Illusion and Reality, Christopher Caudwell 1937


The characteristics of poetry flow necessarily from the nature of language and the active function of poetry in relation to society, man and reality.

When we speak of “man” we mean the genotype or individual, the instinctive man as he is bom, who if “left to himself” might grow up into something like a dumb brute, but instead of this he grows up in a certain kind of society as a certain kind of man – Athenian, Aztec or Londoner. We must not think of the genotype as completely plastic and amorphous. It has certain definite instincts and potentialities which are the source of its energy and its restlessness. Nor are all genotypes alike. Men differ among themselves because of inborn characteristics. Society is not, however, opposed to this inborn individuality; on the contra, the differentiation which comes with increase of civilisation is the means of realising men’s particularities. Man cannot choose between being an artist or a scientist in a society which has neither art nor science; nor between biology and psychology where science is still no more than vague astrological superstition.

This genotype is never found “in the raw.” Always it is found as a man of definite concrete civilisation with definite opinions, material surroundings, and education – a man with a consciousness conditioned by the relations he has entered into with other men and which he did not choose but was born into.

Men were originally drawn into these relations by their struggle with Nature or outer reality. There are certain laws of the individual – physiological and psychological. But in the extent to which man as one part of reality has separated himself from the other part (Nature) not in order to cut himself from it, but to struggle with it and thereby interpenetrate with it more closely in economic production – to that extent man has generated yet another field of laws, those of sociology. None of these sets of laws contradicts each other; they enrich each other.

But it is obvious that the field of sociology holds a special place because it is the field of the interpenetration of man and Nature, and the source of the generation ideologically of the other laws.

The struggle of man and Nature is a material movement which in the field of thought takes the form of the subject-object relation, the oldest problem of philosophy. It becomes insoluble problem only because the division of society into classes, by separating the class which generates ideology from society’s active struggle with Nature, reflects this cleavage into ideology as a separation of subject from object whereby they become mutually exclusive opposites.

In the field of thought as a whole this struggle of man and Nature in society is reflected as reality or “truth.” This truth or reality is not something dropped down from on high, it is a living, growing, developing complex. Because it is truth about the Universe, it is a truth about matter. When we say the universe is material we mean that all phenomena have underground connections, in the form of causes or determining relations, which have an ultimate homogeneity called “matter.” This is the first assumption of science, because to include anything in the field of science is to assert it has connections of this kind. To deny such connectedness of any phenomena is to deny their knowability and therefore the possibility of their inclusion in the field of science. The history of science is the discovery of these connections, and their demonstration as objective. They cannot be discovered by contemplation alone, but at every stage experiment – the practical demonstration of connections – is necessary.

Thus truth is an organised product of man’s struggle with Nature. As that struggle accumulates capital (technique and knowledge) and grows in complexity, so the truth which is the reflection of reality blossoms in man’s head. Only a partial aspect of that truth, at any time, can be in any one man’s head. Distorted, partial and limited, in one head, this perception of reality yet acquires the power of truth, of science, in the heads of all living men, because it is organised by the conditions of society which themselves spring from the necessities of economic production. Thus at any time truth is the special complex formed by the partial reflections of reality in all living men’s heads – not as a mere lumping together, but as these views are organised in a given society, by its level of experimental technique, scientific literature, means of communication and discussion, and laboratory facilities.

In each man “truth” takes the form of perception – what he seizes of reality with his senses – and memory – what is active at any moment of former perception, affecting his present perception. Because these human consciousnesses acquire tremendous power when their contents emerge organised by association, and become truth, they reflect back again with increasing penetration on the individual, whose memory and perception thus become more and more modified by being in society. An individual’s consciousness is, in this sense, a social product.

Truth is individual man’s experience of the connections of phenomena, become organised by homologation with millions of other such experiences. It can be organised because these perceptual worlds are all phenomena exhibited by the one material universe of which all individuals are a part, and not phenomena of so many private subjective Universes. Without this common factor, there would be no congruence of private worlds and therefore no objective truth. Science, which is objective truth, therefore is concerned with demonstrating the material connections or “causality” of phenomena.

There is no absolute truth, but there is a limit to which the truth of society at any moment continually aims. This limit of absolute truth is the Universe itself. When man shall have completely interpenetrated with Nature.... Yet even this theoretical limit supposes both a Universe that stands still and a truth which is outside the Universe. Truth, however, is a part of the Universe. Yet truth is generated by man’s struggle with the rest of reality, and hence, with each stage of the struggle, new reality is generated and the world made more complex. As a result reality itself is enriched, and the goal-post of “absolute truth” removed a stage further by that very increase in the complexity of reality. Society can no more reach absolute truth than a man can be tall enough to look down on himself – yet just as man’s height by continually increasing extends his range of view, so society’s development endlessly extends its truth.

Language is the most flexible instrument man has evolved in his associated struggle with Nature. Alone, man cannot plough Nature deeply; hence alone he cannot know her deeply. But as associated man, master of economic production, he widens his active influence on her, and therefore enlarges the truth which is the product of that action. Language is the essential tool of human association. It is for this reason that one can hardly think of truth except as a statement in language, so much is truth the product of association.

How does truth emerge in language? The word is a gesture, a cry. Take, for example, a herd of beasts that give a certain cry in situations of danger. When one cries, the others, as a result of a current of primitive passive sympathy, are terrified too, and all flee together.

The cry therefore has a subjective side, a “feeling-tone,” all feel terrified at the cry.

But the cry also indicates some thing terrifying, a foe or danger. The cry therefore has an objective side, a reference to something perceivable in reality.

Evidently for purely animal existence a few brief cries suffice. Some animals are dumb. But for the animal engaged in economic production in association – the animal called man – the cry becomes the word. Its “value” is now no longer instinctive – resulting from the relation of genotype to habitual environment – it becomes “arbitrary” – resulting from the relation of modfied genotype to artificial environment in economic production. In becoming the word as a result of association for economic production, the cry still retains its two sides, its instinctive feeling-tone and its acquired perceptual value, but both are made more precise and complex.

The feelings of the herd have a general similarity, because of the similarity of their instinctive make-up. Their perceptions also have a similarity, because of the likeness in their way of living. These like feelings are not known to the individual animals as like, any more than each knows the other’s perceptual worlds are like. The individual animal feels and sees alone. We, the onlookers, deduce the likeness in the emotional and perceptual worlds of the animals from the similarity of their behaviour; but the animals cannot be conscious in this way of a like world.

Man knows that there is a likeness in the worlds of men; this likeness is expressed for example in science, the world of perceptual reality. In the same way he knows there is a likeness in feelings. This likeness is expressed in art, the world of affective reality.

Man only came to know this likeness in his perceptual worlds when he entered into association with other men. Why did he so enter? In order to change his perceptual world. This contradiction is simply the basic contradiction of science – that man learns about reality in changing it. That is precisely what an experiment does; and the experiment is crucial for science. This characteristic contradiction reaches its final expression in Heisenberg’s Principle of Indeterminacy, which declares that all knowledge of reality involves a change in reality. All laws of science are laws stating what actions produce what changes in reality. Science is the sum of the changes in perceptual worlds produced by men in their history, preserved, organised, made handy, compendious and penetrating.

In the same way, man learns of the likeness of the egos of other men by attempting to change them. This change is essential for living in association as men. Man’s instinct is to do always such and such. Unless therefore these instincts can be modified to make him do something different, man will respond instinctively instead of in a conditioned way, and society will be impossible. Men live in a common feeling-world only in so far as they are able to produce changes in each other’s feelings by action. This change in feeling is crucial for art. The sum of such changes, organised and made independent of men, is what art is, not in abstraction, but emerging in concrete living.

Both science and art exist nascently in the animal. The wooing of the female, the frightening of enemies, mean that the active animal must change feeling in the other. The courtship dance and the threatening preliminaries to a fight are art in embryo. But both are done instinctively. They lack freedom and are therefore unconscious. They do not belong to a socially conditioned world. Only those feelings which are changed by means not given explicitly in the nature of man or of the natural environment are the subject of art. In so far as art exposes the real necessity of the instincts by exposing all the various possible changes following from the various possible means of influencing them, art becomes conscious of the necessity of the world of feeling, and therefore free. Art is the expression of man’s freedom in the world of feeling, just as science is the expression of man’s freedom in the world of sensory perception, because both are conscious of the necessities of their worlds and can change them – art the world of feeling or inner reality, science the world of phenomena or outer reality.

The common flight of a herd from a terrifying object indicated by the cry of one, is science in embryo, but only becomes science when it is the consciousness of a change in the perceptual world produced, not by fleeing from danger instinctively, but by altering it economically – by, for example, making weapons or a snare and killing the dangerous animal, or retreating in an organised way, covering the rear.

Science and art, although expressions of the social commonness in perceptual and feeling worlds, do not reduce men to replicas of each other. On the contrary, because they deal with possible changes, and are expanded and enriched in proportion as new changes are discovered, they are the means whereby individual differences are realised. Differences which at the animal level reveal themselves as a hare-lip or an extra plumpness, now appear as subtle differences of emotional life or Weltanschauung, colouring and enriching the whole complex of reality. Language is the special medium whereby these changes are made social coin. Words are the money of the ideological market of mankind. Even as a few exchange transactions express all the bewildering complexity of modern social being, so a few sounds express all the rich universe of emotion and truth which is modem man’s ideological world.


Let us study the Word. just as that simple thing, a pound note, reveals a staggering intricacy when we pursue its reflection in the spheres of value and price, supply and demand, profit and cost, so the word is a microcosm of a whole universe of ideological elaboration.

The word has a subjective side (feeling) and an objective side (perception). But these do not exist in the word-as-itself, in contemplation, any more than a pound note exists in itself as paper and print. They exist only in the word as a dynamic social act, just as a pound note only exists in exchange.

The word is spoken and heard. Let us call the parties to this act speaker and hearer. The word indicates some portion of reality sensorily perceptible: this is its symbolic or referential context. The speaker wishes to change the hearer’s perceptual world so as to include the thing the word symbolises. For example, he may say, “Look, a rose!” He wishes the hearer to see a rose, or be aware of the possibility of seeing one. Or he may say, “Some roses are blue”; in which case he wishes to modify the hearer’s perceptual world to the extent of including blue roses. And so on up to the most elaborate and abstruse mathematical discourse.

But in order to do this, there must be a Common Perceptual World – common to both speaker and hearer – with Common Perceptual Symbols – symbols for indicating entities in that common world which are accepted as current by both speaker and hearer.

This Common Perceptual World is the world of reality or truth, and science is its most general expression. We have already seen how it was built up by men’s experience of changing reality. It is sometimes described as the world of percepts or concepts (the distinction is artificial). Because “blue” and “rose” are common to this world, the speaker can change the hearer’s perceptual world by the injection of a blue rose into it. Blue and rose are now combined and make a new entity – one which was not before in the Common Perceptual World, but now colour each other in a whole which is more than the sum of the parts.

What, then, has been the result of the transaction? A blue rose, which was in the speaker’s perceptual world, but not in their common perceptual world or in the hearer’s perceptual world, has been formed in the common perceptual world and introjected into the hearer’s perceptual world. Hence both the hearer’s perceptual world and the common perceptual world are changed. Thus, if now the speaker says, “A blue rose is scentless,” the sentence will have a meaning it would not have had before, because blue roses now exist in the common perceptual world of speaker and hearer.

Notice that a new word is not essential to introduce a new entity to the common perceptual world, although it is sometimes used. We might have said, “N is a blue rose,” “N is scentless.” Most new entities are introduced by recombination, expansion, condensation and displacement of existing symbols rather than by neologism.

But the transaction does not change only the hearer’s perceptual world and the common perceptual world. For, in order to body forth his unique individual experience of a strange blossom to the hearer, the speaker had to transform it into current coin. From a unique blossom, unlike anything seen before or since, it had to become for him a blue rose – as a blossom, belonging to the order rose; as a visual rose, to the colour blue. Thus the act of communication changed his experience and as it were kept it on the social rails, just as it changed the common perceptual world and the perceptual world of his hearer.

But it would be inverting the process to suppose that the common world cheapens our impressions by making unique individual experiences conceptual and trite. We respond to experience with broad instinctive drives, which divide experience into “edible,” “non-edible,” “dangerous,” “neutral,” “light,” “dark.” The possession of the common world of experience enables us to discriminate flowers among the non-edible, roses among flowers, colours among lightness, blue among colours. Objective reality thus separates itself out by social means from a vague humming chaos on the threshold of consciousness. The more complex our social world, the more the individual phenomenon becomes an intersection of a number of concepts and therefore the more individual and unique it is. Once again we must repeat: society is the means of realising individuality and therefore the road of freedom. Keeping the perception on the social rails is merely keeping it conscious.

This change in the perceptual worlds of speaker and hearer and in the common perceptual world, is the essence of the Word. The lightest word produces such a change, however trifling. We measure the Power of the word by the degree of the change.

The word is not fully realised except as a dynamic social act. We overlook this just as we overlook that a pound note only exists importantly as a social act, because the complexities produced by the division of labour delay the impact between producer and consumer by the interposition of a market. The pound note, like a word, is only the expression of a transfer between one man and another – of goods in one case, of ideas in another – but the conditions of commodity-production give them a mysterious existence in their own right as concepts – the concept of “value” in the one case, the concept of “meaning” in the other.

We must therefore picture men’s heads as full of these private perceptual worlds and then certain percepts in common (or concepts) which form a common perceptual world, and therefore give them the means of modifying each other’s private worlds. Truth is not just the lump-sum of all private worlds; it is the common world – the means whereby these private worlds modify each other. These private worlds have relations with each other just as do the men who bear them in their heads. This plexus of relations is Truth.

But neither truth nor perception exist as a self-contained superstructure. They only exist as reflections of material changes. The common perceptual world contains both truth and error. True or false means just this: “Living in the common perceptual world.” Truth only separates out from falsehood by the active relation of the common perceptual world with material reality.

We saw that man’s interaction with Nature was continuously enriched by economic production. Economic production requires association which in turn demands the word. For men to work together, that is, to operate together non-instinctively, they must have a common world of changeable perceptual reality, and by changeable I mean changeable by their actions; and by changeable by their actions I include predictable change, such as dawn and eclipse, and locatable change, such as “here” and “there,” for man’s control over himself makes it possible for him to be at such-and-such a place by night, for example, and so in effect change reality by his actions as a result of simple perceptual discrimination of sequence and location. Hence, by means of the word, men’s association in economic production continually generates changes in their perceptual private worlds and the common world, enriching both. A vast moving superstructure rises above man’s busy hands which is the reflection of all the change he has effected or discovered in ages of life. Presently this common world becomes as complex and remote from concrete social life as the market, of which its secret life and unknown creative forces are the counterpart.

This is the shadow world of thought, or ideology. It is the reflection in men’s heads of the real world. It is always and necessarily only symbolical of the real world. It is always and necessarily a reflection which has an active and significant relation to the object, and it is this activity and significance, and not the projective qualities of the reflection, which guarantee its truth. Every part of the Universe projectively reflects the remainder; only man is conscious of his environment. The idea is not the thing: the reflection is not the object; but one expresses or reflects the other. The words are tied to percepts which are photographic memory-images of bits of reality. These percepts are fused into concepts, are organised and ordered in the broadest and most abstract way. Or, more accurately, out of the broad, humming chaos of “existence” – the simplest percept – other concepts and percepts arise by differentiation and integration. All this phantasmagoria is accepted by man as only symbolic, just as a remembered percept is accepted as symbolic. When man recalls a certain horse or dwells on the concept “horse,” in neither case does he suppose a horse is actually in his head. Even when he dwells on the refined concept “two” he still does not suppose all two things are in his head or that his head is double.

The word refers to this shadow world of thought, and conjures up portions of it in a man’s head. The Common Perceptual World, with all the condensations, organisations and displacements it has undergone, refers to and symbolises outer reality. It is all the percepts of reality mobilised for action. It is a compendium of what happens to percepts when the underlying reality is affected. The word symbolises this shadow world which it has helped to create, and is therefore the symbol of a symbol.

This is the sphere of truth and error. The word expresses a social convergence of action. “X is here.” This is true if a number of people arrive in practice “here” simultaneously. “S is blue” is true if there is a general similarity in society’s reaction to S as a result of the message (for example, in comparing it with an already agreed colour on a chart). Of course we do not always refer to the concrete living of society – the Common Perceptual World is so organised as to make reference to it alone sufficient in most cases (logic, laws, records). But if there is any difference not solvable by recourse to this shadow world (contradiction between a hypothesis and experience) it can only be settled by a recourse to material reality (the crucial experiment) whereby the common perceptual world is changed (new hypothesis). In this way the shadow world is in organic connection with material reality and continually sucks life and growth from its contradiction. The contradiction between theory and practice is what urges on both. Only their organic unity enables them to contradict each other. False cannot contradict hot because they live in different spheres: they are not one. False is contradicted by true, hot by cold. Truth and error cannot rest within the framework of the shadow world; their resolution demands recourse to the real material world. Any dispute which remains within the confines of the shadow world is not a dispute about truth and error but about consistency. The whole use of this world is to be a correct and compendious reflection of material reality; not merely a still reflection but a dynamic one.


But now we must summon into being another world, also lying behind the word – the world of feeling – the ego. Just as the cry was connected not only with something outside and terrifying but also with some state inside, the being terrified, so all words, besides indicating some outer entity, include also an inner attitude towards that entity. Brutes, animals, beasts, living organisms, are words all indicating similar real entities, but each with a different group of feeling-tones.

It may be asked: Why not have a different word for the feeling-tone, another for the object, and so increase the plasticity of language and facilitate clarity? The answer is: it is not in the nature or possibility of experience; for the separation between feeling-tone and real object is an abstraction. In reality they are one – part of the one active subject-object relation. We may separate the conscious field into real (or objective) qualities and apparent (or subjective qualities), but the separation is artificial.

Mechanical materialism, for example, started from the Position that only Chose qualities are real into which the observer does not enter. Thus, first the world was stripped of colour, feeling, scent and temperature, for these could easily be demonstrated to have a neural component. Einstein advanced this a stage further by demonstrating the dependence of size, weight, duration and motion on the observer – these too were therefore eliminated and only the tensor was left invariant; but the development of quantum mechanics impugned even this and nothing invariant was left but a probability “wave” – i.e, a mathematical function. Hence the search for complete objectivity only leaves us with a bunch of equations – that is, of thoughts. Mechanical materialism turns into its opposite – solipsism.

But the idealist’s programme is just as disastrous. Starting from the opposite programme, “All is mind that has nothing material about it,” he is driven to exclude everything but the absolute Idea or concept. But a concept is “something” in a human brain, and a human brain is matter. Thus the idealist is left with nothing but material human brains. Or if he denies that concepts are dependent on human brains, he is an absolute idealist, and his world is made up of real things, ideas existing objectively apart from men.

This dualistic see-saw is inevitable as long as the concrete genesis of experience is ignored – its active subject-object relation – man’s struggle with Nature. For in every given experience there is a like and an unlike, i.e. something given in previous experience, and something not given. The something already encountered is the object, the something new is the having of the experience – that which makes us able to differentiate this object or this encounter with the object from others. For example, we may pass the same rose every day, but the “setting” of the day is different, and therefore our attitude to the rose. That newness or difference is, in that particular experience, our subjective attitude to the rose – the “feeling-tone” of that experience. Of course there is also something located “out there” which accounts for the feeling of newness. And there is in our experience, in the subjective side of it, also “recognition,” recognition of the rose as a flower, as an object, as something real.

This “feeling-tone” inheres in all experience: there is the reality, the objective sector of the conscious field on the one hand, and on the other hand the subjective attitude towards it. One is the field of the “I,” the other the field of the Universe. We may say that every real object has as a result of our experience subjective associations adhering to it, but of course there are not attached mechanically, but depend on the setting internal and external. A rose in one setting has different associations from a rose in another.

This in its most general form is the law of the conditioned response, the law that fluid reality is classified by the instinctive responses, and that these classes elaborate, shift and change according to experience.

The simplest form of this instinctive classification of external reality is of course numerical – mathematics. The most elementary art of self-consciousness is that which separates the “I” from Nature, and this recognition of separation, of discontinuity, when sympathetically introjected into objects, makes possible the conception of numerous things. Thus mathematics is that order of experience in which the subjective content is almost nil, so primitive is it. It is not correct to speak of mathematics as bare of quality, for already we have the difference between the qualities of the numbers, in itself a reflection of the difference between “I” and other. But it is almost bare of quality, and for that reason, as we have already noted, the language of mathematics is most purely symbolic. But since it is based on the most fundamental part of self-consciousness it seems the least objective and most “ideal” of the sciences.

Since all other language, however rigidly objective and symbolic, necessarily deals with categories of quality, since in fact the sphere of any given science is defined by the particular qualities with which it is concerned, all other language necessarily contains varying amounts of feeling-tone – of that subjective essence of experience which is part of “quality.”

Quality can only be apprehended and distinguished subjectively. But directly it is no longer new and has become a social fact, it can be established objectively and is drawn into the sphere of quantity. Thus, once we have recognised socially the colour blue, it can be associated with a certain wave-length, and becomes an objective fact. It can then be considered objectively. But from its first appearance as something strange and unique to its last vanishing as a mere figure on a dial, it retains some element of the subjective.

This shift of subjective experience into the more objective sphere is important because it enables us to understand how feeling-tone can never be completely separated from the object in experience – and therefore in the word – and how we can yet have words for feelings only – e.g. “afraid,” “fear.” But “afraid” and “fear” indicate here objective realities. The mind can introspect and then watch other people, so that its feelings, projected into the social world, become objective, become objects of contemplation for it. In the experience indicated by “afraid,” we have both the subjective state it objectively refers to, and the subjective feeling-tone in thinking of people being afraid.

Thus experience weaves back and forth on itself, always modified by its settings, always generating fresh tones and complexes and yet, in so far as it is activised by the Word, always symbolic of external reality and internal feeling.

Just as the word refers to a portion of objective reality, i.e. is the stimulus for the idea of it, so it is the stimulus for a portion of feeling-tone.[1] Due to the limitations of vocabulary, any given word is in fact the potential stimulus for a whole series of possible classes, entities or movements in outer reality – for example, the word “sea.” By combination grammatically with other words, however, only part of these meanings are released – it is seen to refer only to the sea, or to sea in certain conditions. The same selection applies to the possible feeling associations of a word, not all of which are generated at any time.

We saw that we were able to communicate part of our experience of outer reality to others because of the existence of a common perceptual world with agreed symbols. In the same way, we communicate our feelings to others because of a common feeling world with agreed symbols. This common perceptual world was nothing but the “real” world, or truth as reflected in the consciousness of society. What, then, is the common affective world? This common affective world is nothing but the “I” which men construct as a result of their social experience.

We know the dilemma of the critical idealist, who cannot know what matter is like in itself and so denies matter, and of his opposite the behaviourist, who cannot know how other men are for themselves and so denies consciousness. Now the idealist is refuted by practice, by showing that matter can be made to exhibit certain phenomena by certain operations, and when all these possibilities of change have been explored the thing-in-itself becomes a thing-for-us. In the same way, the behaviourist is refuted by practice, by our relations with our fellow men, in which we count on their having instinctual drives like ourselves, leading to like actions, and “feel ourselves” into them sympathetically, so that their consciousness-of-themselves becomes behaviour-for-us.

The common lives of men in association – far more powerful than the life experience of one individual – have summarised a whole range of transactions with outer reality, which are thus accessible to each and constitute the known Universe. In the same way associated man has amassed a whole world of affective experience which is thus easily accessible and constitutes the common ego or Mind.[2] Now a civilised man’s view of outer reality is almost entirely built up of the common perceptual world: he sees the sun as a fiery star, cows as animals, iron as metal, and so on. The extraordinary Power and universality of language guarantees this. But it is just as true ( hat his whole emotional consciousness, his whole feeling-attitude to the sun, iron, cows and so forth, is almost entirely built up from the common ego which enables us to live in close relation as men.

Once again we must emphasise that neither the common perceptual world nor the common ego makes men think or feel in a standardised way. On the contrary, they are the very means whereby man realises his individual differences. To members of an animal species, the world looks very much alike because it is such a simple world: their lives cannot differ much within a narrow range. To a human being born in a highly civilised society, the world is so complex and elaborate that his life can be unique – completely realisable of his genetic individuality. In the same way, animals of one species must have a very similar emotional life: their emotional world is so simple. But the social ego has been so subtilised and refined by generations of art and experience, that an individual can realise his emotional peculiarities to the full within its frame.

A sunset is nothing to a beast; art makes it what it is to us. When words arouse a feeling-tone in us, we draw it from the social ego; otherwise how could a mere sound exactly arouse, like a note on a piano, a corresponding emotional reverberation selected from a socially recognised scale of values?

It is precisely because the complex social world and social ego offers such possibilities of realisation for the individuality, that we hear in modern civilisation so many complaints of the strangling of individuality by society. No such complaints are voiced in savage society, for the possibility of freedom does not yet exist. Man is too simple and cabined. When the development of the productive forces has been accomplished by a corresponding development in the social world and the social ego, giving man undreamed-of possibilities of self-realisation, and yet the utilisation of these forces is manifestly held back by the productive relations, then on all sides arise protests of “emotional starvation” and “crippling of personalities” in a world of rich consciousness, complaints which are the ideological counterpart of denunciations of malnutrition and unemployment in a world of plenty. They are part of the continually increasing volume of protest against modem society. They are the harbingers of revolution.


We saw that in experience neither object nor subject, matter nor mind, is ever completely “pure,” and that this “impurity” is reflected in language. Therefore the common world and the common ego do not live apart, they interpenetrate. Always, given in the Word, is a certain subjective attitude towards a certain piece of reality. Science, concerned with objective reality, uses words as far as possible so as to eliminate or cancel out the subject: art to build it up.

All experience is organised, is real. There is not just a blur of phenomena, but things separate themselves out into a real spatial world. In the same way feelings are organised, they come to a point in the ego, they have stability and radiate out and have broad drives and homogeneities.

Words therefore cannot just be flung together in a hotchpotch. They must have organisation: express something real – a part of the universe, and a real attitude towards it – a part of the ego.

When we are making a scientific statement, we make it about observable things – observable operations of ordering, observable colours, actions and the like. We assume always there is “someone” doing this ordering and counting. The assumption is so implicit and naive that scientists do not always realise that they are making this assumption and that they are referring everything to one observer. If queried, they will reply that this observer is any “right-thinking person” without explaining what right-thinking person could have so bewildering a range of experience, and maintain so neutral, so admirably judicial an attitude towards it. The scientist has tended to regard this understood observer as just a piece of scaffolding, and to assume that, if it were necessary, the scaffolding could easily be knocked away – it would make no difference to the building. But the latest developments of physics[3] have shown that if this scaffolding is knocked away – nothing is left. The building absolutely depends on the scaffolding for its support. This queer, universal “Mock Ego” of science is illusory and yet necessary: all the reality which science’s language symbolises is attached to “him.” Only mathematics seems to escape him, and then only because, as we have seen, it escapes from outer reality into the human brain and becomes a mere extension of the Mock Ego’s personality. This Mock Ego is not of course taken seriously by scientists. He is appreciated as an abstraction. There is no interest in his life or hobbies.

Now in precisely the same way when poetry – or literary art generally – wishes to “symbolise” the social ego, wishes to convey affective attitudes in an organised way, it is still compelled to make some statement about reality. The emotions are only found in real life adhering to bits of reality; therefore bits of reality – and moreover organised bits – must always be presented to achieve the emotional attitude. But the statement about reality selected for the underlying emotional attitude is not supposed to be about material reality, any more than science’s Mock Ego is supposed to be a real man. It is a mock world; it is an illusion, accepted as such. So, by a long road, we have arrived back at the illusion, the mimesis, which is the essence and puzzle and method of literary art.

This mock ego of science and this mock world of art are both necessary because object and subject are never parted in experience, but engage in the contradiction of an unceasing struggle. Science and art, separated out from mythology by an initial division of labour so that each can be better developed, keeps as a souvenir of separation a kind of scar or blind side like the Norwegian trolls which are hollow behind. This hollowness or blind side is the mock ego of science and the mock world of art. Science and art are like the two halves produced by cutting the original human hermaphrodite in half, according to the story of Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium, so that each half evermore seeks its counterpart. But science and art do not when fitted together make a complete concrete world: they make a complete hollow world – an abstract world only mode solid and living by the inclusion of the concrete living of concrete men, from which they are generated.

That then is the purpose, the social function, of science and art? Why are reared upon this mock world and this mock man a frigid but true image of reality and a phantastic but warm reflection of man’s own countenance?

Both are generated as part of the social process: they are social products, and the social product whether material or ideological can have only one goal, that of freedom. It is freedom that man seeks in his struggle with Nature. This freedom, precisely because it cannot be won except by action, is not a freedom of mere contemplation. To attain it a man does not merely relapse into himself – “let himself go.” Just as the spontaneity of art is the result of laborious action, so freedom has as its price, not eternal vigilance but eternal labour. Science and art are guides to action.

(1) Science makes available for the individual a deeper, more complex insight into outer reality. It modifies the perceptual content of his consciousness so that he can move about a world he more clearly and widely understands; and this penetration of reality extends beyond his dead environment to human beings considered objectively, that is, as objects of his action, that is as the anvil to his hammer. Because this enlarged and complex world is only opened up by men in association – being beyond the task of one man – it is a social reality, a world common to all men. Hence its enlargement permits the development of associated men to a higher plane at the same time as it extends the freedom of the individual. It is the consciousness of the necessity of outer reality.

(2) The other world of art, of organised emotion attached to experience, the world of the social ego that endures all and enjoys all and by its experience organises all, makes available in the individual a whole new universe of inner feeling and desire. It exposes the endless potentiality of the instincts and the “heart” by revealing the various ways in which they may adapt themselves to experiences. It plays on the inner world of emotion as on a stringed Instrument. It changes the emotional content of his consciousness so that he can react more subtly and deeply to the world. This penetration of inner reality, because it is achieved by men in association and has a complexity beyond the task of one man to achieve, also exposes the hearts of his fellow men and raises the whole communal feeling of society to a new plane of complexity. It makes possible new levels of conscious sympathy, understanding and affection between men, matching the new levels of material organisation achieved by economic production. Just as in the rhythmic introversion of the tribal dance each performer retired into his heart, into the fountain of his instincts, to share in common with his fellows not a perceptual world but a world of instinct and blood-warm rhythm, so to-day the instinctive ego of art is the common man into which we retire to establish contact with our fellows. Art is the consciousness of the necessity of the instincts.

(3) It is important to understand that art is no more propaganda than science. That does not mean that neither has a social rôle to perform. On the contrary, their rôle is one which is as it were primary to and more fundamental than that of propaganda: that of changing men’s minds. They change men’s minds in a special way. Take as an extreme case of science’s way of changing man’s view of outer reality, a mathematical demonstration. It cannot be said to persuade. A mathematical demonstration appears either true or false: if true, it simply injects itself into our minds as an additional piece of outer reality. If false, we reject it mere word-spinning. But if we accept it, we are no more persuaded of its truth than we are persuaded of the “truth” of a house standing in front of us. We do not accept it: we see it.

In the same way, in art, we are not persuaded of the existence of Hamlet’s confusion or Prufrock’s seedy world-weariness, we are not persuaded of the existence of Elsinore or Proust’s madeline cake. The whole feeling-complex of the poem or the play or the novel is injected into our subjective world. We feel so-and-so and such-and-such. We are no more persuaded of their truth than of the truth of a toothache: but the vividness or social universality of the emotional pattern is announced by the poignancy of the sensation we call Beauty. Music affords an even more striking example of this.

Thus neither Truth nor Beauty are persuasion, just because they are guides to action. Persuasion must be not a guide but a persuasion to action, a pressure to be or do differently. In fact science and art are opposite poles of language, and language has as its main function the rôle of persuasion. It has only evolved these poles as refinements, as tempered spearheads of the advance of life. Art and science are persuasion become so specialised as to cease to be persuasion, just as in the flower petals the leaves have become so specialised as to cease to fulfil the function of leaves.

Language sucks its life-blood from daily life, and in daily life all conversation which is not informative of outer reality regarded objectively (e.g. of events or the speaker’s feelings treated objectively) or of inner reality (e.g. accent, angry or pleased “tones,” facial expressions, circumlocutions, manner, polite, curt, surprising or warm phraseology), is rhetorical in the Aristotelian sense, that is, it is designed to persuade others to act in a certain way and feel in a certain way.

Now rhetoric stands in this relation to science and art, that it is not a guide to action on outer reality or on the instincts but is always mixed or counterpointed. Thus in so far as a man already has an instinctive urge to do something in a certain situation, then persuasion is directed to explaining the nature of outer reality so that he will see the necessity of doing the particular things to which we wish to persuade him. On the other hand, if the situation plainly indicates action, our persuasion is directed to arousing the emotional urge to fulfil the action. Thus there is a kind of reversal of the use of words: emotional reasons objective statements are used, but generally both are mixed.

Rhetoric or persuasion is the universal mode of language through which men freely guide and lead each other by appealing to day-to-day activity on the one hand to the necessities of the task, and on the other hand to the demands of the instincts. Rhetoric, too, is rooted in outer reality and the genotype, and because it is more direct, urgent and prosaic it is more primitive everyday. It is the warp and woof of language as an instrument of association, from which science and art separate themselves as more specialised, more organised, more aloof, more abstract and more real and convincing in their special fields precisely because of their use of those unreal and illusory scaffoldings, the mock ego and the mock world.

That persuasion can be used to mislead, that rhetoric can be empty and hypocritical, is merely to repeat in another form the well-known facts that truth and error both exist and that man makes mistakes. It does not invalidate persuasion as such. Science can be false, art trite, persuasion hypocritical or misleading; as society develops historically, the false persuasion emerges from the true.

* * *

We see, then, that language communicates not simply a dead image of outer reality but also and simultaneously an attitude towards it, and does so because all experience, all life, all reality emerges consciously in the course of man’s struggle with Nature. This image of outer reality and this ego do not confront each other stonily across a chasm; they emerge from and return again into concrete living; they are the results of a dialectic development. Between them is the bridge of matter. Both are built on the soil which connects body and environment. The very nature of language is a proof of that interpenetration. Art and science therefore, through the means of social action, mediated by persuasion, continually play into each other’s hands. Because man’s life is educed from present reality by the contradiction between man and Nature, outer reality and inner feeling by this very contradiction mutually develop each other and themselves.

Poetry, like the human life of which it is an examination, springs from the fruitful quarrel of mathematics and music.

1. The distinction between the affective and rational significance of words is of course an old one. Hindoo philosophy recognised the “dhvana” or hidden meaning of words as characteristic of poetry. Dante distinguished between signum rationale and signum sensuale, which in turn was based on a division recognised by William of Occam. Milton’s well-known definition of poetry as simple, sensuous, and passionate was no doubt influenced by this conception. Ogden’s and Richards’ analysis of meaning is based on a distinction between the symbolic and emotive meaning of words.

2. One hesitates to use the word mind, which is so confusedly treated by most philosophers and psychologists. Probably the most consistent use of the word is that of gestalt psychology. Of any conscious field, mind consists of those elements most closely adherent to the sensory or subjective pole. Idealist philosophers use the word mind more loosely. All phenomena are counted as mental because they form part of conscious fields, and since all objects are only known as phenomena, all objects are counted as mental. Thus the idealist reduces Reality to “Mind,” and since he knows phenomena as part of his conscious field, Reality is only “his mind.”

3. In particular, Heisenberg’s Principle of Indeterminacy and the conflict of quantum physics with relativity physics.