Letters to a Diminished Church Part 5


letterstoadiminishedchurch Letters to a Diminished Church by Dorothy Sayers

Creative Mind (Chapter 5)

“According to one great mathematician: ‘God made the integers; all else is the work of man.’ And, according to many mathematicians, number is, as it were, the fundamental characteristic of the universe. But what is number, other than a relation between like things—like groupings of atoms–like unities? We say that we see six eggs. Certainly we see egg, egg, egg, egg, egg, egg in a variety of arrangements; but can we see six—apart from the eggs?…There has perhaps never been a greater act of the creative imagination than the creation of the concept of a number as a thing-in-itself. Yet, with that concept, the mathematician can work, handling pure number as if it possessed independent existence and producing results applicable to things measurable and observable.” (35)

“…: the perception of likenesses, the relating of like things to form a new unity, and the words as if.” (36)

“It will be noticed that the words of that line—‘The singing masons building roofs of gold’—(mine–referring to bees) are far more powerful in combination than they are separately. Yet each word brings with it a little accumulation of power of its own–for each word is itself a separate unity and a separate creative act….” (38)

“Two images are fused into a single world of power by a cunning perception of a set of likenesses between unlike things. That is not all: in its context, the line belongs to a passage that welds the fused image again into yet another unity, to present the picture of the perfect state:

For so work the honeybees,
Creatures that by a rule in nature teach
The act of order to a people kingdom.

This is not scientist’s truth; it is poet’s truth, like the truth latent in that unscientific word, quicksilver. It is the presentation of a unity among like things, producing a visible, measurable effect as if the unity were itself measurable.” (39)

“Perhaps I ought to add a caution about words…It is as dangerous for people unaccustomed to handling words and unacquainted with their technique to tinker about with these heavily charged nuclei of emotional power as it would be for me to burst into a laboratory and play about with a powerful electromagnet or other machine highly charged with electrical force…Similarly the irresponsible use of highly electric words is very strongly to be deprecated” (46)

“At the present time, we have a population that is literate…but owing to the emphasis placed on scientific and technical training at the expense of the humanities, very few of our people have been taught to understand and handle language as an instrument of power. This means that, in this country alone, forty million innocents or thereabouts are wandering inquisitively about the laboratory, enthusiastically pulling handles and pushing buttons, thereby releasing uncontrollable currents of electric speech, with results that astonish themselves and the world. Nothing is more intoxicating than a sense of power: the demagogue who can sway crowds, the journalist who can push up the sales of his paper to the two million mark (blog nowdays), the playwright who can plunge an audience into  an orgy of facile emotion, the parliamentary candidate who is carried to the top of the poll on a flood of meaningless rhetoric, the ranting preacher, the advertising salesman of material or spiritual commodities, are all playing perilously and irresponsibly with the power of words, and are equally dangerous whether they are cynically unscrupulous or have fallen under the spell of their own eloquence and become the victims of their own propaganda. For the great majority of those whom they are addressing have no skill in assessing the value of words and are as helpless under verbal attack as were the citizens of Rotterdam against assault from the air.” (46-47)

“It is right that the scientist should come to terms with the humanities; for in daily life scientist also are common men, and the flight from language will never avail to carry them out of its field of power. They must learn to handle that instrument as they handle other instruments, with a full comprehension of what it is, and what it does; and in so doing they will come to recognize it as a source of delight as well as of danger. The language of the imagination can never be inert; as with every other living force, you must learn to handle it or it will handle you. ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master—that’s all.'” (48)

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