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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: confrontation between art and technology
(1969)

Kilby, Clyde S.
[Editorial comment: the lost myth],   pp. [unnumbered]-163 PDF (10.1 MB)


Page 159

A second suggestion toward wholeness
would be the recognition of mystery in
nature. Keats talks of a time
When holy were the haunted forest boughs,
Holy the air, the water, and the fire.
I have asked myself seriously which of
two possible attitudes towards, for instance,
the sun is actually more humanly
tenable. Is it more truthful, in the long
run, to declare the sun to be merely gases,
heat and chemical elements identifiable
by spectroscopic analysis or else to declare
it, as did the early Greeks, a god?
Speaking of that word "merely,"
C. S. Lewis, in his little book
The Abolition of Man, discusses the
"conquering" of nature by reducing it to
smaller and smaller bits of less and less
living reality and concluding that it is
merely this or that. He ends his study with
the remarkable sentence, "To 'see
through' all things is the same as not to
see at all." Some of our best physicists
think that Shelley may be right in asserting,
Every grain
Is sentient both in unity and part,
And the minutest atom comprehends
A world of loves and hatreds.
More and more it looks as if those things
we call atoms may have a will of their
own and may be playing a far subtler game
with man than he realizes.
I think it would be helpful if we went
back and read some of the medieval
bestiaries and herbals. Beyond their
quaintness we might find in them real
values. In those times the most
therapeutically useful plants were
considered sacred and symbolically
assumed to have first grown on the hill
of Calvary, a place itself looked upon as the
center of the world. Is there the least
touch of this kind of thing in our
present view of nature? Most of us, I
suppose, would think an antivivisectionist in
this century little short of a boob, but
men like Bernard Shaw, C. E. M. Joad,
C. S. Lewis, and Albert Schweitzer believed
that vivisectionism in our time marks
"a great advance in the triumph of
ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism over the
old world of ethical law."7 I think most
of us would be shocked beyond measure if
we knew how many thousands of animals
suffer torture every day in laboratories-
perhaps a great many more than need
be. If any objection is raised to this, or to
such things as cutting a four-lane highway
through a forest preserve or despoiling
a beauty spot such as Glen Canyon, the
answer always is that man must be served.
But which part of man? I myself
have practiced for many years looking
upon the morning light as an unmerited
and mysterious gift and on life in flora
and fauna as worthy of a daily salute and
even a bow. Years ago I heard somebody
say that all our political and diplomatic
conferences ought to be moved out
of smoke-filled rooms and held underneath
trees. It seemed to me excellent.
I wonder if under those circumstances the
conclusions reached might not be quite
different from what they are at present.
I have a good friend in the South with
whom I have often walked through
the woods. He has the uncanny ability to
estimate the number of board-feet in
standing trees and has made a small
fortune through the gift. For myself, the
walks are as Wordsworthian as my limited
sensitivity will permit. Between the
two, though of course they are not
mutually exclusive, I choose my
appreciation to his money. More
recognition of mystery and symbol in
nature would, I think, contribute to our
reacquisition of wholeness. And the effort
will by no means be simply a
sentimental one.
The third suggestion I make about
wholeness has to do with what Charles
Williams calls coinherence and exchange,
doctrines in part growing out of Williams's
inability, because of his eyes, to take part
in the military and his realization that
simply by being alive he is necessarily
involved in other lives and sacrifice.
Dr. Donne said, "One man's death
diminishes me because I am a part of
mankind." We are members one of another.
I am not talking of banners and marches.
These practices have come into
existence because of the loss
of a deeper sense of man as a mysterious
creature walking about on a mysterious
thing in stellar space called a planet,
and man filled, as Mark Van Doren says,
with the realization that "he is more than he
need be and less than he would be."'
Much is said now about the necessity of
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