the nineteenth century that music most comes to reflect man's dual nature, that man appears in it as he really is.For prior to then, music was predominantly in the service of what Spengler, the philosopher of history, calls 'the Culture', roughly corresponding to Medieval and Reformation Christendom, with its emphasis on the ideal of a good God, viz. Christ.As such, composers were expected to approximate to this ideal as best they could, and thus produce mainly positive or pleasant sounds.But with the gradual decline of 'the Culture' throughout the eighteenth and, in particular, nineteenth centuries, music increasingly came to reflect man's secular reality and accordingly utilized a more balanced spectrum of sounds.††

††††† "However, only in the late-nineteenth and, to a much greater extent, early-twentieth centuries does it become apparent that service to an ideal is returning.For with the development of what Spengler calls 'the Civilization', which sprang from the decline of 'the Culture' as the Age of Reason superseded the Age of Faith, so the balance of good and evil was gradually superseded by the predominance of evil, of cacophonous sounds, which would seem to reflect service, if unconsciously, to a devil, the devil, we may reasonably suppose, of contemporary megalopolitan life.To have attained, however, to true humanity, instead of being lopsided on the side of either the angels or the demons, seems to me the mark of the greatest men, whether they be composers, artists, writers, actors, statesmen, or whatever.The Deists and Satanists, by contrast, are almost monsters, though never quite what they appear to be, no matter how hard they may try to excel themselves.Even Bach and Bartůk were fundamentally men, even if, from the viewpoint of their respective creative extremes, somewhat lopsided ones!"

††††† "And 'the blessed trinity' of twentieth-century literature were also men, I take it?" Nigel remarked, turning his critical gaze upon the painting.

††††† "Naturally!" I affirmed, smiling."Although the one in the centre, the Spenglerian Hesse, was more consciously such, and therefore less inclined to deceive himself than were the other two.In Steppenwolf he finally contrived to integrate the dual sides of his protagonist's divided self in a balance of good and evil.He created a man out of a veritable monster."

††††† There was a short pause in the conversation whilst I respectfully surveyed the three faces before me again: the exponent of Elementalism, or sublimated nature-worship, with his belief in a Janus-faced First Cause; the Zarathustrian dualist, with his Abraxas-like concept of God embodied in the Self; and, finally, the advocate of the Perennial Philosophy, with his penchant for the Clear Light of the Void and blissful absence of conflict.Then, realizing that I had nothing further to add to my previous comment, I bade Nigel Hughes wrap up the painting and wrote him out a cheque for the fee required.What, exactly, people would think of Andy Hammill's latest painting, I didn't know.But I was pretty confident it would cause quite a theological controversy nonetheless!