Art and Scholasticism by Jacques Maritain

The Frontiers of Poetry

This is not an essay in the genre criticism, whether literary criticism or art criticism. The author has too many principles in his head to be able to aspire to criticism. He is only a philosopher. Is it not a philosopher's professional duty to remain in the heaven of metaphysics, the only enduring empyrean, from which he sees in reverse the changing clouds and the diverse atmospheres of the plains? There are, it is true, other duties than one's professional duty.

In any case, Art and Scholasticism, far from militating for any particular school, has been well received in very different, even opposed, camps (opposed sometimes to my own personal preferences) -- a sign that it is endowed with a sufficiently universal spirit. Indeed the study of first principles, in the practical as well as in the speculative order, is the special province of philosophy. But a great gulf separates these principles and the work in which they find their final application, a gulf that art alone can cros -- and this by different paths, which diverge ever more and more even though they are legitimate, and which can in addition be more or less successful.[173]

If moreover I had attempted a synthesis of an historical and critical kind, I would have had to make use of a much richer store of erudition. But for a philosophical work, an inquiry limited to the essential, to the most accessible and most significant examples, is sufficient.[174]

This absolutely clean separation being once and for all clearly stated -- and it cannot be too strongly insisted upon -- between the author's philosophical point of view and the point of view of criticism, it nevertheless remains for me to note, and not without pleasure, the ease with which, in actual fact, the very ancient principles I recalled in my book unite with the deep-seated intentions of modern researches that are often regarded as foolhardy. Such meetings are instructive. I have sometimes been reproached for my fondness for these researches; I must confess that with the years it has only been confirmed. I would now like to aggravate the case against me by embarking upon some explanations of certain tendencies in contemporary art. I shall therefore take up again from a more concrete point of view some ideas expounded in another form in Art and Scholasticism,[175] intermingling with them some new considerations which, in order to begin philosophically, I shall base on the theory of the divine ideas.


God's ideas are not like our concepts, that is, representative signs drawn from things, intended to introduce into a created mind the immensity of that which is, and to render this mind consonant with existents (actual or possible) independent of it. God's ideas precede things, they create them. This is why theologians, in order to find some analogy to them here below, compare them to the artist's ideas.

Thomist theology thereupon considers the artist's idea in its proper nature and deepens the notion of it. Making or operative idea, spiritual and immanent object born in the mind and nourished by it, living with the mind's life, and which is the immaterial matrix from which the work is produced in being -- this idea is formative of things and not formed by them. Far from being measured by them, as is the speculative concept, it is all the more independent of things the better it realizes its own essence; subduing them to its creative impregnation, it so holds them under its domination that to give, with a John of Saint Thomas, to the word "idea" its full force, it must be said that one truly has the idea of a thing only when one is capable of making it.[176] It does not render the mind consonant with the real, it renders the real consonant with the mind; for there is always likeness, but this time it is the likeness of a bit of matter to the abyss of the engendering invisible germ. In us the creative idea is not a pure intellectual form, because we are at the lowest rung among spirits: on the contrary, the spiritual germ which fecundates our art, operating through sense organs and floundering in matter, is for us but a divine nothing scarcely glimpsed, obscure to our own eyes, raising and irradiating the dough of sense and the elementary spontaneities. And, above all, this independence with regard to things, essential to art as such and to the operative idea, is thwarted in us by our condition -- minds created in a body, placed in the world after things had been made, and obliged to draw first from things the forms they use.

In God only does this independence with regard to things appear in a perfect manner. God sees in His Ideas all the ways in which His essence can be manifested, and He produces creatures according to the model of these Ideas, thus placing the seal of His likeness upon the whole expanse of that which is made, detaching things from the life they had in Him, and in which they were He, only to find again in them a vestige of Himself. Here only, on the high summits of Divinity, does the idea as artisan-form obtain the complete fullness required of it by its very notion.

This is to say that art, like intelligence (art, for that matter, is nothing but creative intelligence), considered apart and in its pure essence, realizes all the perfection demanded by its nature only by passing to Pure Act. It is ridiculous, Aristotle observed, to attribute the civil or political virtues to God. But in the sense in which the Gospel says: Unus est bonus, Deus, so we may say: Unus est artifex, Deus.


There we have a gleam of metaphysics thrown on the movement which sustains -- which yesterday sustained -- our epoch in the search for pure music, pure painting, pure theatre, pure poetry (I use this expression in the sense in which it corresponds to the specific effort undertaken in France since Mallarmé). To command our art to be art in the pure state, by freeing itself in effect from all its conditions of existence in the human subject, is to wish it to usurp for itself the aseity of God. To ask it to tend to pure art as a curve to its asymptote,[177] without rejecting the servitudes of its human condition, but by ceaselessly overcoming them, by straining its created bonds to the extreme limit of elasticity, is to ask it to realize more fully its root spirituality. Pride, in the one case, magnanimity, in the other -- both aiming at the impossible, either of folly or of heroism. A blinding moment it is when extremes of sin and virtue brush sides with each other and mingle, each in that confusion proceeding towards its appointed place, the weak one to the presumption in which it will be swallowed up, the strong one to the virtue in which it will grow stronger.

Let me be more precise. The whole issue comes down to this, that there is for art an antinomy (and art is not alone in this) between the highest demands of the essence taken in itself and transcendentally, and the conditions of existence called for by this very essence according as it is realized here on earth.[178]

Where would the notion of "pure art" lead if pushed to its furthest logical extremes? To an art completely isolated from all that is not its own rules of operation and the object to be created as such, in other words, an art apart, freed, completely uninterested in man and things. For, of itself, art -- recta ratio factibilium -- is not human, as are the moral virtues, and does not measure itself in accordance with things, as do the speculative virtues; there it is then, if you carry it to the pure state, wholly occupied in making being, and not at all interested in beings. But then, by dint of being itself, it destroys itself, for its existence depends on man, in whom it subsists, and on things, on which it nourishes itself. Angelist suicide -- through the forgetting of matter.

Remind art that "poetry is ontology";[179] that, being of man, it can no more cut itself off from things than man himself can; that, being in man, art always ends by confessing in some way the weaknesses of man, and that if it devours the substance of the artist and the passions, options, and speculative and moral virtues which make it truly human, it devours the very subject in which it inheres; that, being in a certain way for man (if not in itself, at least as to the use that is made of it), it withers away in the course of time if it refuses either the constraints and limitations necessitated from without by the good of man, or the service of the common culture, which asks it to make itself legible, accessible, open, to take upon itself the heritage of reason and wisdom on which we live, to awaken in a people or in the human race a moment of unanimity -- remind it of all this and you remind it of its conditions of existence, the sum of which is: humanity. Though art be irritated (the tone in which such remonstrances are generally addressed to it is a sufficient excuse), this nevertheless remains true. As a matter of fact it can happen that a frank acceptance of these servitudes may bring about a renewal of art's own life, especially when it is a question of a condition implied in its formal object itself, as for instance regard for the intended purpose of the work.

The fact remains, however, that if art grows in the midst of accepted servitudes, it is by struggling against them; and that all the exigencies its conditions of existence have disclosed to us remain, as we say, on the side of "subjective" and "material" causality. Of itself -- let us not forget -- art is a virtue in some way inhuman; the effort towards a gratuitous creative activity, solely absorbed in its own mystery and its own operative laws, without subordinating itself either to the interests of man or to the evocation[180] of that which already exists, in short, the effort towards pure art, follows from the very essence of art, once beauty has awakened it to itself. Art cannot forgo this effort without being false to itself. A too languid resignation to its conditions of existence is also suicide for art -- sin of materialism.

It may be observed from this point of view that a return to religion, to right moral life or to sound philosophy, does not at all entail by itself a simultaneous righting of art in its own sphere, but merely brings it back to normal conditions of existence -- and to the normal burdens these imply. This, of course, can strengthen its vitality, and deliver it from all kinds of hindrances and obstacles (removere prohibentia), but it can also cause it to lose in aesthetic quality, for it is a case here only of dispositive causality, and everything depends on the advantage a sufficiently vigorous virtue of art will be able to draw from it.

Such, then, is the deep-seated conflict which art cannot escape. The solution is no doubt clear to the philosopher. Art must acquire this ideal independence -- the desire for which is inscribed in its nature -- in regard to the material obligations involved in its conditions of existence, by turning to account these very obligations, by mastering them, by showing itself strong enough to take them upon itself without giving way; it does not acquire it by refusing them -- which is to acknowledge a weakness.

But in practice, for the artist, the solution is less simple. In actual fact there will be give-and-take, it will be necessary to aim too high; and precisely the better to dominate matter and to assure oneself new holds on it one will have the appearance of repudiating it, concealing behind this weakness a new energy. Mallarmé never wished to reduce to nothing the significance of words; he was preparing on the contrary a new way of making it appear. In any case, however useful the resistance of critical reason and of the human environment may be, it is not through them, but by the movement of invention itself, pursuing its course, that the necessary adjustments are made. Art rights itself by advancing further, not by stopping. The springs of the conditions of existence recoil spontaneously; or it comes to be perceived that a too pure effort was itself going astray and injuring a specific exigency of human art. In the changing and never-fixed life that poets carry on through the whole length of time, Mallarmé and, in another order, Rimbaud, one fine day become the past.[181] And at that moment they reveal in them something which is a stop-point, an end and not a beginning, an exhaustion of energy, against which one will have to take a stand. One will then start out again with a closer grasp on the truth.

Let us add, to bring this digression to an end, that -- quite naturally -- those who advance along the path of tradition, in via disciplinae, attach themselves by preference to what in art depends on its conditions of existence; whereas those who advance along the path of invention, in via inventionis, attach themselves by preference to what in art depends on its pure form or essence. Thus, this distinction between essence and conditions of existence might perhaps, if it were recognized, have a chance of contributing its share to the formation of an equitable judgment on

of which Apollinaire spoke.

The problem of imitation, which, at least if imitation is properly understood, concerns the formal element in our art, is closely related to the questions I have just raised. At this point the theological consideration of the operative idea clearly shows how foreign to art is the servile imitation of the appearances of nature, since art's deepest exigency is that the work manifest not another thing already made, but the mind itself from which it proceeds. Just as God makes created participations of His essence to exist outside Himself, so the artist puts himself -- not what he sees, but what he is -- into what he makes. Thus anyone contemplating the myriad landscapes that God signs at each turn of the wheel of light, or any countenance at all of beast or man, clearly sees that strictly speaking they are inimitable, and that there is more humility in continuing in our manner the creative impulse than in striving to equal its effect in a representation.

The truth is, and it is here that the mystery becomes knotted, that we have nothing which we have not received.

In Wilde's paradoxes on the lie a great truth lies hidden, a truth which, obviously, has nothing to do with the shoddy Hegelianism with which he decks it out. It is quite true that things are better in the mind than in themselves,[182] that they take on their full proportions only when they have been uttered by a mind, and that they themselves crave to be taken up into the heaven of thought -- metaphysics or poetry -- where they proceed to live above time, and with a life that is universal. What would have become of the Trojan War without Homer? Unfortunate are the adventures which are not told.

But what Wilde, suffocated by the paper roses of his aestheticism, did not understand is that our art does not draw from itself alone what it gives to things; it spreads over them a secret which it has first seized by surprise in them, in their invisible substance or in their endless exchanges and correspondences. Withdraw our art from "that blessed reality given once and for all, at the center of which we are placed,"[183] and it is no longer anything. It transforms, it moves about, it brings together, it transfigures; it does not create. It is by the way in which he transforms the universe passing into his mind, in order to make a form divined in things shine on a matter, that the artist imprints his mark on his work. For each work, he recomposes, such as into itself at last poetry changes it,[184] a world more real than the real offered to the sense.

Thus there remains for our art -- because the subject in which it inheres is the mind of man -- the law of imitation, of resemblance: but in what a purified sense! It must transpose the secret rules of being in its manner of producing the work, and it must put as much fidelity and exactness into transforming the real according to the laws of the work-to-be-made, as science does in conforming itself to it. What it makes must resemble, not the material appearances of things, but some one of the hidden meanings whose iris God alone sees glittering on the neck of his creatures -- and by that very fact it will also resemble the created mind which in its own manner discerned that invisible color. Resemblance, yes, but a spiritual resemblance. Realism, if you will, but a realism of the super-real.


This divination of the spiritual in the things of sense, and which expresses itself in the things of sense, is precisely what we call POETRY. Metaphysics too pursues a spiritual prey, but in a very different manner, and with a very different formal object. Whereas metaphysics stands in the line of knowledge and of the contemplation of truth, poetry stands in the line of making and of the delight procured by beauty. The difference is an all-important one, and one that it would be harmful to disregard. Metaphysics snatches at the spiritual in an idea, by the most abstract intellection; poetry reaches it in the flesh, by the very point of the sense sharpened through intelligence. Metaphysics enjoys its possession only in the retreats of the eternal regions, while poetry finds its own at every crossroad in the wanderings of the contingent and the singular. The more real than reality which both seek, metaphysics must attain in the nature of things, while it suffices to poetry to touch it in any sign whatsoever. Metaphysics gives chase to essences and definitions, poetry to any flash of existence glittering by the way, and any reflection of an invisible order. Metaphysics isolates mystery in order to know it; poetry, thanks to the balances it constructs, handles and utilizes mystery as an unknown force.

Poetry in this sense -- need it be pointed out? -- is altogether the opposite of LITERATURE, insofar as this word connotes (aIready from the time of Verlaine) a certain deformation of which literary men are the prime victims. Sophistics of art, as difficult to track down as the old sophistics detested by Plato, one can group under this word all the counterfeits of beauty which make the work tell a lie each time the artist prefers himself to the work. This impurity is in our art the wound inflicted by original sin, and our art never ceases to bewail it. For our art is not itself a lie, under the pretext that its truth is not the truth of knowledge. It affirms outwardly the personality of the artist insofar as the artist forgets his personality in his object[185] and in the reality (interior or exterior) which it manifests the while transforming. Literature puts on the work the grimace of personality. It would fain embellish God.

Literature is to art as self-conceit is to the moral life. Poetry, I have said elsewhere, is to art what grace is to the moral life.

Poetry thus understood is clearly no longer the privilege of poets. It forces every lock, lies in wait for you where you least expected it. You can receive the little shock by which it makes its presence known, which suddenly makes the distances recede and unfurls the horizon of the heart, as much when looking at any ordinary thing or cardboard cutout, "silly pictures, panel-friezes, stage-effects, showmen's curtains, sign-boards,"[186] as when contemplating a masterpiece.

The fine arts, however, and the art of the poet himself, being ordered to a transcendental world, are specially designed by nature to bring it into our midst. They aspire to capture it.[188] When they meet poetry, each rejoins the principle of its own spirituality.


I have said that in tending to pure art, our art, while running the risk of suicide because of the inhuman condition into which it enters, tends to draw closer to its principle and to take on a higher consciousness of its spirituality. It is inevitable that at the same time it should become more conscious of its relation to poetry, that it should seek with a more violent and more desperate desire that indefinable something from which the best of its spiritual life proceeds. The search for the absolute purity of art will therefore be at the same time the search for the poetic substance in the pure state. Here, alas, it is not enough to seek, in order to find.

Today art is doing penance; it works itself to death, mortifies and scourges itself like an ascetic bent on destroying himself in order to obtain the grace of the Holy Spirit, and who often remains devoid of that in which a child superabounds. Rimbaud is silent. What was there in the heart of Rimbaud if not this hunger for the poetic absolute,[189] for the pure spirit of poetry, which breathes where it will, without any man knowing whence it comes or whither it goes? A mysticism of light and darkness through which poetry symbolizes the supernatural without penetrating it, mimics it and foretells it all at once, and with which grace can mingle its touches, but which of itself still remains far from the mysticism of the saints, and which, besides, is available both to Heaven and to Hell.

The principal role played by Baudelaire and Rimbaud is to have made modern art pass the frontiers of the spirit. But these are regions of the direst perils, there the weightiest metaphysical problems fall on poetry, there the battle is waged between the good and the bad angels, and the bad angels are disguised as messengers of light.


Art opened its eyes on itself at the time of the Renaissance. It may be said that for the last half-century it has been seized by another fit of introspection, giving rise to a revolution every bit as important. Work such as Picasso's reveals a frightful progress in self-awareness on the part of painting. Its lesson is as instructive for the philosopher as for the artist, and therefore a philosopher may be permitted to say a few words about it from his own point of view.

In order to find a pure expression, freed even of such human interferences and literature as proceed from the pride of the eyes and their acquired knowledge, Picasso expends an heroic will and courageously confronts the unknown; after which painting will have advanced a step in its own mystery. At each moment he brushes against the sin of angelism; at the same heights another man would fall into it. I sometimes think that by dint of subjecting painting to itself alone and to its pure formal laws, he feels it yield under his hand; it is then that he bursts into rage, and seizes anything at all and nails it against a wall -- still with an infallible sensibility. But he always saves himself because he awakens in all that he touches an incomparable poetic substance.

It is because he is pure painter that Picasso meets with poetry: in this he is in line with the Masters, and recalls to us one of their most instructive lessons. As Cocteau has rightly pointed out,[190] Picasso's works do not despise reality, they resemble it, with that spiritual resemblance -- "superreal" resemblance, to use a word very true in itself -- of which I have already spoken. Dictated by a demon or by a good angel -- one hesitates at certain moments to decide which. But not only do things become transfigured in passing from his eye to his hand; at the same time there is divined another mystery: it is the painter's soul and flesh endeavoring to substitute themselves for the objects he paints, to drive out their substance, to enter in and offer themselves under the appearances of those trifling things painted on a canvas, and which live there with another life than their own.

Thus the spiritual virtue of human art, once it has attained to a certain height in its own heaven, perceives that it translates analogously and figuratively the movement of a higher and inaccessible sphere. Rimbaud blasphemed at not being able to gratify that kind of eucharistic passion which he had discovered at the heart of poetry. We cannot tell, for we have difficulty understanding anything spiritual, to what depths -- sometimes in the inverted symbols of sin -- art pursues its analogy with the supernatural. At a certain level of relinquishment and anguish, it awakens impossible desires, and the poor human soul which has confided in it is thrown into a nameless world, as close to, as far away from, the truth as your reflection is from your face in the deep water over which you lean. God alone, Whom it desires without knowing it, could henceforth content it; it has found what it seeks, the thick surface on which to cross, but it needs the help of Omnipotence to take this step.


Poetry (like metaphysics) is spiritual nourishment; but of a savor which has been created and which is insufficient. There is but one eternal nourishment. Unhappy you who think yourselves ambitious, and who whet your appetites for anything less than the three Divine Persons and the humanity of Christ.

It is a mortal error to expect from poetry the supersubstantial nourishment of man.

The search for the absolute, for perfect spiritual liberty, combined with the absence of any metaphysical and religious certitude, has, after Rimbaud, thrown many of our contemporaries into this error. They expect from poetry alone in the midst of a despair whose sometimes tragic reality must not be overlooked -- an improbable solution of the problem of their life, the possibility of an escape towards the superhuman. And yet, Rimbaud had said it, la charité est cette clef -- Charity is the key. Notwithstanding this shining phrase, he remains the great personification of the error of which I am speaking.

Let us follow our scholastic custom and proceed by sharp distinctions. We have seen that we must distinguish three terms: poetry, art, and "literature." I say that in the last analysis Rimbaud's error consists on the one hand in confusing the last two, in condemning as "literature" art properly so called,[191] on the other hand in separating the first two terms, and forcibly transferring poetry from the line of art to the line of morality: which leads to the exact opposite of Wilde's error. Wilde made life a means of poetry; now poetry is being made the means of life (and of death).

As a result, we see men gifted with the sense of poetry load poetry with burdens which are repugnant to its nature, onera importabilia; we see them require a picture, a piece of sculpture, or a poem to "bring about an advance in our abstract knowledge properly so-called,"[192] open the heart to a metaphysic, and reveal to us sanctity. But poetry can do all this only through illusion; and once more we are confronting a mirage: intimidation, and blinding effects, resulting from the intrusion of foreign grandeurs. Thus the most strenuous search for liberation from all literature leads by the force of things to literature still. When anyone perceives this, he will raise havoc with himself. But for a new deception.

As to the order of action and human destiny, what can poetry as regulating moral and spiritual life, poetry to be realized in conduct, introduce into it except counterfeit? Counterfeit of the supernatural and of miracle; of grace and the heroic virtues. Disguised as an angel of counsel it will lead the human soul astray on false mystical ways;[193] its spirituality, diverted from its own path and its own place, will, under the aspect of a wholly secular interior drama, provide a new sequel to the old heresies of the Illuminati. Purity! There is no purity where the flesh is not crucified, no liberty where there is no love. Man is called to supernatural contemplation: to offer him another night is to rob him of his proper possession. A revolution which does not change the heart is a mere turning over of whitened sepulchres.


Poetry is the heaven of working reason. To put forward the misdeeds of the spirit Poetry when it has gone astray as a pretext for refusing to acknowledge its rights in the line of art, to claim to bring it back to mere technique or to amusement or pleasure, would be an unpardonable mistake, and altogether fruitless besides. It is possible that a reaction of the kind "And now let's not budge an inch from nature" may some day take place; I am told that there are already some signs of it in Italy, at any rate as regards painting. Nothing could be more in line with the trend of fashion. If such a reaction, supposing it actually takes place, does not succeed in integrating the spiritual values of current inquiries (as the classical reaction, in France, succeeded in assimilating, at least in part -- a very small part -- the spirit of Ronsard and Marot), it will only be an accident of no importance. One is always severely punished for forgetting the metaphysical transcendence of poetry, and for forgetting that if in the work of Creation the Word was art, the Spirit was poetry. "Because Poetry, my God, it's you."[194]

There were times when art worked in a blessed innocence, convinced that it was only a craft, intended for the service or the amusement of men, and that its function was to paint grapes which would fool the birds, to celebrate military feats, to adorn the council chambers, -- and to instruct and admonish the people. It lived then in a servile state; which does not mean that it was enslaved. It did not deny its nature; it was unaware of itself. Under cover of an admirable misunderstanding, its native nobility and its liberty, not proclaimed in ideas and words, in what is said, were respected in the silence of what is made: protected by its very obligations and by its own humility. Poetry came to visit it in secret; never was it happier, never more fecund.

These times are past and far past; art cannot return to ignorance of itself, cannot abandon the gains won by consciousness. If it succeeds in finding a new spiritual equilibrium, it will be, on the contrary -- in this I think I agree with Valéry -- by still greater self-knowledge.

A parenthesis: there are many references in Art and Scholasticism to the Middle Ages. This is legitimate, because the Middle Ages are relatively the most spiritual period to be found in history, and thus offer us an example very nearly realized -- I do not say without vices and defects -- of the principles which I hold to be true. But time is irreversible, and in this example I wish to seek only an analogy. It is under a mode entirely new, and difficuit to foresee, that these principles have to be realized today (for there are a thousand possible historical realizations, as different as you like, of the same abstract principle). If as a result of our natural tendency to materialize everything, the spiritual analogy slipped over into the material copy, into the imitation of the particular modes of historical realization, it would be the danger of the Middle Ages which would have to be denounced. Whatever admiration I may have for Roman and Gothic architecture, I remember the delight I experienced in St. Peter's in Rome when I saw that Catholicism is not bound even to what I hold dearest. In that great rational light, most appropriate for a religion publicly revealed, even Bernini served to give me evidence of the universality of my faith. And a Grünewald, a Zurbaran, a Greco --what gratitude we owe them for having thrust aside the barriers of extraordinary masterpieces, which threatened to confine the signs of faith.

As for the Renaissance, my position with regard to it has often been misunderstood. There is in this period a certain "intentional virtue" which tends to the worship of man, and which has become the form of the modern world. But it is in the most immaterial order, into which metaphysics and theology alone penetrate, that we discern it, without disregarding on that account all the normal developments which continue in other respects, and which the mishap that occurred in the high places at first only affects in their pure spiritual significance. To observe that there was a moment when beauty, still retaining the fragrance of the virtues and of prayer, began to deviate from its vows and yield to the image of terrestrial love and of a youthful sensuality, is not to calumniate Florence. To remark that the spirituai curve of culture has been declining since the Renaissance is not to desire that the Renaissance be expunged from human history. Parallelogram of forces: there is in the course of events a divine line to which our infidelity adds a more or less pronounced element of deviation, but which Providence does not, for all that, abandon. If Erasmus and his friends[195] had proportioned their means to the end they were pursuing and had realized that reason does not suffice in order for one to be right, above all if there had not been for so long such manifold abuses of grace in Christendom, the Renaissance would not have deviated so far from that line, humanism would not so quickly have proved itself inhuman. The fact remains that God's patience is instructive, and teaches us not to root up, even in desire, crops overrun with cockle.

Every strong civilization imposes exterior constraints on art, because it subjects the whole practical domain to the primacy of the good of man and powerfully orders all things to this good. Enough has been said of the advantages which art, if it wishes, derives from these constraints. And not only art. The pitiable state of the modern world, a mere corpse of the Christian world, makes one desire with particular intensity the re-establishment of a true civilization. If this desire however were to remain ineffectual and universal dissolution were to continue, we would still console ourselves, because, in proportion as the world unmakes itself, we see the things of the spirit gather together there where one is in the world and not of the world. Art and poetry are among these; together with metaphysics and wisdom. The charity of the saints will lead the choir. None of these has any permanent dwelling here below; each lives in some sort of casual shelter, while waiting for time to end. If the Spirit which floated over the waters must now hover over the ruins, what does it matter? It is enough that it comes. What is certain, in any case, is that we are approaching a time when every hope placed lower than the heart of Christ is doomed to disappointment.


Max Jacob thinks that the poetic work which is going on under the eyes of our contemporaries, and of which they are scarcely aware, is preparing the way for a renewal of art as important as the advent of Cimabue and Giotto. Indeed, it may be that such a springtime is being prepared. Our Lord exhorts us to pay attention to the budding of the fig-trees which proclaims that summer is nigh. Great things foretell nothing; it is the little things that foretell the great.

Art, understood formally, asks only to be allowed to develop in history its internal logic, in complete disregard of our human interests. In actual fact, however, that one or the other of the virtualities which struggle in it triumphs at any given moment, results for a large part from material causality or the dispositions of the subject. It may be that art today has proceeded so far into the regions of the spirit, and is involved in such grave metaphysical problems, that it cannot escape a choice of a religious kind. The search for pure art, such as the Symbolists had attempted with such high hopes, is now, for art, entirely a thing of the past; it directs itself towards Christ or towards Antichrist,[196] towards the destruction of faith or towards faith. Do you not see all that it has of desire divide between these two ways,[197] along which it advances divided and a prey to the absolute?

I am not forgetting that by the very nature of things one of these ways is wider and easier than the other. Evil is by nature easy. Because good is a wholeness, whereas evil is a deficiency, and because evil does not act through itself but through the good it preys upon, it takes but a small amount of good to succeed greatly in evil, whereas it takes a great amount of good to succeed but a little in good. It is only in times especially blessed, and in a civilization such as ours is not, that the art of an epoch finds its greatest opportunities in the line of good. But I am not forgetting either that extreme anguish renders God's solicitations more perceptible and the help of the higher virtues more necessary.

That art today should in many opt for the devil is not surprising. But it is on the other hand a fact which anyone can verify that at least in a small number of men of real stature it opts for Christ. Such an impetus will not be easy to stop. From this point of view Léon Bloy and Paul Claudel have particular historical significance. Through them the absolute of the Gospel has entered into the very sap of contemporary art. In the great epochs of earlier times religion safeguarded the dignity of art, which ordinary social life in the human community would gladly compromise into a mere means of amusing or, as Gide says, flattering an aristocracy.[198] Now that religion is no longer recognized by public life, it is incumbent on it to exercise a similar service in the secret and more profound sphere of intellectual life. Religion alone can help the art of our epoch to keep the best of its promises, I do not say by clothing it in a gaudy devotion or by applying it directly to the apostolate, but by putting it in a position to respect its own nature and to take its true place. For it is only in the light of theology that art today can achieve self-knowledge and cure itself of the false systems of metaphysics which plague it. By showing us where moral truth and the genuine supernatural are situate, religion saves poetry from the absurdity of believing itself destined to transform ethics and life, saves it from overweening arrogance. But in teaching man the discernment of immaterial realities and the savor of the spirit, in linking poetry and art itself to God, it protects them against cowardice and seIf-abandonment, enables them to attain a higher and more rigorous idea of their essential spirituality, and to concentrate their inventive activity at the fine point thereof.

It is thus possible to conceive a liberation -- and indeed it began a half-century ago -- of the values of modern art, a renaissance, which the analogy between the operative virtues and the virtues that rule moral life entitles us to call Christian, not only in the properly religious sphere, but in the sphere of artistic creation itself.

Prudence and justice, fortitude and temperance: straightway we would find there the cardinal virtues transposed into the order of the factibile, as features of the work made, for they are the analogical archetypes of the rules of every work of art. But such an art, already living in many works that we admire, would bear the imprint of many other correspondences. It would in its way follow the lesson of the Gospel. It would know the meaning, for a fruit born in the secret of the soul, of humility and poverty, spiritual chastity, obedience, high regard for the works of the Fathers, miracles worked secretly, the concealment of good because of the eyes of men, the passage of light into our midst and its own receiving it not. It would understand with Saint Thomas that intelligence is the sister of mystery; and that it is as foolish to reject mystery because "stupidity is not my forte" as it is to reject intelligence because one has a liking for mystery. It would become close friends of the wisdom of the Saints, would know the value of purity of heart, would learn how love and the seven gifts of the Spirit impose on the works of man a more exalted rule than that of reason. Chaste fear, piety, fortitude, counsel, knowledge, intelligence, wisdom, "what would one say of a work in which he would recognize the traces of these gifts?"[199]

Submission to the conditions of the human state, on which the very existence of the operative virtues in the subject depends, would then -- without diminution or surrender -- harmonize with the movement towards pure art, which follows from the very essence of these virtues once they make contact with beauty -- just as in the Saints a modest and willing submission to the necessities of human nature harmonizes with an audacious movement towards pure spirit. The true equilibrium between the different mental energies which concur in the production of the work will thus be recognized. For if it is true that undeviating practical reason is the formal element of art -- the element, consequently, on which the Schoolmen owed it to themselves to insist most (confirmed in this by the testimony of artists themselves, of a Delacroix no less than a Poussin) -- it is equally true that without the dynamism of the imagination, and of the whole immense night of the animate body, this formal principle would suffice as little for art as a mortal soul is sufficient unto itself without matter. And most ceflainly this vast power of the senses is the more visible. Aristotle told us long ago that the nous is nothing as to mass: and yet it is what matters most.

But if the active point of the soul -- that spiritual instinct in contact with the heaven of the transcendentals -- on which poetry really depends is not moved in us by some special impulse springing from the first Intelligence, reason's measuring will remain paltry, and, being unable to penetrate either the profundities from above or the profundities from below, will prefer not to recognize them. Instead of the dialogue between the soul and the spirit -- spiritus vir animae -- it will be the conflict between the soul and lower reason.[200] However true the observations of Poe and Baudelaire, Wilde and Valéry, on the creative importance of the critical spirit, calculation still lets the most divine element escape; the spirit in us is placed between an obscurity from above, through an excess of transparency, and an obscurity from below, through an excess of opacity. No doubt the soul receives better than the spirit the rays from these two nights; but it is Adam who must judge all the voices that Eve hears. What some vainly seek at the farthest confines of sleep and abandonment to the unconscious, will be found at the farthest confines of vigilance. A vigilance of the spirit, so subtle and so prompt -- prepared by interior silence -- that it will discern at the edge of the shadow all the forms which pass under the starry canopy of the heart. Vigilate et orate: here too the precept is from the Gospel.


Will this new epoch live only in our desires? Everything depends on the births secretly produced in the hearts of a few privileged ones of sorrow and the spirit -- and also, alas, on the general conditions of human life, for every artistic epoch is a function of the whole civilization. what is certain is that an art submissive to the law of grace is something so difficult, requiring such rare equilibriums, that man, even Christian man, and as much of a poet as you like, is incapable of it by himself. It requires the Spirit of God.

We are so stupid -- Saint Thomas says something like this -- that even provided with the infused virtues, theological and moral, we would be certain to miss our salvation if the gifts of this Spirit did not come to the rescue of the feeble government of our reason. Art by itself has no need of such assistance. But the art of which I am speaking here, an art which would truly bear the traces of the seven gifts, must issue from a heart itself stirred by them. Let there be no mistake: by its height and by the obstacles it overcomes and which it presupposes, such an art would require souls completely submissive to God. This does not make things easier.


"There is but one sadness -- not to be of the saints."[201] We are not equal to the task. It is when it is hardest that we are weakest -- is there any weakness worse than the weakness of the men of our time? A weak and unfortunate generation again bears the weight of the future. Must we then give up the struggle?

Consider, says Our Lord, serious-minded people who undertake affairs of state. Which of you, wishing to build a tower, does not first sit down and reckon the expenses and see whether he has the wherewithal to finish it, lest after he has laid the foundation and is not able to finish it, all that see it begin to mock him, saying: this man began to build and was not able to finish? And what king, about to make war on another king, does not first sit down and reckon whether with ten thousand men he will be able to resist an aggressor coming to meet him with twenty thousand?

Which is to say: before beginning to work for God and to fight against the devil, first determine your assets; and if you think yourself well enough equipped to begin, you are a fool, because the tower to be built costs an outrageous price, and the enemy coming to meet you is an angel before whom you hardly count. Understand that you are called to a task which entirely exceeds your forces. Get to know yoursell so well that you will be unable to look at yourself without flinching. Then there will be room for hope. In the sure knowledge that you are "obliged to do the impossible" and that you can do the impossible in Him Who strengthens you, you are then ready for a task which can be accomplished only through the Cross.

I am well aware that many people understand this parable differently. They fear God but they fear more the armies of Satan, and in the end, after everything has been well considered, they arrive at an agreement with the adversary, sending him from afar the deputation of their fears. The safest thing is to leave him the difficult positions, poetry as well as philosophy, and to abandon intelligence to him. They are true Davids, advancing after every risk has been removed.

Others say, and in my opinion more wisely: we know that it is a fearful thing to bear Christ's name before men, and what a paradox a Christian art must realize and what perils accompany the encounter of religion with the restless world of art and the lying world of literature -- and the very eagerness with which grace and despair contend for a whole generation of youth; we know that it is customary among men that the greatest number fail in whatever is difficult, and that thus the eventual spoiling of every enterprise of even a little elevation conforms to the customs of nature. Well! we shall rely upon grace. If our tower should come to a standstill when only half-finished, or if it should happen to fall on our heads, the beginnings perhaps will have been beautiful.

Grace does not exempt the artist from his own labor: it even makes his labor more arduous, for it compels it to carry a heavier substance. Now trees laden with fruit bow down to the ground, but all must not bend under its load.

Nor does grace exempt the believer from human preparations and human effort, aIthough it gives him, and because it gives him, both the will and the actual execution. By ourselves alone we can do nothing, i.e., increase being in any way; but by ourselves alone we can do nothingness, i.e., diminish being. When the First Cause makes use of us as instruments, it is as living and free instruments, acted upon, no doubt, bnt acting also. In the realm of our free acts the First Cause likewise does nothing without us. A moment of which man is master, at the most secret core of the heart, binds and looses eternity.

Mysticism is in fashion, asceticism less so. It is a grave mistake to think that one of these can be separated from the other. We cannot love Love by halves. Our epoch feels itself too forlorn not to cry towards Heaven -- but sometimes as a sick man calls for morphine, not for recovery. Its cowardice creates the fear that it intends to serve two masters -- resting its foolish hope in a radical division of the heart and the metaphysical annihilation of personality; as if the innumerable divisions and dissociations of the psychic structures, however profound our infirmity permits them to be in the whole order of the feelings and involuntary attractions, and of secondary choices, could affect the primitive choice of the will deciding on its ultimate good, and the metaphysical essence of personality. In the end one perceives an abominable counterfeit, the diabolical collusion of mysticism and sin, the Black Mass.

The world from which the Saints formerly fled into the desert was no worse than ours. To describe our time, we need to recall the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. We have returned to the great night of pagan agony, in which man has no longer to cope simply with his own wretched flesh, but with a flesh scourged by the angels of Satan, and in which, for his obsessed imagination, the whole of nature clothes itself in obscene symbols. To keep pity from turning into connivance, love from tuning into despair, in such a worid, it is inadvisable to forget death-to-oneself and all that ensues -- I mean as a condition of a strong life. And in this order of things it is often less tiring to run than to walk.

Nor would it be advisable to wait for infused knowledge instead of acquiring the knowledge which depends on us -- or, what is worse, to scorn knowledge. It must be admitted that in general the youth of today, victims of the inhuman acceleration imposed on life, seem discouraged at the long preparations that intelligence requires. Nevertheless, to neglect the intelligence costs dearly. A reign of the heart which would not presuppose in the heart an absolute will to truth, a Christian renewal which would think that it could do without wisdom and theology, would be suicide in the disguise of love. The age is swarming with fools who disparage reason. First one must deserve the right to speak ill of it. Love goes beyond reason; what remains this side of reason is folly. In ecstasy and near death, Saint Thomas could say of the Summa: "It seems to me as so much straw." He had written it.


The simple-minded idolatry that the majority of artists bestow on their work, which becomes triply sacred once they have produced it, is proof of man's essential creative weakness. God does not adore His works. Nevertheless He knows they are good. He does not cling to them, He lets them be spoiled by man; even the gratuitous marvels of the supernaturai order, charismata, prophecies, miracles, the purest gambols of His poetry, are as fires too beautiful wasted in the night. But there is one good to which He clings: souls, the pasture of His love. Do you think that He weighs man's greatest masterpiece against the smallest amount of charity in a soul? Neither art nor poetry justifies any want of sensitivity towards Him.

Saint Paul says there are things which ought not even to be so much as named among you. This is a saying that is ordinarily misunderstood, for it affirms a ruie, not of conversation, but of conduct, and signifies that morals so pure are required of Christians that they cannot have about them so much as even the shadow or the name alone of certain things.[202] As to designating these things by their name, Saint PauI does so himself immediately. There is nothing which by its nature is forbidden nutriment for art, such as the unclean animals for the Hebrews. From this point of view art can name all things, just as Saint Paul names avarice and lust. But on condition that, in the particular case and in relation to the people[203] it is aiming at and with whom it comes in contact, the work does not stain the mind and the heart. If from this point of view there are things which the artist is neither strong enough nor pure enough to name without conniving with evil, it is better for him and for others that he not name them yet. When he becomes a saint, he will be able to do what he wishes.

If he knew his own good, what thanks the artist would render to morality! In protecting his humanity, morality protects his art in a certain indirect way. For, however beautiful the work may be in other respects, it always betrays in the end, with an infallible craftiness, the blemishes of the work man.[204] No doubt the formal object of art is not subordinate in itself to the formal object of morality. Nevertheless it is not only extrinsically and for the good of the human being that morality can influence the activity of the artist; it also concerns this activity intrinsically -- in the order of material or dispositive causality. For morality is not, as Kant would have it, a world of imperatives descended from the heaven of liberty and alien to the world of being: it is rooted in reality as a whole, of which it manifests a certain category of laws; to ignore morality is to narrow the real and consequently to impoverish the materials of art. An integral realism is possible only for an art responsive to the whole truth of the universe of good and evil -- an art pervaded by the consciousness of grace and sin and the importance of the moment.[205] What is most real in the world escapes the notice of a darkened soui. "Just as one can say nothing about the beauties of sense if one has no eyes to perceive them, so it is with the things of the spirit, if one cannot see how beautiful is the face of justice or temperance, and that neither the morning star nor the evening star is so beautifui. One sees them when one has a soul capable of contemplating them; and in seeing them one experiences a greater delight, surprise and consternation than in the preceding case, because now one is very close to genuine realities."[206] There is but one way of freeing oneself from the law: to become one of the perfect whom the spirit of God moves and leads, and who are no longer under the law, doing through their own inclination what the law commands. As long as a man has not attained this goal -- and when does he attain it? -- as long as he is not through grace one with the rule itseif, he needs, in order to keep himself upright, the restraining rules of morality. He requires this rod. And because the artist expresses and must express himself in his work according as he is -- well then, if he is morally deformed, his art itself, the intellectual virtue which is perhaps what is purest in him, runs the risk of paying the costs of this moral deformity. The conflict is inevitable. One gets out of it as best he can, rather badly than well.

What makes the condition of modern art tragic is that it must be converted if it is to find God again. And from the first conversion to the last, from baptism to the habit of virtue, there is some distance to go. Why should one not note waverings, troubles, danger zones? Those who have the care of souls naturally get frightened at times and use severity. But it is also fitting that they treat kindly the hope of future goods (and that they apply themselves more to strengthening souls and their interior capacities of vital defense, than to protecting from the outside anemic flocks lacking in virtue). If you speak with artists, tell them to make haste while they have the light, and to fear Jesus who passes and does not return. If you speak with the prudent, tell them to be patient with poets and to honor in the heart of man the long-suffering of God. But let them all hate the sniveling beast which hangs about art and poetry, that infinite self-complacency which in so many of the weak, and in so many of the strong too, causes the best gifts to stray, and which changes divine things into a sham fit to fatten fatuity.


Considering the human conditions which it presupposes, and the present plight of hearts, the success of the renewal I am hoping for seems strangely problematical. It is as if a rose wished to blossom not on a dead branch, but on sawdust.

I do not at all pretend to say what will be. I am not trying to know what poets or novelists will do tomorrow. I am merely attempting to indicate how certain profound desires of contemporary art move in the direction of a Christian renaissance. I envisage a possible future -- what could be, what would be if man were not always betraying the deposits entrusted to him. It seems to me, then, that modern poetry, at least where it has not opted for despair, in the order of art proposes the very thing of which Our Lady is forever, in the order of sanctity, the perfect exemplar: to do the ordinary things in a divine way. This is precisely why "il faut être un grand poète pour être un poète moderne," [207] one has to be a great poet to be a modern poet. On emerging from an epoch in which Nietzsche could point to "the general evolution of art in the direction of charlatanry,"[208] modern poetry is making an effort, still clumsily, to respect genuine subordinations, and to practice obedience and sacrifice.[209] After having so diligently sought false purities, it is perhaps on the way to the true. It is beginning to discover the secret significance of goodness and suffering, and that "if the world has indeed, as I have said, been built of sorrow, it has been built by the hands of love," "for the secret of life is suffering. It is what is hidden behind everything."[210] After so much sentimentalism, it wants hard contact with the real, stripped and naked. Now that so much literature and such an initially arrogant confidence in enfranchised reason and the emancipated self have ended in the disintegration manifest in Dadaism and in the free expressions of futurism (that last sigh of the past), modern poetry feels that it is incumbent upon it to reassemble -- to reconcile the powers of imagination and sensibility with the powers of faith, to rediscover "the whole man in the integral and indissoluble unity of his twofold nature,"[211] spiritual and carnal, as also in the intertwining of his terrestrial life and the mystery of the operations of Heaven. Modern poetry foretells "the time of ardent grace";[212] like contemplation, it would anticipate a world transfigured:

Modern poetry is not going to free itself of language or of the work- to-be-made, but it must make transparent these intermediaries of the soul, it must make of matter, by dint of diligent attention and abnegation, a means of transmission that does not twist or mutilate its message. And it is simplicity, as Julien Lanoë has well said,[213] which will give it exactness and access to the profundities. In order to cling to its unalloyed object, it will forget the false search for an ever-trivial and insular originality; a straightforwardness, an instinct of disinterestedness, will disclose to it the mystery of universality.

Then the things of the spirit, what the tongues of men cannot utter, will find a way of expressing themselves. Art will no longer vainly attempt to violate the secret of the heart; the heart will be held in such esteem that of itself it will surrender its secret. What Rimbaud could not accomplish, love will accomplish. Where despair comes to a standstill, humility will proceed on. Where violence must be silent, charity will speak. Art will strew palms on the way of the Lord, to whom a crowd of youthful voices once sang the pious hosanna.


173. Criticism, on the contrary, while drawing its inspiration from philosophical principles -- which is always good, but dangerous -- remains on the level of the work and of the particular, without however being itself operative or making any creative judgment, but rather judging from without and after the event. Wilde, therefore, made a grave mistake in placing the critic above the artist, although he could have invoked the testimony of Plutarch, who says somewhere, if my memory does not fail me: "Who then, given the choice, would not rather enjoy the contemplation of Phidias' works than be Phidias himself?" Cf. above, note 137.

174. Some critics have reproached me in a friendly manner for not having mentioned the Spanish and Jesuit Baroque which they rightly admire. But there are much greater examples, whether of Byzantium or of the Far East, which I have not used either.

175. See also, on related questions, my Réponse à Jean Cocteau (1926) and the essay published in the first Courrier des Iles (1932).

176. John of St. Thomas, Curs. Theol. (Vivès, t. III), q. XV, De Ideis, disp. 1, a, 1, #13. "Many people see perfectly and know some artifact, e.g., a house or a statue; and natural things also are perfectly well known by many people. And yet they do not have the idea of these things, because they are not artisans and still less are they makers of natural things. An idea, on the contrary, is a form that is a making exemplar of the thing known."

177. "For a truth of this kind is one of the boundaries of this world: it is forbidden to take up your abode there. Nothing so pure can coexist with the conditions of life." Paul Valèry, Preface to Lucien Fabre's Connaissance de la Déese (Paris: Société littéraire de France, 1920).

178. All things (like intelligence and art) that touch the transcendental order and consequently find themselves realized in the pure state in God and "by participation" in created subjects involve an antinomy of this kind. In the very measure in which they tend (with a tendency that is inefficacious, but nonetheless real) to the fullness of their essence considered in itself (transcendentally) and in its pure formal line, they tend to go beyond themselves, to exceed the limits of their essence considered in a created subject (with the specific determinations which belong to it there), and at the same stroke to escape from their conditions of existence.

Thus the intellect tends in man, in whom it is reason, to rejoin the perfection of its essence transcendentally understood, and by that very fact to go beyond both its limits as reason and its conditions of existence in the subject. Hence the angelist swoon -- when grace does not intervene to superelevate nature -- into a "pure intellection" which is then a mystical suicide of thought.

179. "'Poetry is Theology,' says Boccaccio in his commentary on the Divina Commedia. Ontology would perhaps be the better word, for poetry inclines above all to the roots of the knowledge of Being." Charles Maurras, Preface to La Musique Intérieure, Paris, B. Grasset, 1925.

180. Cf. Pierre Reverdy, Nord-Sud, Nos. 4, 5, 8, 13.

181. Even those who today draw inspiration from Rimbaud do not so much continue his poetry in the line of art as transpose it into the line of moral life and action. The influence of Lautréamont, which here mingles with that of Rimbaud, likewise concerns the sphere of moral and metaphysical life more than the sphere of art. Apropos Chants de Maldoror, it is not without profit to observe that Léon Bloy, as long ago as 1887, proclaimed in Le Desespéré (Paris: G. Crès et Cie, 1913) the historic importance of these "good tidings of damnation," noting in them "one of the least ambiguous signs that the modern generation had been brought to bay at the extremity of everything." It is Bloy who has spoken of Lautréamont in the profoundest manner (in an article written in 189O and reprinted in Belluaires et Porchers.)

182. Cf. St. Thomas, Summa theol., I, 19, 1, ad 3.

183. Paul Claudel, "Introd. à un poème sur Dante," Correspondant, September 10, 1921.

184. This sentence is borrowed from a line of the French poet Mallarmé: "tel qu'en lui-même enfin l'éternité le change" (such as into himself at last eternity changes him). [Translator's note.]

185. The phrase submissiveness to the object, which is very clear as far as science is concerned, easily becomes obscure in reference to art. For the formal object of art is not a thing to which to conform, but a thing to be formed. To say that art must be submissive to the object is therefore to say that it must be submissive to the object to be made as such or to the right rules of operation thanks to which this object will truly be what it ought to be. (Academicism with its recipes, pseudo-classicism with its clichés and its mythology, Wagnerism with its worship of effect, all fail in this submissiveness.)

Materially speaking -- that is, if one no longer considers the formal object of art but its material object, or that reality an image of which it causes to enter the work -- submissiveness to such an object will have to be understood in a thousand different ways, and according precisely to the formal object of the artist in each particular case. In the case of the novel it is fair to reproach Flaubert -- with Cocteau -- for his style as starting-point, or -- with Ghéon -- for indifference to the subject. In the case of the prose poem such as Max Jacob has defined it, it is, on the contrary, the very construction of the poem that constitutes the whole object of the art, and the subject must intervene only in a wholly indirect and material manner.

186. Arthur Rimbaud, Une saison en enfer (Paris: Br. Poot et Cie, 1914).

187. Apollinaire, "Zone," Alcools (Paris: Mercure de France, 1913).

188. "In order therefore to simplify things, let us call this fluid 'poetry,' and 'art' the more or less felicitous exercise by which one domesticates it." Jean Cocteau, Le Rappel à l'Ordre ("Le Secret Professionel").

189. I am by no means thinking here of the pursuit of pure poetry in Mallarmé's sense, of poetry that would be pure art, and which "would result, by a kind of exhaustion, from the progressive suppression of the prosaic elements of a poem." (Paul Valéry, in Frédéric Lefèvre, Entretiens avec Paul Valéry, Paris, La Livre, 1926.) I am thinking rather of the pursuit of the poetic spirit in the pure state, that is to say, of something altogether different and ever so much more profound, a whole metaphysical region to be explored.

190. Jean Cocteau, Le Rappel à l'Ordre ("Le Secret Professionel"; "Picasso"). Cf. Pierre Reverdy, Pablo Picasso (Paris: N.R.F., 1924).

191. Art begins with intelligence and free choice. The spontaneous welling up of images, without which there is no poetry, precedes and nourishes the activity of the poet; and doubtless -- it is good to insist on this -- this welling up is never the result of premeditation and calculation. Even when the mind, by the highest point of an in some way supra-conscious emotion, solicits it and orientates it, the mind receives it as it were passively, suffering this flow of images, feelings and words which are discharged into it. But the mind does so in order that it may control this flow, stop the passing gifts thus sent, accept them freely or choose among them, in a word, pass judgment on them.

192. André Breton, Les Pas perdus (Paris: N.R.F., 1924).

193. Demonologists know well that every passive state into which a man puts himself is a door open to the devil.

194. Jean Cocteau, Orphée (Paris: Delamain, 1926).

195. More's martyrdom does not exempt them all from this reproach. But if More was the object of a special grace, it may also be that he had always looked at things in a higher light. Cf. Daniel Sargent's Thomas More (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1933).

196. The unconcealed and palpable influence of the devil on an important part of contemporary literature is one of the significant phenomena of the history of our time. Léon Bloy imagined a moment when "the true Beelzebub" woald make his entrance and, parodying Hugo, declare, "in a voice that would imply magistracy of the lower depths": Gentlemen, you are every one of you possessed. It is already time, in any case, to call the attention of exorcists to cases of demonic possession in literature, assuredly one of the most grimacing species of possessed.

[In an essay on "The Modern Mind" (The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism, London, Faber and Faber, 1933), T. S. Eliot observes that the question to which attention is called in this note may seem impertinent but deserves to be raised; and he even promises us to study it some day: "With the influence of the devil on contemporary literature I shall be concerned in more detail in another book." There's a book that we shall read with exceptional interest! (1935).]

197. Cf. Raïssa Maritain, Le Prince de ce Monde. Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1932.

198. The history of the theatre offers a particularly striking example of this, as Henri Ghéon observed in his lectures at Vieux-Colombier, and also Gaston Baty in his book Le Masque et L'Encensoir; introduction à une esthétique du théâtre (Paris: Bloud & Gay, 1926).

199. Max Jacob, Art poétique, Paris, 1922.

200. Cf. Paul Claudel, "Réflexions et Propositions sur le vers français, Parabole d'Animus et d'Anima," Nouv. Rev. Franc., October and November, 1925 (reprinted in Positions et Propositions, Paris, Gallimard, 1928); Claudel explained this fable and limited its meaning in a letter to Father de Tonquédec (Etudes, October 20, 1926). Strictly speaking, it is scarcely defensible except when related to the particular case of the conflict between the soul and lower reason engaged in the tumult and traffickings of the world.

On poetic inspiration, see also Art and Schotasticism, note 143. -- In a very remarkable passage T. S. Eliot writes: "To me it seems that at these moments, which are characterized by the sudden lifting of the burden of anxiety and fear which presses upon our daily life so steadily that we are unaware of it, what happens is something negative: that is to say, not 'inspiration' as we commonly think of it, but the breaking down of strong habitual barriers --which tend to reform very quickiy. Some obstruction is momentarily whisked away. The accompanying feeling is less like what we know as positive pleasure, than a sudden relief from an intolerable burden. I agree with Brémond, and perhaps go even further, in finding that this disturbance of our quotidian character which results in an incantation, an outburst of words which we hardly recognize as our own (because of the effortlessness), is a very different thing from mystical illumination. The latter is a vision which may be accompanied by the realisation that you will never be able to communicate it to anyone else, or even by the realisation that when it is past you will not be able to recall it to yourself; the former is not a vision but a motion terminating in an arrangement of words on paper." (T. S. Eliot, The Use oJ Poetry and the Use of Criticism, pp. 144-145.) The fact remains that the question of knowing from whence, or from whom, this breaking down of barriers derives continues to exist. A new sense can be given to Plato's statements in the Ion and the Phaedrus; they nevertheless remain valid.

201. Léon Bloy, La Femme Pauvre, Paris, Mercure de France, 1921 (first published 1897).

202. Ephes., V, 3.

203. In practice, printing and the modern processes of distribution, by jumbling the diversity of publics more and more into the same amorphous mass, run the risk of rendering almost insoluble a problem already singularly difficult.

204. "When one looks on the man one judges the work, when one looks on the work one judges the man. Imagine, if one of them is good, what the other could be." Pierre Reverdy, Self Defense: Critique -- Esthétique, [Paris], 1919, p. [17].

205. Cf. Henri Massis, "Littérature et Catholicisme," Réflexions sur l'art du Roman, Paris, Plon, 1926.

206. Plotinus, Enneads, I, 4.

207. Max Jacob, Art poétique, Paris, 1922.

208. Nietzsche. Le cas Wagner (Paris: Mercure de France, 1914).

209. "Saint Theresa of Lisieux says: 'To all the ecstasies I prefer sacrifice.' Poets should have these words tattooed on their hearts." Jean Cocteau, Lettre à Jacques Maritain (Paris: Delamain, 1926).

210. Oscar Wilde, De Profundis (New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 19O9), pp 57, 35.

211. Paul Claudel, "Lettre à Alexandre Cingria sur la décadence de l'art sacré," Revue des Jeunes, August 25, 1919.

212. Guillaume Apollinaire, "Les Collines" (Calligrammes). Apollinaire also said:

213. Julien Lanoë, "Trois siècles de littérature," La Ligne de Coeur, June 25, 1926.

214. Raïssa Maritain, La Vie donnée, Paris, Labergerie, 1935.

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