Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Does anybody, nowadays, have an integrated personality?


When comparing successful writers from two generations ago - the likes of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis - with a near-equivalent from now - JK Rowling - I am struck by the fact that Rowling's personality is highly fragmented and grossly inconsistent by comparison with her predecessors.

So that Rowling's world view in the context of the Harry Potter books is grossly at-odds with her personality as expressed in interviews etc; while Tolkien and Lewis are 'all-of-a-piece' - all their works in different genres, their letters and interviews and biography, very obviously amount to a self-consistent and integrated world view.

What I find interesting is that Rowling's world view in the Harry Potter books is both self-consistent and also broadly consistent with Tolkien's and Lewis's world views (although relatively simplified) - and it is the 'public persona, the non-literary world view which is so sharply at odds.


Indeed it is very characteristic of modernity that people have fragmented, unintegrated world views.

The world view in their work is inconsistent with their world view as private individuals; their political views are inconsistent and changeable, their motivations do not match their explicit aspirations, and so on.

This is unsurprising in that modern life is (or was) composed of specialist social systems, each with different rules and languages - and these tended to evolve away from each other. So that science focused almost exclusively on Truth - which became operationalized in terms of replicable facts and approved methods; art became focused on aesthetic factors - which became operationalized in terms of theory; the media became focused on attention grabbing - and so on.

And of course Tolkien and Lewis both regarded themselves as 'dinosaurs' - out of step with the fragmented and specialized world of modernity which surrounded them, throwbacks to a much earlier (pre-Renaissance) style of thinking and being.

And they were pretty much the last representatives of that style - except for some few people operating in enclosed and detached religious groups (I am thinking of Fr Seraphim Rose), who do not impinge on mainstream culture.


On the other hand, political correctness represents a kind of re-integration of world views: so that all the social systems are currently being re-integrated in terms first of being made consistent with political correctness, then being motivated by political correctness.

So, for instance, arts and sciences are no longer either aesthetically-motivated/ truth-motivated but these are now subordinated to the motivations of political correctness.

One might expect that this would lead to a re-emergence of the integrated personality - except that political correctness is itself grossly incoherent, continually changing, and indeed oppositional and reactive rather than propositional and substantive.


Where good work is still being done, as with the Harry Potter novels, then this is always non-politically correct insofar as it is good.

Yet, at a personal level, the penalties for being non-PC get greater and greater - so we still see (as with JK Rowling) gross fragmentation of personality; such that the ability to hold-by and be-adept-in multiple incompatible ways of thinking and world views is now adaptive, sophisticated - almost 'common sensical'.

So that if JKR expressed views views that were consistent with the world view of HP, she would be a social pariah - a hate figure - and the novels would be suppressed by one means or another. So the best that she can do (whether intentionally or by instinct) is to smuggle the world view out in the form of a novel (as, indeed, a kid's novel), hidden by a veneer of PC - and to ensure that never at any time does she follow through the logic of the novels into her public persona.


Of course there is a price to pay.

JKR comes across as immature, vapid and evasive in her interviews and essays, compared with the tremendous adult solidity and gravitas of Tolkien and Lewis.

But she is in good company. Everybody in public life comes across as immature, vapid and evasive: because that is precisely what they are.

Worryingly, almost everybody in private life now comes across as immature, vapid and evasive - because it has become habitual (it has had-to become habitual, since the cost of failing to be dis-integrated is so high).

The triumph of political correctness is that we always feel asif Big Brother is watching us. A social grouping of unselfconscious truth seekers and truth tellers such as The Inklings would be almost impossible nowadays.


(I should point out that Tolkien and Lewis are vastly more intelligent and knowledgeable than Rowling, or indeed than anyone else in modern public life - and Tolkien more intelligent than Lewis, Lewis more knowledgeable than Tolkien - but this is not mainly a matter of intelligence and knowledge. It is primarily a matter of partly-trained and partly-habitual honesty; and underneath that a grounding in reality. Reality regarded as real.)


The consequence of all this is that moderns are incapable people. At most they can operate with technical adeptness within small, grossly-incomplete and hermetically-sealed specialist worlds - they are dogmatic technicians.

But most moderns are even worse than that because they lack technical expertise of any kind - this being continually stopped short or diverted by the over-riding application of political correctness - so that even very simple causal chains of a purely technical nature become disrupted whenever they get anywhere near human applicability (or else their human applicability is denied, and the activity thereby neutered).

And this is why modern humans cannot solve any problems anymore.

All they can do, all we can do, is reframe things so that they are no longer perceived as a problem: we simply redefine threats as - what is the jargon? - opportunities.

Transcendental inversion, again 


And such is the fragmentation of thought and the dis-integration of world views that the gross insanity of the process is concealed.

Fragmentation leads to more fragmentation, until...

Everything falls apart.



Alex said...

It would be most unusual if Rowling herself was not influenced by the dominant conception of the world in our day. She is not an intellect of the first magnitude that transcends the age and is for all time.

However, an imaginative work allows its author to explore themes which are at variance with his/her considered views. Unless a work is intended to be didactic, it is injudicious to infer a 'world view' from a fictional narrative.

Suppose we studied the works of Jane Austen in order to discover her 'philosophy of life'. It's possible to fancy that the uniform attitudes of her characters towards marriage, rank, and money which appear repeatedly in her novels, unmask Jane's 'conservative disposition'. But we have to supplement this speculation based on her fiction with real information from her letters etc., in order to discover that at least she wasn't a political radical.

On the other hand, a work of satire, like The Screwtape Letters, is a didactic composition which is written on purpose to reveal the (religious) views of its author. C S Lewis expects the reader to learn lessons from his book without the labour of inference.

Bruce Charlton said...

I'm afraid I don't know anything about Jane Austen specifically; but all the early good authors where I know both their works and their life exhibit a unity between the deep structure of their imaginative work (not the superficial opinions and statements of the many and various characters) and their lives as revealed in biographies and letters.

This would apply to someone like Samuel Johnson (who only wrote the one novel - Rasselas; or George Orwell; or recent writers like Saul Bellow, or Alasdair Gray (whom I did a masters thesis on).

Or poets like RW Emerson, Whitman, or Robert Frost.

Indeed, this applies to almost anyone who was pre-PC - except for the self-conscious modernists, who is this respect as in many others represent a decline.

It seems to have been almost a mark of self-respect among serious writers that they should try to retain or regain this deep unity of vision in their lives and works.

dearieme said...

The greatest novelist in English - in the sense of his huge influence, rather than his writerly quality - was probably Sir Walter Scott. His was a fully integrated personality, I'd say.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dearieme - I agree with both propositions.

a Finn said...

The world of money and power can't help itself, but to produce an artificial, childish and emotion regulating system. The system has to use and squeeze whatever men has inclination to do. The system has to create steep declines from emotional default positions to services and wares; from default spaces to monetized spaces; and from inability to do anything meaningful work outside organizations in urban environment to work in organizations or in their sphere of power. Negative must be made more negative and "positive" more "positive". How do you talk to such a system inside the sphere of influence of such a system? Men talk differently e.g. to babies than to grown-ups. Of course, organizations demand official talk in many workplaces, especially in less public higher level background jobs maintaining the organizations and their functions.

To my mind's eye our environment looks like the following, just more boring and increasingly more threatening. Because the system has deteriorated (by the work of it's own hands), the soothing feeling can turn to something negative quickly:


I was among the first about under twenty serious immigration critics in Finland eleven years ago. Now polls show 17,9% support for True Finns party. It is very close or even with the support of the tree biggest parties. Also a second immigration critic party has been born, Muutos 2011 (Change 2011), this years elections are it's first. Not bad in eleven years.

What kind of communication achieved this? Alternation between serious long debates, aggressive shouting matches, intentionally provoking the liberal side, persuasion and humor. It is impossible to cause change in society without moving supporters and opponents position of affective "anchor" by involving strong emotions. Change wouldn't and couldn't have happened only with official talk, although it is necessary too.

The system and it's helpers attacked us with police investigations and courts, and several people were prosecuted and fined. We accepted this as a given, fought in the courts, turned the show trials into embarassing public shows and paid collectively the fines that were given to our people, unless they wanted to pay the fines themselves. I was threatened too with police investigation and trial, but because of reasons unknown to me, it petered out.


In other words, we have moved in ten years from being a constant target of smears and no conversation with the system's representatives to being interlocutors and participants in public debates and media shows, to being representatives in democratic assemblies and we are less smeared. The expected smears before elections have unintentional self-irony in them, because their makers are so out of touch with reality, and the smears describe the system, not us.

Change always requires that intellectuals roll up their sleeves and "dirty" their hands in societal interaction.

AnteB said...

This seems to be true of GRR Martin as well. Now, Game of Thrones does by no means compare to the works of Tolkien´s or Lewis, or even JK Rowling´s, in literary or moral brilliance.
But, GRR Martin seems to be a usual celebrity liberal in interviews but his world is anything but liberal. It´s dark and corrupt but not liberal. Even the moral tone of the works is hardly liberal either.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AnteB - The US word and concept of 'liberal' is too narrow to be of much use internationally or in history. Liberalism is merely an aspect of broader Leftism, which itself has anti-Christian roots. My impression is that Game of Thrones is anti-Christian. This doesn't make it a bad work of art, since most of the best works of art (qua 'art') of the post couple of hundred years have been more-or-less anti-Christian (e.g. in English poetry since the evil Byron - first rate in influence, if not literary quality - and the less-evil but almost-equally-misguided and harmful Shelley - who is first rate in quality, if not influence.

The problem is that when an artist is a nihilist - the higher the artistic quality, the greater potential for harm: e.g. Nietzsche, James Joyce, Picasso, Stravinsky, Samuel Beckett etc.

The great thing about Tolkien (or the Harry Potter saga, or Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell)- is that they have a string tendency to do you good; as well as being of very high artistic quality.

AnteB said...

I agree. What I meant was that the ethos of GRR Martin works is not in harmony with his publicly stated beliefs, like with JK Rowling.

The difference is of course that both the work of GRR Martin and his public persona is nihilistic (and maybe leftist, according to the definition of this blog) but in widely different ways, whereas JK Rowling is leftist as a person while Harry Potter is a Christian work.