Christopher Caudwell. Further Studies in a Dying Culture. 1949
What is beauty? Is it a subject for discussion at all? Can it be defined in such a way as to provide a foundation for ęsthetics? Is it a product of art? Or of nature?
To define: to limit the boundaries, to give an outline to the defined thing. Beauty, then, is defined by all that is not beauty. This not-beauty circumscribes, limits, and defines beauty. But beauty is not opposed by not-beauty; it is opposed by ugliness. Yet the recognition of ugliness itself involves an ęsthetic ‘faculty’, and sensibilities responding both to beauty and ugliness; and it is not possible to say where one begins and the other ends. Ugliness itself is an ęsthetic value: the villain, the gargoyle, the grotesque, the Caliban, the snake-headed Furies, the triumph of Time’s decaying hand, all these qualities interpenetrate with beauty, and help to generate and Feed it. All live in the same world. Nowhere can we draw a distinct line and say, on this side lives the beautiful, and on that the ugly. All man’s experience, all the rich complexity of his sculpted, painted, written art forms, all the elaborate multiform crowd of living animals and varied scenery, deny such a simple dichotomy. All form one world even if it contains opposites, and therefore, the generating forces must lie at a lower level. Beauty and ugliness, the noble and the petty, the sublime and the ridiculous, all these opposite terms, when used in an ęsthetic way, involve each other, and must be determined by other, different qualities, from which they spring.
We do not respond to all beautiful things in precisely the same way. The peculiar qualities of each thing colour the emotion we feel with an individual unique shade. If it were not so, the one beautiful thing would suffice; the one vase, painting, mountain would always be the sufficient stimulus to our emotion. This is not so. Yet of course there must be a likeness in all our responses for us to group them as one, as ęsthetic.
Still more striking is the change in the responses to the beautiful from age to age. No age is satisfied wholly with the beautiful things of its forefathers, but produces other things, to the measure of its desires, quite clearly different from those beautiful traditions it inherits. This new vision does not exclude the old, however. The old still seems beautiful, but now its qualities are seen through a kind of mist or aerial perspective of intervening time, changing and toning its hues. The old beauty has been gathered up in the new. And that age which is least able to rest content with the beautiful things of the post, that creates things beautiful to its eyes most different, most revolutionary and most insurgent, is precisely that age which seems to us most in possession of beauty. We value the revolutionary dissatisfied art works of the Renaissance, and sec nothing in those of the Hellenising classicists or tired formalists who mechanically repeat the beautiful things of time gone by.
Man remains throughout this period much the same, but the changing pageant of his art, his poetry, and his buildings proclaims that at no stage does his idea of beauty remain constant, but continually demands expansion and rejection. All contents of the habitable world, of the known cosmos even, come to share in this strange irradiation. The rich Americas, the glassy depths of the ‘deep abyss, the spiral nebulę, new birds and insects, jungles and swamps, the silent Poles and the breathless Equator, acquire for man’s eyes with each generation a novel ęsthetic quality and become things of a nature undreamt of before this time.
Remembering this, we, start to define Beauty. The man looks at an object and calls it beautiful. This is a relationship repeatable by this one man with perhaps thousands of objects. What does it involve – what, in this subject-object relation, is the Beauty?
It must be, not in one relation but in all relations of man to object where man says: ‘This is Beautiful’. It must be, therefore, something common to all beautiful objects and to all men finding an object beautiful.
The simplest answer is to say that the man is common to all objects, and therefore beauty is ‘in’ the man. Beauty is a state of the man. To the bourgeois ęsthete this very simple solution of the problem seems so obvious that he has no patience with anyone who can think anything else. This is the solution advanced by I.A. Richards and C.K. Ogden:
‘Beauty is attributed to objects which produce coenęsthesia.'
The common term linking these relations wherein the man says ‘This is beautiful’ is therefore his ‘coenęsthesia’. Here is a common term of the kind we sought for when we sought for something similar in all relations of men finding objects beautiful. Here then is a definition for beauty. Beauty is coenęsthesia.
Coenęsthesia is a wide term, and really includes the totality of proprioceptive impressions as far as they give rise to affects. Most neurologists picture the process as one in which interoceptive stimuli – particularly visceral stimuli – give rise, via thalamic activity, to colorations of the conscious field known as feelings. Now it is quite plain that although the ęsthetic emotions are coenęsthesia in this sense simply because they are affective, all coenęsthesia sensations are not sensations of the beautiful. That would be to say that all feelings of pleasure or unpleasure are feelings of the beautiful. Consequently the definition of Richards and Ogden is inadequate. A pork chop, well done, may arouse strong feelings of coenęsthesia, but it is not beautiful – or hideous. As an ęsthetic object, it is neutral.
Why do the authors then arrive at this definition? It is in fact a typically bourgeois definition; beauty is a state of the bourgeois. This is not very different from many other bourgeois propositions springing out of the decay of bourgeois philosophy after Hegel, shown by the rise of positivism. In the same way Truth becomes an economical method for the bourgeois of describing phenomena. Causality becomes the way it suits the bourgeois to think of phenomena. And so on. It is the product of a ‘tired’ philosophy.
The definition of beauty as coenęsthesia is the ultimate product of mechanical materialism, of a philosophy that defines the environment as ‘all that is not the bourgeois’, while the Bourgeois stands outside it free and separate. The world thus becomes divested of all values arising from the relation of bourgeois to environment, for all such values, since they contain the bourgeois, are abstracted from the environment, for otherwise they would tie him to it. Such a non-valued environment ultimately contains nothing knowable and contains therefore nothing at all, but by the time this is discovered bourgeois culture is in such an advanced stage of disintegration that it seems immaterial whether the world is a real, coloured, qualified world or a ghostly ballet of equations.
(i) If on the one hand the environment is robbed of all values in which it shares, the bourgeois is presented with all such values. They are his. Beauty is in him. But it is soon found that this by no means aggrandises such values.
For what is the bourgeois, according to the mechanical materialist? A body, a group of electrons, a collection of blood, bones, and neurones, subject to physiological laws, conditioned reflexes, and ‘instincts’. Beauty and all similar values thus become physiological activity. Having dissolved the environment into moving molecules, atoms, ultimately into tensors and moved all values into the bourgeois, this type of bourgeois philosopher now starts to operate on the bourgeois himself. He also is the environment to other bourgeois; he also is matter. Therefore all the accumulation of values stripped from the environment and concentrated in him can now themselves quickly be shown to be nothing but physiological functions, biochemical and electronic phenomena – mere tensors.
This is the bourgeois nightmare of a predetermined Universe which includes the bourgeois, from which he shuddered away into absolute idealism.
(ii) If we start from the other end, with the mind as primary, all qualities which partake of the environment are stripped from mind. Applied to relations of the beautiful, this involves that the singularities of the beautiful objects, due to the way in which they differ among themselves, are to be abstracted from these relations in order to discover the essentially beautiful. The liquid eyes of the deer, the massive solidity of the mountain, the fatness of Falstaff, the coldness of an iceberg, are qualities not common to mind but peculiar to the objects on which mind rests. They must all be stripped away and finally, by removing all environmental individualities from beauty as it inheres in beautiful relations, we are left with absolute Beauty, the Idea or concept of Beauty, which is homogeneous and bare of individualities, and is therefore completely mental.
But the objects of beauty vary from generation to generation of men, and appear to have existed before men exist. There is therefore a Beauty which is independent of the brain. Thus we get the absolute Idea of Beauty existing apart from the brains of men. This is that ‘Beauty’ of which ęstheticians talk; meaning nothing but an Idea, something colourless, a kind of vague white-robed bare-footed personification going about the world. Such an idea is parasitic, because it sucks an emotive colouring from all beautiful objects, and yet has denuded those objects of just that in them which was the source of our delight – their self-hood and individuality. It is death to Art, because in the artist’s flair for the difference, for the newness, for the intrinsic and peerless individuality of the beautiful object, lies his power to make new beauty. It is equally deadening to the lover of beauty, for he loves beautiful objects – the daffodil, the Cézanne – for themselves, not because in them is a manifestation of an Idea of the Beautiful. Thus, when the extremes of bourgeois idealism and bourgeois mechanical materialism in the realm of Value are reached, there is not so much difference after all – to both Beauty dissolves and becomes something homogeneous, empty, dead – coenęsthesia or the Absolute Idea.
It is true of course that coenęsthesia enters into the beautiful relation, just as a neuronic wave of potential difference enters into the perceptual relation. How much is there to this side of the story?
Let us pick out at random a few generalised qualities and values:
All these may be regarded as affective: Man feels happy, pleased, afraid, feels pain, fear, that a thing is hot, that a thing is beautiful. But of course, in the way these feelings arise, each expresses a relation of the man to his environmental relation. Something makes man happy, he finds something to be pleasant. Yet there is plainly a difference in man’s use of these concepts. Happiness, fear, pain and heat are all the accompaniment of nervous disturbances, are all in possession of a common physiological term. We locate happiness in ourselves, and this we do also with fear and pain, and yet we locate heat and beauty out there, in the object.
We locate it as the outcome of our experience. Take the concept of happiness. Experience shows us that certain objects in certain cases are associated with happiness, in the other cases with not-happiness. We find that movement away from those objects to others does not necessarily mean the removal of unhappiness. We find that happiness has a persistent quality through a large number of different ‘I’ environmental situations. Happiness is common to these situations. So is the ‘I’. The environment is not common, but changes in these situations; so we locate happiness in the ‘I’. A happy person is therefore to us a person who has in him happiness.
But fear, or joy, while showing a certain congruity in changing environmental situations, also show a certain incongruity. We may indeed find fear and joy persisting in certain changes, but we may find a given situation, particularly with fear, forcibly and abruptly changing the stability of the ego, from happiness or boredom to fear. Therefore we conceive fear and joy, as a fear and a joy, separate and impersonal, situated neither in the environment nor ourselves, but abruptly breaking in on both.
A pain we locate in ourselves but yet as something alien to us which has gained a seat in us. This concept is necessitated by our experience (a) that we act immediately by withdrawing our bodies from the environment (therefore pain is alien, imposed on us by the environment), (b) that often pain cannot be so diminished but is still, after such actions, present in our bodies, as for example a toothache, or the pain of a wound after the blow. (Therefore pain is inside us.)
Heat and cold we locate entirely in objects because experience has shown us that movements of our body always remove us from the source of heat or cold. It is therefore not in ourselves, but the environment. In the sum of ego-environment relations, happiness vanished while the environment remained but heat vanished when the environment changed. Hence, just as happiness is located in the ego, heat is located in the environment.
Finally beauty, like heat, and unlike pain, fear, joy, pleasure or happiness is located entirely in the environment. The object is beautiful; we ourselves do not feel beautiful when we see a beautiful object.
In other words, it is man’s experience that beauty is an objective quality – not wholly objective, because it is a relation between subject and object – but objective in the way that heat is. Like heat, beauty appears or disappears in man’s conscious field according as he moves towards or from the beautiful object in his environment, the object itself remaining unchanged during this process. That is what men have felt when they called Beauty timeless, eternal, Divine. But we have already seen that to accept this, to separate the lover of beauty from beautiful objects, is to make Beauty either a colourless Idea or a physiological disturbance.
We find men agree about what is hot and what is cold in all ages. Moreover we can correlate differences of heat with differences of molecular movement and with the temperature of man’s blood, above which temperature all seems ‘hot’ and below which all seems ‘cold’. By inference, we hold that these molecular movements with which heat is identified were the same in character long before man existed. This gives heat, in all its degrees, an objective existence independent of man. It is now described or compared with other qualities (motion), more or less independently of the sensory nerves.
But we do not find men agreeing about what is beautiful in all ages. We find on the contrary that in each age:
(a) Men pick out different objects as beautiful, or pick out different aspects or details of objects already recognised as beautiful, for praise.
(b) Men not only pick out different objects as beautiful (beauty in nature) but make different beautiful objects (beauty in art) from age to age.
(c) Usually, however, the objects that earlier generations found or made beautiful, are accepted by later generations as beautiful, and the rōle of the later generation is that of either adding to them by enriching our perception of them, or subtly modifying our appreciation of their qualities.
We cannot find any non-ęsthetic qualities in terms of which beauty can be exactly described independently of man, although we can find non-thermal qualities in terms of which heat can be exactly described. Thus we cannot infer back to describe the beauty of the world before man came into existence; we can only suppose that, ‘if man could see such a world, he would find it beautiful’. But, to do so, we must imagine the observer already there; ourselves looking at such a world; we cannot imagine the world as a ballet of impersonal equations with the beauty expressed by these equations, as they express the heat of molecular movement.
How are we to reconcile the fact that we regard beauty, unlike happiness, as a property of the environment, with our failure to produce comparative environmental qualities, as we can in the case of heat, which would suffice to determine it independently of man? We could only reconcile it if there were a triadity in the subject-object relation of man to beautiful object; if in addition to naked subject and naked environment, we had a third mediating term, something which remained unchanged while the subject changed and so could stand to it as environment and account for our projection of Beauty outside ourselves, and yet which changed while the bare environment remained unchanged, which would account for the historic change in what particular objects are found to be lovely or made beautiful.
We have actually such a third term; we have already referred to it; it is men as opposed to man – society. The man as born, as innate, uneducated and ‘wild’, changes little in the course of history, but of course he does not span all human history; only men-in-society does that. So in commenting on the change in man’s estimation of beauty from age to age, we have already in fact admitted society as the cause of change in beauty, of the coming into being of new beauty. In commenting on the constancy of the environment throughout, we have in fact admitted that the objective environment in which beauty is situated is social rather than natural. If it were the unchanging environment in which beauty was situated, how could it change? If man, substantially unchanging in his innate make-up, faced the unchanging earth and stars without material mediation, how could an ever-changing beauty be generated? But man sees nature through social spectacles. ‘Spectacles’ is a partly incorrect analogy, for man is a part of society, and nature is a part of society. Society is a genuine middle term. To an individual man society stands as environment, and is included with the sun, earth and air. To nature, however, society stands as an active human force. The antimonies of beauty as a value can therefore only be resolved by regarding it as a social product, something secreted in the process of society. In the process of society, all nature enters. Man measures himself against infinite space, and takes his time from the sun. He feels the hot breath of the desert in his cities, and he goes out alone or in bands to establish himself in the jungles. He moves on the face of the lonely sea in man-made ships. The threads of social process penetrate, under the hands of Einstein and Amundsen, Freud and Rutherford, Kepler and Magellan, into remoter and remoter cracks of reality. The labouring masses of society root deep in the face of the earth. The farmer sowing the fruitful prairies, the lone hunter in untamed woods, and the sailor on the ‘wine-dark’ sea are all parts of the social process. As such, the social process generates everywhere beauty, not as a universal but as a specific social product, just as it generates science, politics, or religion.
We referred to the possibility of expressing heat in terms of other, non-sensory, qualities, so that heat had an objective metrical scale, correlated to but independent of man’s experience. If it were possible completely so to describe heat, we should be discovering a self-contained, self-determined world. The complete goal is impossible. The completely non-human self-determined world of physics does not exist. There is something in heat as felt which can only be expressed in terms of the observer. But none the less such feeling, in its degree and appearance, can be completely determined by other qualities. Bourgeois philosophy attempts to close one world or the other, to make heat objective or mental. Dialectical materialists refuse to do this. Heat is determined by objective qualities but its appearance contains a newness, something peculiar to it as an event.
This is equally true of beauty. Beauty is determined by other non-ęsthetic qualities, which account for its appearance and disappearance, its change and development. These qualities are not, as in the case of heat, kinetic, but sociological, they arise from the interaction of systems of men with the environment, in the course of labour processes. Such sociological qualities are not ęsthetic: there is a distinct realm of ęsthetics. Beauty can only be known, felt or described in the experience, and the experience is real, it is not a chance iridescence on the surface of atomic clouds, but a real intense property of the Universe. A man who had never felt heat would never be able to imagine it from a study of the kinetic theory of heat, however familiar he was with motion. A man who had never seen beautiful things would never know beauty, however complete his sociological data. Beauty is social. It is objective because it lives apart from me, in society. The smile of a Polycletan Hermes has qualities, not only in me, but in the Hellas which produced it, and all that has happened since and before to man. It is not, however, merely resident in society considered as a group of men. It stretches into all parts of the Universe because society, as active subject, is related to all other reality as object.
Happiness is not a social product, any more than a man is a social product. It is true that happiness arises out of the relation of me to my environment; my experience generates it. But it is like my flesh, instinctive and unsophisticated. It is like sorrow, anger and love, a quality which is as yet untransformed by society and is born the same in each man. It is genotypical. I, as individual subject, generate it in relation to the environment, as object. It is not independent of the environment, any more than my body is in its health. But happiness is not a social product any more than illness, which is produced by the environment, is a social product. We need not suppose it will always be so. A day may come when man, become increasingly conscious of himself, may be able to make happy things, a happy environment, as he makes a beautiful thing. Happiness will then seem to him like beauty, not in himself but in his environment. He will be the creator, not the slave, of happiness and sorrow, as he is now the creator of beauty and ugliness. Then perhaps happiness will seem higher than beauty, or perhaps it will seem as if beauty, by a simple expansion, has taken up happiness within itself, and it is still beauty, but a larger, more universal beauty which we serve, a happiness which we now consciously create and actually see.
Beauty is not alone in playing a dual rōle as object to the individual and subject to the environment. Morality and goodness are the same; they are conceived of as greater than man and outside him, and yet change with society and are not expressible except in sociological terms. God as he appears in all myths, religions and metaphysics, is such a value. Just as Beauty, imagined as a real indwelling goddess, ceased to exist at a certain stage in social development, and yet beauty the objective value persisted, so God, conceived as a person, to-day ceases to exist, and yet morality and goodness, as objective values outside the individual, persist. Both are social products. Truth is another such value. We cannot conceive truth apart from a true statement – something human, and yet we know that truth is not just what I, the individual, think to be true. Truth is a social product; it is a particular relation of the individual, via society, to the rest of the Universe.
But truth, goodness, and beauty are not ‘just’ social products. Their specific social rōles, in which man as individual, men as society, nature as environment and reality as including individual and society and environment, all figure, differ among themselves and generate their peculiar quality. What is this peculiar quality in the case of beauty? Beauty tells us something, not as a statement tells us something, but as a glance tells us something. It is the apprehension of a genuine quality. A beautiful thing has a significant content, just as a true statement has. But it is not the same significance. What is this difference between true statements and beautiful things?
In the course of the contact of the individual with reality, he experiences various emotions. These emotions, or affects, are new qualities. Instinct is what we call a simple repetition of hereditary habits, the mechanical reappearance of the old. Such simple responses to external or internal stimuli change from age to age, but, in relation to the rapid tempo of social life, there is a consistency about them which leads us to separate them as hypothetical entities, the instincts. Situations which, while evoking instinctual responses, do not permit their emergence unchanged, but cause a suspension or interruption of the pattern, produce affects or emotions. The result of such a situation is the transforming, or conditioning (Pavlov), repression or sublimation (Freud) of the response. Thus the affects or emotions are the sign at once of an instinctive response and of its change in a certain situation or subject-object pattern.
The instincts as mechanical responses are unconscious. It is consciousness itself – a particular group of innervations and their relation to reality – which calls them ‘unconscious’. What it means by this term is: ‘not included with us’. But all innervations, being innervations of one nervous system, are related. Thus even the unconscious group, these innervations ‘not included with us’, are in indirect connexion with the conscious group. In so far as they leave mnemic traces, unconscious innervations can be known by consciousness. The nature of this ‘unconscious’ excluded group is such that they leave crude mnemic traces but, once left, these traces are enduring. Unconscious ‘memories’ are poor, and permanent; conscious memories are subtle, rich, and timid.
Affects are conscious. A feeling is felt. But the affects, the emotions, emerge as a specific relation between a situation and an innate response. The relation between situation and response generates these emotions. Consciousness is a relation of two unconscious terms, body and environment.
The organism encounters situations through its extero-ceptive neurones, through sight, hearing, touch, and smell, of which in man sight and hearing are dominant. The organism has responses because of innate potentialities buried in it, in its chromosomes, in its sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, in its visceral innervations. Of course there is no gulf between situation receptors and response-effectors. The eye itself has innate responses; and stimuli arise inside the organism. A stomach ache is a situation. But the situation is sensory, is external; the response is somatic, is interior.
An emotion which expresses a particular new relation between a situation and a response therefore has both a sensory component and a somatic component. It is not a mixture, it is a quality – a relation of two terms. The situation appears as the form: the present situation as a percept, sound heard, odour smelt or tactile sensation; the past situation as a memory. The response appears as the feeling content, as the fear, desire, or boredom associated with the presentation. Both are intimately mingled. In thought the situation appears as the memory-image, thought, dream and so forth, and the response as the feeling tone, or affective colouring of the thought. In reflection, affective tone and percept are more closely entwined, for whereas the organism is the same, there is no real situation ‘outside-now’. The affect has almost sucked up into itself the sensory presentation; hence the possibility of imageless thought.
Thus all consciousness may be regarded as groups of entities which may be divided into feelings, the content; and situations being met or remembered, the form. Feelings are common to all contents, but the form is different for present and for past situations. The form of the one is a percept; of the second, a memory or thought. But the affect differs subtly according to whether the form is a memory or a percept.
A thing may be unconsciously perceived if it evokes no new response. It is habitual, always there; we do not notice it.
The field of consciousness therefore represents the ingression of the new into the organism-situation relation. The affective basis is the organismal basis and the thought or perceptual form is the situation form. But they completely interpenetrate; they are not separable. They determine each other. Each change in consciousness involves a change in the environment. Of course, for each component of consciousness, the change may be chiefly organismal or chiefly environmental. This difference of degree, which never proceeds so far as to enable us to call any component absolutely one or the other, is important. Too ‘pure’ a percept, or too ‘deep’ a feeling is in either case unconscious. It is not the purity or vividness of either that consciousness expresses, but a change in their relation, an impact of the two. Consciousness is therefore change, it is the ingression of the new. It is the seat or aggregation of the novelties in a man’s relations with reality. Such new qualities clump to form a conscious field, as bacteria clump in serum. The field is not static; it grows, changes and expands. It is not self-determined; on the contrary the field is the expression of the determining relation between the organism and the rest of reality.
In examining these contents we may sort them so as to pay special attention to the forms, to the percepts and memories of situations encountered in reality, to the bits of reality apparently embedded in consciousness.
The study of consciousness then becomes a study of the bits of reality embedded in consciousness, or the portions of outer reality in the conscious field. There is a tendency to call the outer reality quite simply ‘Reality’, so that this sorting becomes the study of reality.
The objective of such a study is truth. It is the goal of science. In so far as the ‘situation’ portions of the conscious field separate themselves out, a greater and greater grip of reality is presumed to be obtained. Such a programme is of course the programme above all of ‘physics’.
But just because all contents of the conscious field, in so far as they represent the ingression of the new into the subject-object relation, contain both emotion and percept, feeling and memory, it is never possible in fact to find a conscious quality which is all situation and bare of feeling. The following-out of the programme of physics therefore gradually strips the world of reality of all qualities in consciousness in which a feeling tone or ‘subjective factor’ is concerned. This means stripping the real world, the object of science, of all reality. It becomes simply a group of equations.
But equations are mental. They represent the laws of the comparison of qualities between themselves. Thus the real world becomes virtually nothing – unappetising and bare of interest. It becomes, finally, meaningless. Thus, although science, alone of activities, has as its goal objective truth and the extracting from consciousness of the ‘pure’ situation elements, this will, if carried to its utmost extent, rob truth of truth. For truth implies some affective attitude, some relation of organism to environment, by which it is generated. Truth can never be a criterion of a complete system of metrics, considered as self-sufficient in themselves, for the circle of metrics is closed. They constitute a world in themselves. The only criterion here is consistency. The question we ask of metrics is: ‘Is the world fully closed? Do we arrive back finally at our initial axioms?’ Now this consistency is quite different from what we mean by truth, the goal of the scientist, which spurs him on in his arduous labour.
What then is this Truth? For what do we in fact search the field of consciousness in its name? The field of consciousness is not static, it is generated by change. Consciousness is the product or affective heat of a clash between the response of the organism and a situation to which the response is not exactly geared. The impact, changing both, is preserved in the organism’s behaviour as a modification and in its consciousness as a feeling and a thought. This conscious field changes; it has its laws of flow and recombination. Man thinks, plans, wills, introspects. Consciousness is the continual ingression of the new. Consciousness is the sign of a behaviour modification. Man ‘learns’ by experience, by the ingression into his organism of the new. Consciousness is the result of interaction, and is a guide to action.
But action implies the organism. The organism acts. If consciousness is simply the individual’s sum of behaviour modifications, available as a guide to fresh situations, if each impact changes organism and environment, truth is a criterion of action. A component of consciousness is only generated by a tension between response and situation which do not fit like hand in glove, and because there is a discrepancy there is energy, heat, perception, feeling, as the hand is forced into the glove and as a result hand and glove are both altered in shape. Truth then is given man in his attempt to change the world. In changing it, of course, he changes himself.
That is why science is never hypothesis alone. It is always hypothesis plus experiment. In the experiment there is a tension or contradiction between man’s beliefs – the sum of his responses as a result of previous experience – and a given situation – the crucial experiment or discovery of a piece of reality which does not fit the response. As a result the hypothesis is changed. Man’s consciousness is changed.
Hence science’s history is a continual modification of hypothesis by experiment. As the result of each modification, man’s relation to objective reality is changed – he alters from a being at the centre of the Universe to one on the limits of it, and then to a man in no absolute place. Truth always appears as a result of man’s successful interaction with his environment. Always he can only find truth by changes and reality. By analysing, by setting up a mock world in the laboratory, by moving his position somewhere to view an eclipse, by making experiments in artificial lightning – in all such ways he changes reality, and all these are precursors to far vaster changes – bridges, ships, roads, tilled land. Each time, in altering reality, he generates new truth, and finds it only thus.
Hence, except in action, truth is meaningless. To attempt to find it in a mere scrutiny of the conscious field, by ‘pure’ thought, results not in truth but in mere consistency. The contents of the mind are measured against themselves without the incursion of a disturbance from outside, which disturbances in fact, in the past history of the field, are what have created it. Since innumerable consistent worlds are possible, there would be as many criteria of reality as there were people with different conscious experiences.
But action upon nature demands co-operation if it is to be fully effective. The organism which will be most in possession of truth, which will most deeply penetrate and widely change the environment, will be an organism able to co-operate with other organisms in that change. The very combination, by division of labour, produces a qualitative change. What millions of organisms do separately is nothing compared to what they can do in co-operation to a common goal. Truth appears as an outcome of the labour process, for it is the labour process that demands and at the same time dictates the co-operation of organisms.
Thus a mediating term now appears in truth, which we first analysed as an outcome of the bare organism faced by bare environment. But now the bare organism faces society and its culture, and the bare environment faces, not the lone organism, but the tremendous apparatus of co-operating men.
In fact this occurred from the very beginning. The labour process itself generates the co-operation which changes and expands the responses of the organism, and gives rise to sufficiently many new situations to make it possible to talk of ‘truth’. From the very start the labour process, by the society it generates, acts as a mediating term in the production of truth.
From the very start the labour process gives rise to material capital. Simple enough at first, taking the form of mere tools, customs, magico-scientific objects, seeds, huts, these were yet all-important as the beginnings of culture. To our argument they bear this important relation, that all such enduring products represent social truths. The plough is as much a statement about the nature of reality as the instructions how to use it. Each is useless without the other; each makes possible the development of the other. All these social products are generated by the nature of reality, but their form is given by the organism in its interaction with reality. The nature of fields and plants imposes on the organisms specific types of co-operation in sowing and reaping, and determines the shape of the plough. It imposes on them language, whereby they signify to each other their duties and urge each other on in carrying them out. Once established the labour process, extending as remotely as observation of the stars, as widely as Organisation of all human relations, and as abstractedly as the invention of numbers, gathers and accumulates truth. Faster and faster it proliferates and moves. The bare organism is to-day from birth faced with an enormous accumulation of social truth in the form of buildings, laws, books, machines, political forms, tools, engineering works, complete sciences. All these arise from co-operation; all are social and common. Generated by this capital, truth is the past relation of society to the environment accumulated in ages of experience. It is actually created by the conflict of social organisms with new situations in the course of the labour process.
But the very richness and complexity of this ‘frozen’ truth, the very elaborateness of an advanced culture and a functioning society, ensures that the naked organism will be confronted with the greatest possible variety of ‘situations’. This will ensure the greatest possible activity of a man’s consciousness, and the maximum of mutual transformation of his responses, his instincts, and the material environment. There will be a rapid ingression of newness. This itself will generate new truth. Man, as experiencing individual, will find himself constantly negating the truths given in his social environment.
Thus we see the cause of the apparent antinomies in truth. Truth appears to be in the environment, to be objective and independent of me. Yet the attempt to extract a completely non-subjective truth from experience produces only metrics. Moreover the environment changes only slowly, but the truth of science or reality as known to man has changed rapidly.
Truth, then, is in my environment, that is, in my culture, in the enduring products of the labour process. The truths, although similar in their lack of newness and fixation to my inherited responses, are yet different in that response emerge from the unconscious, inside me, whereas the inheritances of culture come to me as ‘situations’, as thing learned, taught, or told me, as experience, as environment. But I do not regard myself as bound to the social criteria of truth; on the contrary it is my task to change their formulations, where my experience contradicts them.
But, it will be urged, we were to discuss beauty, and now it is only truth we have obtained. ‘Writing when bourgeois English poetry was at its height at the same time as bourgeois German philosophy was reaching its climax, Keats said:
‘Beauty is truth, truth is beauty’ – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
A modern bourgeois poet, T.S. Eliot, has announced himself unable to understand these lines of Keats, just as modern bourgeois philosophers show themselves unable to understand Hegel’s dialectics. But we saw that the pursuit of truth was the study of the objective elements in the conscious field. We saw further that completely objective elements could never be obtained. A world built up in such a way dissolved into mere metrics, and truth became consistency. To every percept and thought, an affect or subjective tinge inevitably attached itself. We never had a mere situation but always a response to a situation.
Thus truth never stands by itself as ‘pure’. It is always generated in action, in instinctive organismal response going out into the situation and modifying both itself and the situation, begetting emotion as a result. Absolute static, eternal truth is thus impossible.
But every such action involves a desire, a volition, aim, fear, disgust, or hope. Thus truth is always tinged with the subject and with emotion. This is not a discoloration. As we saw, any thoroughgoing attempt to wash truth clean of such affective discoloration simply washed the world away, for it becomes bare geometry. We do not feel ourselves passively responding to a situation, we feel active and subjective and seats of innovation. Necessarily so, because each transaction with a situation changes us, and therefore makes us a new centre of force. This is expressed directly in consciousness.
If we sort out of consciousness all the subjective elements we now orientate the same field in an entirely different way. The connexion between conscious contexts is no longer outer reality, but the responses. We now group all the conscious contexts into like responses (love, fear, self-preservation). The laws of thought now become the laws of affective association. The affective association of ideas discovered by Freud, which threw a flood of light upon dreams, is not so much the discovery of a secret connexion as a law arising from our mode of analysis of conscious contents. If we sort them according to the responses or somatic components, we discover ideas to be affectively associated. If we sort them according to the situation or environmental components, we find them to be associated by contiguity and other laws taken from the environment. Both methods are equally correct. Both affect and thought, both response and situation, are given in the one conscious glow.
When we are concerned with dream and day-dream, attention is introverted; the body ceases to be closely concerned with the situation. The response or instinctive element in consciousness then becomes dominant. Hence the value of the Freudian or affective analysis of consciousness in such states. The ‘deeper’, and more somatic, the innervations, the more dominating becomes the response. The more external and sensory the innervations, the more dominating becomes the situation. The environment rather than the instinct gives the main clue to the structure of the perceptual field; the response lays bare the secret structure of the phantastic field.
A development may take place. The body may be introverted, and unconcerned with its immediate environment, and yet it will not be dreaming, it will be thinking. It will be striving to mould its dream according to the nature of all past situations, according to its experience of outer reality. It will be attempting to realise the laws of outer reality, and penetrate its nature. This is science. It is a scientist thinking, however crudely, for there has been genuine synthesis between almost unconscious dream full of somatic drives and conscious perception, full of environmental shape. These have been fused in thought. Dream draws vividness and restraint from perception; perception gets a flexibility of recombination, an onward drive to a goal, from dream. The result is thought, as rational scientific thought.
But the same development leads to another. Behaviour is not only intra-somatic and conscious; it is also overt and visible in action. The organism is conscious, and is acted on by the environment, but it also behaves and acts on the environment. In its behaviour it is guided by perception, but perception cannot present it with a goal. Perception guides it but it is impelled by ‘instinct’. The somatic element in consciousness now figures as a programme for change – what we ‘want to do’. In trying to bring about our wishes, they too are transformed.
But perception is not ‘pure’ perception – perception only of the present situation. By introversion, by stiffening dream with the memories of past perceptions, perception has become ‘rational’ thought. Perception is widened into a general scheme of reality as experienced over a time. Reason, or congealed cognition, now guides instinct. In helping to change the environment, cognition too is modified and becomes truer and subtler.
But how can I by myself effect more than the slightest change in my environment? I need the co-operation of other men. But this involves perceptions held in common: we must all have similar views of reality. Reason and perception therefore become social, become crystallised in languages, tools, techniques. This has the advantage that I can now draw not only on my brief experience of percepts, but on the combined and sifted experiences of thousands of generations, preserved in language, tool, or technique. This has become dominating. Even from the start it was so; man found himself, by the necessities of the labour process, sharing a common view of reality, and inheriting the seeds, experience, and advice of a preceding generation. Even before language, the labour process, if it involved only common hunting tactics not inherited but taught, would involve a common world-view however crude, and would generate a Truth resident not wholly in oneself but also in one’s environment. Thus long before science has a name or a distinct existence, it is generated as a social product. Truth is created and extended before the concept could exist, as part of the labour process.
But the labour process, involving a social view of the necessities of the environment, a general consciousness in man of laws existing outside him in reality, involves also a social unity of response to these necessities and this environment. The interaction produces a change, and as the change becomes more willed, it generates increasing consciousness not only of the structure of reality but also of one’s own needs. The goal is a blend of what is possible and what is desirable, just as consciousness is a blend of what is response and what is situation. Or, to be more precise, just as consciousness is the product of a tension between response and situation which do not precisely fit each other, so the goal is a product of a tension between what is possible and what is desirable. They are forced to meet; they are synthesised; and as a result both are changed, are fused into an attainable goal. Of all possibles and all desirables, the laws of reality enforce only one wedding, and the child is a new generation.
But if the desirable is to be held clearly in mind, if all action is somatically motivated, or willed, and therefore has an affective as well as a perceptual element – then there must be a community of desire as well as a community of perception. There must be a community of instinct, as well as a community of cognition. The heart, as well as the reason, must be social. The community must share a body in common, as well as an environment in common. Its hopes, as well as its beliefs, must be one. This hope, which is the opposite to science, we may call art. Just as Truth is the aim of science, Beauty is the end of art.
But both deflate abjectly if we attempt to isolate them. If we try to get them ‘pure’ we get nothing. Both are products of the living organism in the real world, and this means that every element is determined both by organism and environment.
We saw that the pursuit of Truth, and the Separation of all environmental elements in the conscious field, produced not Truth but consistency. It produced an unreal dematerialised world, devoid of quality; in fact a mere series of equations. The pursuit of Beauty, and the separation of all affective elements in the conscious field, produces not Beauty but physiology. We get merely the body with its reactions.
But both Truth and Beauty are in fact generated already blended in action, in the social labour process visualised throughout human history. In this they are indivisible. Both continually play into each other’s hands. Science makes the percepts, the possibilities, the world with which the body’s desire concerns itself, continually richer and more subtle. Art makes the body’s incursions into reality always more audacious, more curious, and more indefatigable.
Of course to the bourgeois with his ideal closed worlds, Truth and Beauty, art and science, appear not as creative opposites but as eternal antagonists. Even Keats, who saw their kinship, could yet complain that science had robbed the rainbow of its beauty. This is because science and art, as long as they seem something distinct, situated in the environment entirely on the one hand (science) and in the heart entirely on the other (art), must seem exclusive and inimical. They seem to raise up two different worlds, of which we can choose one only. One is bare of quality, and the other is destitute of reality, so that we cannot rest easily on either horn of the dilemma. Only when we see that the separation is artificial and that response and situation are involved throughout consciousness and are part and parcel of the social process which generates both truth and beauty – only then can we see that there is no such deadly rivalry as we supposed, but that on the contrary these opposites each create the other. The ‘secret’ connexion between the two is the world of concrete society.
In all social products, therefore, affect and percept, response and situation, inevitably mingle. They do not merely mingle, they activate each other. In language every word has an affective as well as a cognitive value. The weight of each value varies in each case. Some words, such as interjections, are almost entirely affective. Others, such as scientific names, are almost entirely cognitive. But an entirely affective language – that is, sounds having only affective associations – ceases to be language. It became music. An entirely cognitive language – that is, sounds having only cognitive associations – also ceases to be a language; it becomes mathematics. In doing so, both seem to exchange rōles. Music no longer refers to outer reality; but it does not disappear into the body; it becomes for the body outer reality. For the body, listening to the music, the sounds are now environment; nothing is referred to. Mathematics, though it has no affective reference, does not disappear into the environment. On the contrary it becomes pure thought; it becomes the body operating on the environment. Cognition and affection can never be separated. The attempt to do so simply begets a new thing, in which they are united again.
Not only language but all social products have an affective rōle. Each society evolves its own gestures, deportment, and manners. These include a reference to reality, a pointing to something, the necessary opening of doors to get through them, or lifting of food to feed oneself, or moving of legs to get from one place to another. But these actions also include an affective element: all can be done ‘beautifully’ or artistically. One can point with an air, open a door politely, feed oneself quietly and ‘off silver’, walk slowly and with dignity. All this is beauty; all this is desirable; all this is a social product. Different societies have quite different notions of what is desirable in these things.
All objects, from a house to a hat, share these cognitive and affective elements. A hat has a real cognitive environmental function, so has a house. The hat must keep rain and sun off our heads; the house must keep out wind and weather, resist perhaps the robber and marauder. But both are modified by the affective element. The hat must add honour, dignity and grace to the head. The house must express respectability or power; and must contain rooms of a certain shape and size, because of the manners and social customs of the age.
Action designed only to express an affective purpose becomes, like music, an environment; dancing is a spectacle. Action designed only to express a cognitive purpose, and to achieve a goal which is not in itself really desired, becomes action in itself desirable, as in the mock-flights and trivial goals of sport, in which all energies are bent on securing something not really to be desired. Between sport and dancing stretch all the forms of action designed to secure an affective but real goal, that is, all forms of work, from sowing and reaping to factory production.
All forms of representation have the same duality. The faithful congruence of representation to reality, robbed of all affective elements, becomes not really a representation at all, but a symbol – the diagram. The attempt to make representation purely affective, without reference to environment, produces what is in itself an environment – the town and the building. Between lies the richness of pictorial illustration the pointing, the sculpture, the film, and the play.
In primitive civilisation this intimate generation of truth and beauty in the course of the labour process and their mutual effect on each other is so clear that it needs no elaboration. The harvest is work, but it is also dance; it deals with reality, but it is also pleasure. All social forms, gestures, and manners have to primitives a purpose, and are both affective and cognitive. Law is not merely the elucidation of a truth in dispute, but the satisfaction of the gods, of the innate sense of rightness in man’s desires. Myths express man’s primitive instincts and his view of reality. The simplest garment or household utensil has a settled beauty. Work is performed in time to singing, and has its own fixed ceremony. All tasks have their lucky days. Truth and beauty, science and art are primitive, but at least they are vitally intermingled, each giving life to the other.
It is the special achievement of later bourgeois civilisation to have robbed science of desirability and art of reality. The true is no longer beautiful, because to be true in bourgeois civilisation is to be non-human. The beautiful is no longer real, because to be beautiful in bourgeois civilisation is to be imaginary.
This itself is simply a product of the fundamental bourgeois position. Our own proposition about beauty is this: whenever the affective elements in socially known things show social ordering, there we have beauty, there alone we have beauty. The business of such ordering is art, and this applies to all socially known things, to houses, gestures, narratives, descriptions, lessons, songs and labour.
But to the bourgeois this proposition seems monstrous, for he has been reared on the anarchy of the social process. He refuses to recognise it. He recognises only one social process – commodity-manufacture, and one social tie – the market. The bourgeois produces for and buys from the market, governed as an individual by social relations masquerading as laws of supply and demand.
Thus any attempt at social consciousness which necessarily involves the manipulation of desires, i.e. of ‘the laws’ of supply and demand, seems to him outrageous. But this is just what art is – the manipulation or social ordering of desires, and therefore of the laws of supply and demand. Art gives values which are not those of the market but are use-values. Art makes ‘cheap’ things precious and a few splashes of paint a social treasure. Hence the market is the fierce enemy of the artist. The blind working of the market murders beauty. All social products, hats, cars, houses, household utensils and clothes, become in the main unbeautiful and ‘commercialised’, precisely because the maker in producing them does not consider social process, does not scheme how to order socially their affective values in accordance with their use, but merely how to satisfy a demand for them with the maximum profit to himself. This extends finally to those products which have no other purpose than affective ordering – paintings, films, novels, poetry, music. Because here too their affective ordering is socially unconscious, because it is not realised that beauty is a social product, there is a degradation even of these ‘purest’ forms of art products. We have commercialised art, which is simply affective massage. It awakens and satisfies the instincts without expressing and synthesising a tension between instinct and environment. Hence wish-fulfilment novels and films; hence jazz. The bourgeois floods the world with art products of a baseness hitherto unimaginable. Then, reacting against such an evident degradation of the artist’s task, art withdraws from the market and becomes non-social, that is personal. It becomes ‘highbrow’ art, culminating in personal fantasy. The art work ends as a fetish because it was a commodity. Both are equally signs of the decay of bourgeois civilisation due to the contradictions in its foundation.
The ravages of bourgeois unconsciousness destroy not only the social product but the producer. Labour now becomes, not labour to achieve a goal and to attain the desirable, but labour for the market and for cash. Labour becomes blind and unconscious. What is made, or why it is made, is no longer understood, for the labour is merely for cash, which now alone supports life. Thus all affective elements are withdrawn from labour, and must therefore reappear elsewhere. They now reappear attached to the mythical commodity which represents the unconscious market – cash. Cash is the music of labour in bourgeois society. Cash achieves objective beauty. Labour in itself becomes increasingly distasteful and irksome, and cash increasingly beautiful and desirable. Money becomes the god of society. Thus the complete disintegration of a culture on the affective side is achieved, and has resulted from the same causes as its disintegration on the cognitive side.
Beauty, then, arises from the social ordering of the affective elements in socially known things. It arises from the labour process, because there must not only be agreement about the nature of outer reality, but also agreement about the nature of desire. This agreement is not static. In the social process, outer reality becomes increasingly explored, and this makes the social process more far reaching and deeply entrenched in the environment, while each fresh sortie into reality alters the nature of desire, so that here, too, fresh integrations are necessary. This pressure, both in science and art, appears as an individual experience. A scientist inherits the hypotheses, and an artist inherits the traditions, of the past. In the scientist’s case an experiment, and in the artist’s case a vital experience indicates a discrepancy, a tension, whose synthesis results in a new hypothesis or a new art work. Of course the scientist feels the tension as an error, as something in the environment; the artist as an urge, as something in his heart.
Science and art, as we use them in current language, are more partial and restricted than in my use. Science, as generally used, involves not all the cognitive elements in the labour process but only the new elements. The scientist is on the border line where new hypotheses are generated to modify technique. In factory, in building, in housework, and all daily occupation, the cognitive elements are familiar and traditional. They are technique rather than science. The world-view is not expanding here; reality is as our fathers knew it; but the scientist is situated on the very expanding edge of the world-view. Here new regions are continually coming into sight; discrepancies in experience continually arise to make him modify yesterday’s formulations. The same applies to the artist. In daily life, in manners, desires, morals, hopes and patriotisms we tread the daily round; we feel as our fathers do; but the artist is continually besieged by new feelings as yet unformulated, he continually attempts to grasp beauties and emotions not yet known; a tension between tradition and experience is constantly felt in his heart. Just as the scientist is the explorer of new realms of outer reality, the artist continually discovers new kingdoms of the heart.
Both therefore are explorers, and necessarily therefore share a certain loneliness. But if they are individualists, it is not because they are non-social, but precisely because they are performing a social task. They are non-social only in this sense, that they are engaged in dragging into the social world realms at present non-social and must therefore have a foot in both worlds. They have a specially exciting task, but a task also with disadvantages comparable to its advantages. The scientist pays for his new realms by travelling without affective companionship, with a certain deadness and silence in his heart. The artist explores new seas of feeling; there is no firm ground of cognitive reality beneath his feet; he becomes dizzy and tormented. Those not on the fringes of the social process get their life less new but more solid, less varied but more stable. Their values are more earthy, more sensuous, more mature. They are rooted, certain, and full. It is time for the antagonism between scientist and artist to cease; both should recognise a kinship, as between Arctic and tropical explorers, or between bedouins of the lonely deserts and sailors on the featureless sea.
But they must not suppose that a line can ever be drawn between science and other social cognition, and art and other social affection. The social process is far too closely woven for that. The ingression of new values takes place at all parts; only we call certain operations scientific or artistic because there we see the ingression most clearly. In education cognitive and emotional tradition is chiefly at work, but on the one hand even here there is an ingression of the new, and, on the other hand, the artist and the scientist are being educated as well as learning new things all their lives.
If they remember this, they will not make the mistake of supposing they are opposite poles, between which the whole social process is generated. This is to suppose profit produces capital. In fact profit is produced by capital, and yet continually augments it. Science and art represent the profit on social capital. They are pushed out into the deserts of the unknown by the very workings of society. They lead, but they were instructed; they find new worlds of life, but they were supported by the old. Always we find only terms drawn from the labour process to be adequate to describe their function, and only this can explain the nature of Beauty and Truth, how man can never rest on the truth his eyes tell him or the beauty his heart declares, but must go about finding new truth, and cannot rest until he has created with his hands a new beauty.
The artist takes bits of reality, socially known, to which affective associations adhere, and creates a mock world, which calls into being a new affective attitude, a new emotional experience. New beauty is thus born as the result of his social labour.
But if art works were artificial, and beauty is a social product, how do we find beauty in the natural thing, in seas, skies, a mountain, and daffodils?
To separate in this way natural things from artificial is to make as dangerous a distinction as that between environmental and affective elements in the conscious field, or between mental and material qualities. Society itself is a part of nature, and hence all artificial products are natural. But nature itself, as seen, is a product of society. The primitive does not see seas, but the river Oceanus; he does not see mammals, but edible beasts. He does not see, in the night sky, blazing worlds in the limitless void, but a roof inlaid with patines of bright gold. Hence all natural things are artificial. Does that mean that we can make no distinction between nature and art? On the contrary, we can clearly distinguish two opposites, although we must recognise their interpenetration. In all phenomena, from hats to stars, seasons to economic crises, tides to social revolutions, we can distinguish varying portions of change, varying portions of the ingression of the unlike. The most rapid evolution is that of human society, of its customs, towns and hand-made products. The next that of animals and plants. The next that of the solar system. The next that of our galaxy. The whole, universe in fact changes, but it changes at different rates. The region of most change, human society, as it were, separates itself out from a background of least change, which we call ‘nature’ – stars, mountains and daffodils. The line can nowhere be precisely drawn; and in all cases it is man, a social product, confronting nature, and finding beauty in it. Nature finds no beauty in nature; animals do not look at flowers or stars. Man dies, and therefore it is the social process which has generated in him the ability to see beauty in flowers and stars. This ability changes in character. The sea is beautiful to a European, to an ancient Athenian, to a Polynesian islander, but it is not the same beauty; it is always a beauty rooted in their cultures. The frozen sea is to the Eskimo a different beauty from the warm sea of the Gulf; and the blazing sun of the Equator a different beauty from the faint six-months-dead sun of the Arctic.
Those elements in nature which are most universal and have changed least in the history of man, may be expected to produce, in interaction with him, the most constant quality. Hence we feel rightly that there is something simple, primitive, and instinctive in the beauty we see in certain primitive, simple things. This must never be pushed too far. The richest and most complex appreciation of natural beauty belongs to the civilised man, not to the primitive. We may oppose the art-work just made to the enduring mountain as an artificial to a natural beauty, but the difference is one of degree. In both cases beauty emerges as a quality due to a man, in the course of social process, gazing at a piece of his environment. The ancient town, with weathered walls, ful1 of history and character, is a part of nature, and is yet a completely artificial product; the sun lights it and the wind weathers it. There is no dichotomy between nature and art only the difference between pioneers and settled inhabitants.
Art, then, conditions the instincts to the environment, and in doing so changes the instincts. Beauty is the knowledge of oneself as a part of other selves in a real world, and reflects the growth in richness and complexity of their relations. Science conditions the environment to the instincts and in doing so changes the environment. Truth is the knowledge of the environment as a container for, and yet known by and partly composed of, one’s own self and other selves.
Both are products of the labour process – that is to say, both are realised in action. Truth and Beauty are not the goals of society, for directly they become goals in themselves, they cease to exist. They are generated as aspects of the rich and complex flow of reality. The scientist or the artist is only a special kind of man of action: he produces truth or beauty, not as an end but as the colour of an act. Consciousness, society, the whole world of social experience, the universe of reality, is generated by action, and by action is meant the tension between organism and environment, as a result of which both are changed and a new movement begins. This dynamic subject-object relation generates all social products – cities, ships, nations, religions, the cosmos, human values.
Bourgeois culture is incapable of producing on ęsthetics for the same reason that most of its social products are unbeautiful. It is disintegrating, because it refuses to recognise the social process which is the generator of consciousness, emotion, thought, and of all products into which emotion and thought enter. Because ideology is rooted in the labour process, the decay of an economy must reappear as a similar disintegration in the art of science which is rooted in it. Bourgeois economic contradictions are bourgeois ideological contradictions. The scientist and artist are forced on by the tension between past and present, tradition and experience. But tradition is the accumulated product of the past labour process as preserved; and experience is an experience in contemporary society.
Such a disintegration can only be revitalised by a transformation of the relations which, at the very roots, are destroying the creative forces of society. Change is dialectic; one quality gives birth to another by the revelation of the contradictions it contains, whose very tension begets the synthesis. The contradiction at the heart of bourgeois culture is becoming naked, and more and more clearly there is revealed the inextinguishable antagonism between the two classes of bourgeois economy, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The ruling class, the bourgeoisie, which exploits the labour power of the proletariat for profit, in doing so generates an illusion which sets the pattern for all the structure and ideology of bourgeois civilisation. Man is held to be free in proportion to his ignorance of the social process, as a part of which he functions. Instead of bourgeois activity being governed by knowledge of the social process, it is governed by the market, by the ‘laws of supply and demand’, by the free circulation of cash, in short, by mere ‘accident’, for accident is man’s name for his ignorance of determinism. Man is held to be free by virtue of unrestricted rights over property: but this merely conceals the domination of a few, who own the means of production and can traffick in labour-power, over the many who have nothing but labour-power to sell. The few believe that this dominating power they exercise makes them free, that in the act of domination their actions are not determined; but the even – the internal collapse of their economy in war and crisis and of their ideology in anarchy – reveals that not even they the lords are free, but their desires have disrupted their culture.
And who can transform it? Only those who are conscious of the cause of its collapse, who realise that to be without conscious social organisation is not to be free, and that power over men by men is not freedom, even though concealed, but all the more if concealed, is mere ignorance of the necessities of society. It is precisely the proletarians who know all this by the pressure of the economy whose cruel weight they support. In their struggles against exploitation they learn that only conscious organisation, Trade Unions and factory Acts, can give them freedom from oppression. When they see their masters, the bourgeoisie, powerless to prevent war, unemployment, and the decay of the economy they have built up, the proletariat learns that this power of men over men, exercised by a simple act of the will and congealed in a property right, is not freedom for either class. It is only a delusive short cut in which humanity was for a time lost. Freedom appears, socially, when men take no short cuts of ‘will’ but learn the necessities of their own nature and of external reality and thus share a goal in common. Then the common goal and the nature of reality uniquely determine the only possible action without compulsion, as when two men combine, without ‘orders’, to lift a stone that lies in their path. In such an understanding, a new science, a new art, and a new society are already explicit, and to build it involves a proletariat which has already overthrown the bourgeoisie, and in revolution and reconstruction has transformed civilisation. In a society which is based on co-operation, not on compulsion, and which is conscious, not ignorant, of necessity, desires as well as cognitions can be socially manipulated as part of the social process. Beauty will then return again, to enter consciously into every part of the social process. It is not a dream that labour will no longer be ugly, and the products of labour once again beautiful.
1. The Meaning of Meaning, by L A. Richards & C. K. Ogden.