Saturday, May 21, 2011

Notes from Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers (5-7)

Trying to add a few more chapters to this today. 'Starting with 5-7, and I will update the title as more are added. Again, the purpose of these notes is not to restate Sayers' brilliant writing. It's just to help me find certain statements later when I need them. Since some of my friends also love this book, I thought I'd share the love.


Writers face a dilemma. How much free will should we give our characters? All characters will express their maker’s mind to an extent, but if they do this in identical ways, the piece will become flat. “At this point we begin to see faintly the necessity for some kind of free will among the creatures of a perfect creation, but our metaphor now becomes very difficult to apply, since it appears obvious that the characters invented by a human writer are helpless puppets, bound to obey his will at every point, whether for good or evil.” (63)

Sayers makes an analogy to procreation. The parent has influence, however a child has free will. The child is not an “automaton.” (63) She sees stories about creatures like robots and Frankenstein as manifestations of this desire to control offspring.

Writing for the stage is a vibrant art form because “the free will of the actor is incorporated into the written character.” This can be maddening, if the art is done poorly. However, “To hear an intelligent and sympathetic actor infusing one’s own lines with his creative individuality is one of the most profound satisfactions that any imaginative writer can enjoy; more — there is an intimately moving delight in watching the actor’s mind at work to deal rightly with a difficult interpretation, for there is in all this a joy of communication and an exchange of power. Within the limits of this human experience, the playwright has achieved that complex end of man’s desire — the creation of a living thing with a mind and will of its own.” (64-65)

It’s vital to respect the medium, however. Don’t force dialogue into a drama that is too literary/labored, for example. “The business of the creator is not to escape from his material medium or to bully it, but to serve it; but to serve it he must love it. If he does so, he will realize that its service is perfect freedom.” (66) Sayers refers to this as “the law of kind”. (66)

Sayers says this is freedom is not identical to what a child has in refusing the control of his parents. However, if the author doesn’t allow his characters to develop according to “their proper nature, they will cease to be true and living creatures.” (67)

However, Sayers rejects the idea that the author is passive, “’spirit-hand’ for the characters.” She feels that this method is a myth, and that writers who do this don’t usually write very good books. Craftsmanship is important. However, a “genuinely created character” still has a certain amount of free will. And this is inconvenient when the plot requires behavior from a character that he/she cannot realistically perform without destruction. (Either because of an unsuitable plot or because of unsuitable characters for that plot.) At this point, lesser writers give in to the temptation to force the plot. (68)

Another “forcible deformation” happens when the character develops away from it’s role within the plot. (69) Micawber is an example of this.

Certain authors stick to the characters, and let them guide the plot. The consequence will be a lack of coherence and unity. J.D. Beresford talks about this struggle in Writing Aloud (70)

Sayers (referencing Beresford) discusses the negative effects of creating a “character looking for a situation to exploit,” and she contrasts this with the efficiency of plot-founded characters. (70-71)

“The thing that emerges very clearly is a disruption within the writer’s trinity: his Energy was not subdued to the Idea — or else merely revealed in its workign the absence of any really powerful idea to control it — and the consequence is a judgment of chaos.” (73)

Sayers shares Chesterton’s example of Dickens doing this with Boffin. He wanted to take another turn with the character, but space didn’t allow it. So he yanked his behavior back to an explanation of trickery. (73-74)

Sayers posits: “...if the characters and the situation are rightly conceived together, as integral parts of the same unity, then there will be no ned to force them to the right solution of that situation. If each is allowed to develop in conformity with its proper nature, all will arrive of their own accord at a point of unity, which will be the same unity that preexisted in the original idea” (75)

And then transferring to pre-will/predestination language: “... Neither predestination nor free will is everything, but if the will acts freely in accordance with its true nature, it achieves by grace and not by judgment the eternal will of its maker, though possibly by a process unlike, and longer than, that which might have been imposed upon it by force.” (75)

How Sayers sees this principle transferring to the writing of her book Gaudy Night: “it was not until my reader pointed it out to me that I understood the incident to have been, in actual fact, predestined— that is, that plot and character, each running tru to its nature, had inevitably united to bring the thing about.” (77)

The writer, of course, can dominate, “He can, in fact, behave exactly as, in our more egotistical and unenlightened petitions, we try to persuade God to behave. Whether we mock at miracles or demand miracles, this is the kind of miracle we usually mean. We mean that the judgment of natural law is to be abrogated by some power extraneous to the persons and circumstances.” (78) Sayers is not convinced that it’s desirable to ask God to do miracles, because of the negative results she has seen in writers who attempt this. It makes “bad art,” she argues. (79)

“nec deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus.” (Nor let God intervene unless the difficulty be worthy of his hand.” (82)

“The agents of the miraculous which which the novelist has at his command are, roughly speaking, conversion and coincidence; either a character or a situation is abruptly changed, not by anything developing out of the essentials of the story, but by the personal divine intervention of the creator. Yet it will not altogether do to say that neither conversion nor coincidence is ever permissible in condition, that is, that they are an integral part of the Idea. If it is a story about a coincidence or about a conversion, then the Energy that introduces them will be performing the will of the Idea, and the Power will proceed from that unity of purpose. This amounts to saying that, under these circumstances, the will of the creator becoms a character in the story; just as, theologically, all miracles depend on the assumption that God is a character in history. But even so, it is necessary that God should act in conformity with His own character. The study of our analogy will lead us perhaps to believe that God will be chary of indulging in irrelevant miracle, and will use it only when it is an integral part of the story. He will not, any more than a good writer, convert His characters without preparing the way for their conversion, and His interferences with space-time will be conditioned by some kind of relationship of power between will and matter.” (82-83)

A comparison is made to this principle and Christ staying on the cross. (83) Bringing the story back (via the more powerful route of grace) fulfills the demands of judgment, “so that the law of nature is not destroyed but fulfilled.” (83)


"The mind of the maker is generally revealed, an in a manner incarnate, in all its creation. The works, severally and jointly, are manifestations within space-rime of the Energy and instinct with the Power of the Idea."... "The personality of the creator is expressed partially, piecemeal, and as it were impersonally or through created persons." (87)

Sayers says this analogy applies to God as Creator, however, we must not push it too far. Still, it is useful. (87)

Sayers then goes on to define some principles relevant to the autobiography:

1.) "The first thing we have to notice about this is that the body is created exactly like all the rest of the author's creations and suffers exactly the same limitations." However, "It appears with a double nature, 'divine and human'; the whole story is contained within the mind of its maker, but the mind of the maker is also imprisoned within the story and cannot escape from it. It is 'altogether God,' in that it is sole arbiter of the form the story is to take, and yet 'altogether man,' in that, having created the form, it is bound to display itself in conformity with the nature of that form. (88)

2.) ..."the autobiography is at once and the same time a single element in the series of the writer's created works and an interpretation of the whole series." (89)... "The personal revelation is unique: a writer cannot give us two autobiographies -- that is, he cannot display himself as two ersons with two different lives; any further revelations will be by the way of imaginative creation." (89) {Sayers goes on to make her "if clams could think of God" point.} (90)

3.) ... "though the autobiography 'is' the author in a sense in which his other works are not, it can never be the whole of the author." (90) "This does not mean that the revelation is not perfect; it is, as the phrase goes, 'perfect of its kind'; but the kind itself is capable only of so much and no more. (91)

4.) the autobiography, "is an infallible self-betrayal. The truth about the writer's personality will out, in spit of itself; any illusions which he may entertain about himself become fearfully apparent the moment he begins to handle himself as a created character, subject to the nation of his own art. As in every other work of creation, insincerity issues in false art." (91)

"The truth of what he says about himself is tested by the truth of the form in which he says it." (91)

Why it's OK to be tough on autobiographies, and other things: because truth will withstand scrutiny. Writing one is dangerous business, and no one (except God) can pass through unscathed.

"Pious worshipers, whether of mortal or immoral artists, do their deities little honor by treating their incarnations as something too sacred for rough handling; they only succeed in betraying a fear lest the structure should prove flimsy or false." (92)


Sayers discusses the sticky question of whether or not God made the devil/evil. (95)

1.) The Manichean answer: The good God did not make evil and is not omnipotent." Instead, there are two forces in the world that are always warning: (a.) God=Light and Good and (b.) Archon=Darkness and Matter. She goes on to explain the weird details of this view. Then she says that this view does account for mankind being both good and evil, "but not for the existence of Evil itself." (96)

2.) "Evil has no positive existence, but is only a deprivation of Good." (96)

(#2 versus #3)

3.) The Buddhist view that "supreme good is the attainment of Nothingness." (97)

4.) The view that the "Godhead is neither good not evil, but beyond good and evil." (97)

Sayers talks about how she isn't referring to moral evil. She is talking about a cosmic world where Evil "is part of the nature of things" for the human maker. (97) Good and evil are "the medium with which he works."

"For him engaged in his creative act, 'good' is good craftsmanship, 'beauty' is artistic beauty, and 'truth' is structural truth." (97)

Sayers discusses Berdyaev's arguments about the somethingness of nothingness, and how that relates to evil. (98-99)

Sayers discusses the role of time. She wonders if Activity and Time are so intertwined, it might be beneficial, "to consider Time as a part of creation." Or that it is associated with the Activity -- with the Son. (100)

"What I want to suggest is that Being (simply by being) creates Not-Being, not merely contemporaneously in the world of Space, but also in the whole extent of Time behind it." (100) "[d]arkness is not darkness until light has made the concept of darkness possible." (101)

Sayers discusses how the making of Hamlet made Not-Hamlet. (101)

How this relates to evil: "First: the reality of Evil is contingent upon the reality of Good; and secondly: the Good, by merely occurring, automatically and inevitably creates its corresponding Evil. In this sense, therefore, God, Creator of all things, creates Evil as well as Good, because the creation of a category of Good necessarily creates a category of Not-Good." Sayers argues, therefore, that God transcends good and evil. (102) [Not sure I agree, BTW.]

Sayers discusses the differences between Not-Hamlet and Anti-Hamlet. The involvement of the will, etc. In this case, no longer is the "not" neutral or negative, but something that exists in the positive (not 'positive' good, but 'positive' active). (102)

"But men, not being pure intelligences, but created within a space-time framework, could not 'know' Evil as Not-Being -- they could 'know' it only by experience; that is, by associating their wills with it and so calling it into active Being." (103) (Sayers goes on to explain the difference between Evil known by intelligence v. experience.)

In writing a poem, a writer chooses the right word. "The very act of choosing that one 'right' word, automatically and necessarily makes every other word in the dictionary a 'wrong' word." (103) She says the poet creates this rightness and wrongness.

Sayers talks about the evils of:
misquotation ("from carelessness or bad memory")
misinterpertration ("from lack of understanding")
distortion ("from a perverted intention") (105)

"they all arise from the circumstance that the other person is not God and is trying to be 'as God.'" (105)

David Garrick's evil in rewriting Hamlet (106)

We mustn't pretend that Garrick didn't exist. Likewise, "[w]e must not, that is, try to behave as though the Fall had never occurred nor yet say that the Fall was a Good Thing in itself. But we may redeem the Fall by a creative act." She believes God worked redemptively, and that we should also. (107)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting these notes! I know this was a while ago... but I'm reading Mind of the Maker now, and I after working through Chapter 7 today (very slowly!), I remembered that you had posted these. Super helpful! :)

    I'm enjoying the book, but it's quite a challenge sometimes. I can't remember the last time I underlined and scribbled in a book so much! At least that's a good thing.