David Lindsay: Lindsay's Art

Those who wonder at what Lindsay was trying to achieve in his literature would do well to read Peter's Art, chapter XI of
Devil's Tor.
Helga Fleming questions Peter Copping, a painter and her daughter's fiancé, "concerning the symbolism he was always
after. She wished to hear whether, in trying to express the invisible by the visible, he was dissatisfied with the sham of
outward things? . . ."

In the ensuing conversation Lindsay has Peter say:
"No, outsides should be true enough. Only, what every painter worth his salt is trying to present - probably without knowing it
- is neither beauty, nor life, nor truth . . ."
". . . But
the whole universe - at one stroke. By means necessarily of action. That is symbolism in a nutshell. Nothing exists
apart, but only the universe exists . . ."

This is what Lindsay is trying to present -
the whole universe - and the whole universe includes the artist and the work, so
his works display figures representing them. In Devil's Tor  the mountaineers Drapier and Saltfleet, the archaeologist
Arsinal, the old man Colbourne and of course the artist Peter all speak for Lindsay, with mountains, Arsinal's great work,
Colbourne's books and Peter's art figuring for the work. Lindsay goes on to make Peter say:

"I don't call it work, to stand before a canvas furiously tracing the wrong road. One of the most energetic men of my
acquaintance does allegory after allegory, while I do nothing; and still I am advancing, and he is not . . . Allegories! The
symbol and the allegory. Yet there remain quite well-educated persons who definitely don't know one from the other. A
symbol is a mystic sign of the creator. An allegory is a wall decoration with a label attached; . . ."
" . . . It's all either voluptuousness or flattery or deliberate mystification. It explains nothing of the universe . . . A picture
should be passionate,"

Lindsay is passionate. . . He continues describing the lesser art:

" . . . . Our nerves are first soothed, then lulled, then numbed . . . ."

" . . . . We stand in front of some reputed first-magnitude picture . . ."

" . . .and the more completely we enter into its spirit - the more we find ourselves in the process of rising admiration - so also
the more steadily tranquilised we become. . . "

Later on . . .
" Symbolism doesn't want to fill the equivalent of a snapshot album. A symbolic picture is not to be less, but more important
than the beholder. It is to grip him
roughly, {my emphasis} and not send him to sleep or set him dreaming of happier days,
but transform his life for him."

Magnus Colbourne, Helga's uncle
owner of the house they are in, was a writer in his youth: He ". . . had written books that
few had read and none had liked." and he says,
"There is assumed to be an intelligent public that interests itself in cosmical problems. It seems, however, that hitherto it has
failed to hear of my books; at least it hasn't bought them." (
Devil's Tor chapter IX The Glory ): We read, of Ragnar Pole, in
the opening pages of
The Witch:

"He felt that his condition was abnormal, the inevitable result of these absurd embarkations upon major works of literary
imagination. Some devil was in it that he should write his books, read by few, comprehended by fewer, wanted by none!"

Lindsay is telling you, if you are in sympathy with him, to read carefully.

When the other characters have ceased discussing Peter's art,
". . . . old Colbourne began to the guest quietly enough: 'In art, as in life generally, there are some who employ costly and
elaborate aparatus for the catching of sprats, and others who elect to angle with a slender rod for whales. The first-named,
however superior they may be in sense and easy talent, will still by reason of their menial lack of ambition get nowhere;
since he who thinks commonly must remain common to the last of his days, whereas of the passion for exploits only can
anything be made. The second-named, despite their certain folly in so absurdly miscalculating the displacement of their
haul, are yet the ones whom a rational man will desire to serve, if serve either he must. Vices of character are irreparable,
but the judgement may at last be made a useful instrument by the repeated hard knocks of experience - by the lessons of
other people's experience, if the subject be wise to attend in time.
'You, I conceive are angling for a whale. You wish to paint such pictures as have never yet been painted.' " -
Peters Art.

Lindsay's aim was to write such books as had never yet been written.

The whole universe at one stroke.

This is why there are so often deaths at the ends of his books, but also glimpses of afterlife.

For Lindsay 'the other world' is a vital and urgent reality; this is not a literary affectation, but part of his personal experience.
C.S. Lewis,
George MacDonald, Charles Williams and J.R.R. Tolkien are the same, and the attitude is not as rare or foolish
as some prefer to pretend. When people have difficulty with Lindsay, it is sometimes because they can't quite grasp that
he
really means it
.

"I am not a parson in paint. I don't care whether the public is moral or immoral, nor much whether it is theistic or atheistic - I
simply want people to understand by means of my pictures that this world that they are in isn't at all what it seems to them
but something infinitely more significant." - Peter Copping in
Peter's Art.

Lindsay does not give readers what they want, nor what they need, and he does not care if he is misunderstood. -
"I fear my conscience does not embrace fools. . . ." - Magnus Colbourne in
The Glory, chapter IX of Devil's Tor.

His service is to the Soul by Literature not to someone who has done nothing more than to buy his book.

In the second chapter of
The Witch he says of Ragnar's friend Felix Wayland, editor of a struggling literary journal called
Memnon:

"For Ragnar Felix was not now the busy editor, the man for whom a working day of sixteen hours was all too short . . ." ". . .
He was that other Felix Wayland who, mournfully beholding a general iniquity in the commonwealth of books, became
neither womanishly angry nor foolishly cynical, but had set himself with the wholly inadequate weapon now breaking in his
hand, to fight the three-headed Cerberus of mercenariness, vainglory and counterfeiting, in order to recover the magic
purity of true writing for the sons and daughters of men, now groping in the darkness towards the precipice.

"Ragnar knew what the name
Memnon signified. The collossal Theban statue called Memnon - that, in fact, of the Egyptian
King Amenophis - of black stone, gave forth when struck by the first rays of the rising sun a sound like the snapping
asunder of a chord. And so Felix's principle was that a true book, being quickened by the ray of pure intelligence in the
reader, must display its authenticity by the repeated sounding within the soul of  a sudden note, like sharp music. And such
books, that need not be the best written, or the most immediate transcript of actual life, were those which could permanently
expand and ennoble the spirit of man, whereas the other sort were like a cargo of corpses.'

A true book is not written for money or self satisfaction or fame but in order to express
that which cannot otherwise be
expressed
. And it can not be said to have failed if even one person has understood one thing from it that has not been said
elsewhere, whereas those that lack meaningful innovation only carry scavenged carrion remains of earlier true works. He is
climbing the mountain, not because it is there, but because it matters.

In
A Voyage to Arcturus chapter VII Panawe, Panawe tells a story which includes his meeting with the 'sorcerer' Slofork. This
is some of the conversation:

" 'What is greater than Pleasure?' he asked suddenly.

" 'Pain' I replied, 'For Pain drives out Pleasure.'

" 'What is greater than Pain?' "

". . . . . .'Love. Because we will accept our loved one's share of pain.'

" 'But what is greater than Love?' he persisted.

" 'Nothing, Slofork.'

" 'And what is Nothing?'

" 'That you must tell me.'

" 'Tell you I will. This is Shaping's world. He that is a good child here, knows pleasure, pain and love, and gets his rewards.
But there is another world - not Shaping's - and there all this is unknown, and another order of things reigns. That world we
call Nothing - but it is not Nothing but Something.'

" There was a pause.

" 'I have heard,' said I, 'that you are good at growing and un-growing organs?'

" 'That's not enough for me. Every organ tells me the same story. I want to hear different stories.'

" 'Is it true what men say, that your wisdom flows and ebbs in pulses?'

" 'Quite true,' replied Slofork. 'But those you had it from did not add that they have always mistaken the flow for the ebb.' "


One value of having figures for the work in the work is that Lindsay can tell you what he is doing, how he thinks you should
read it and how he thinks you shouldn't read it.

In
Sphinx (1923) Cabot and his dream recording experiments feature for writer and writing as do Lore Jensen, the
composer, and her composition 'Sphinx'. Cabot hears the piece played in the second chapter:

"It was what used to be called a 'tone-poem', a work built round a single central idea. Evelyn evidently found its freshness
attractive, for she played it with far greater sympathy and feeling than either of the Chopin pieces. . ." ". . .It was quite short,
in length a mere trifle, but after the first minute Nicholas grew interested and impressed. The opening was calm, measured
and drowsy. One could almost see the burning sand of the desert and feel the enervating sunshine. By degrees the theme
became more troubled and passionate, quietly in the beginning, but with a gradually rising storm - not physical, but of
emotion - until everything was like an unsteady sea of menace and terror. Towards the end, crashing dissonances
appeared, but just when he was expecting the conventional climax to come, all the theme threads united in a sudden
quietening, which almost at once took shape as an indubitable question. It could then be seen that all that had gone before
had been leading the way to this question, and that what had appeared simple and understandable had really been nothing
of the sort, but, on the contrary, something mysterious and profound. . . . Half a dozen tranquil and beautiful bars brought
the little piece to a conclusion. . . ." - from
A Family Gathering , Chapter II of Sphinx.

This is, of course, a description of the structure and moods of the book. Evelyn who is playing and who also experiences
Cabot's dream recordings is figuring for the reader.

He uses the playing of music elsewhere: From the opening of
The Witch :

". . . . Surely she was playing with a strangely daring sympathy of understanding and passionateness of heart. . ." ". . .Truly
she was a translator."

"Addriene discriminated that Cecilie Toller seemed less concerned to interpret the piece she of course interpreted very well,
than to interrogate the composer's soul as she went along, . . .'

It is, for me, an exhortation to read the book as if first learning, then performing a difficult piece of music : Passages that
appear trivial or extravagant or just clumsy when first encountered gradually gain significance and beauty, so that, as your
awareness of the
whole work advances, you come to see that what you took for the ebb was, in fact, the flow.

If you want to know more about David Lindsay and his work you can visit
The Violet Apple,
Murray Ewing's excellent site dedicated to the author and his work.

David Lindsay (March 3, 1876 – July 16, 1945) is an under-acknowledged, true genius of English Literature.