Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Prescience of an Immanent Destiny

The 'eternal act' by which the universe subsists can only be thought of by us as process continually renewed; and although, to the synoptic view, the end cannot be separated from the beginning, as it is to the finite individual within the process, the type of experience suggested is not one in which the stages are viewed side by side as in a fixed picture, but one in which the whole is felt in every part, and every part is real as an element in the whole.

Hence it is, I think, that the analogy of a work of art—a great drama or story—often seems to bring us nearest to what we feel must be the truth. For here, too, there is no such thing as a detached event, a mere present. In a great tragedy everything that happens is organic to the whole; the action which passes on the stage at any moment depends for its significance on all that has gone before, and we forefeel in it the future issues which are being decided. When we read or witness a play for the first time, and the course of the action is unknown to us, this sense of the solidarity of the whole, the prescience of an immanent destiny working itself out in individual scenes—in a word or a glance—naturally grows as we proceed, and reaches its maximum of intensity as we approach the close. The infinite pathos of Othello is all uttered in the parting cry, 'No way but this'. But in the case of Greek tragedy, where the legendary basis was familiar to the spectators, or in the case of any modern masterpiece where the end and the outline of the plot are known to us beforehand, this perception of the meaning of the whole as articulated in the individual incidents is present to the reader or the spectator of the piece from the very outset. And the same thing is true when we hear the opening chords of a well-known symphony; we hear them not as single chords but as elements in a great musical structure, prophetic, as it were, of all the thought and emotion that is to follow. The former case, where the End is gradually disclosed to us—divined by us—as we proceed, represents our human, finite attitude towards the future; the second, which may be supposed to reproduce that of the original poet or composer, is perhaps the nearest analogue we have to the divine apprehension of the temporal.

Andrew Seth Pringle-Pattison, The Idea of God in the Light of Recent Philosophy, Lecture 18.

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