Friday, 1 April 2016

A novel in which the ego is the hero

Theseus and the Minotaur

Below is a typically profound passage from Santayana. He says we cannot be scientific about our own thought processes and he is right. Worth dwelling on in a world obsessed with narratives.

Philosophy fell into the same snare when in modern times it ceased to be the art of thinking and tried to become that impossible thing, the science of thought.

Thought can be found only by being enacted. I may therefore guide my thoughts according to some prudent rule, and appeal as often as I like to experience for a new starting-point or a controlling perception in my thinking; but I cannot by any possibility make experience or mental discourse at large the object of investigation: it is invisible, it is past, it is nowhere. I can only surmise what it might have been, and rehearse it imaginatively in my own fancy. It is an object of literary psychology.

The whole of British and German philosophy is only literature. In its deepest reaches it simply appeals to what a man says to himself when he surveys his adventures, re-pictures his perspectives, analyses his curious ideas, guesses at their origin, and imagines the varied experience which he would like to possess, cumulative and dramatically unified.

The universe is a novel of which the ego is the hero; and the sweep of the fiction (when the ego is learned and omnivorous) does not contradict its poetic essence. The composition is perhaps pedantic, or jejune, or overloaded; but on the other hand it is sometimes most honest and appealing, like the autobiography of a saint; and taken as the confessions of a romantic scepticism trying to shake itself loose from the harness of convention and of words, it may have a great dramatic interest and profundity. But not one term, not one conclusion in it has the least scientific value, and it is only when this philosophy is good literature that it is good for anything.

George Santayana - Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923)


Demetrius said...

When I read Freud, I rather went off all the ego thing. I went off Skinner as well. See you in the public bar.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - I like the idea, although I'm sure I'd like it better if I'd thought of it first.

James Higham said...

Which means we're living one long Mary-Sue novel.

A K Haart said...

James - I hope not.