Principles of Nature: towards a new visual language
Principles of Nature: towards a new visual language
© copyright 2003-2015 Wayne Roberts. All rights reserved.

Some pertinent insights of Raymond Williams (1921-1988) —linguist and literary critic

This section is reproduced from my book (W. Roberts, 2003, p.82-83), edited and reformatted for the web.


Raymond Williams has looked not only at biological aspects of mind and perception in relation to the notions of creativity and art, but also historical, cultural and semantic influences. Williams , in his book The Long Revolution (R. Williams, 1961, [1971 edn.], p.36), convincingly shows that:

The new facts about perception make it impossible for us to assume that there is any reality experienced by man into which man's own observations and interpretations do not enter. . . . Yet equally, the facts of perception in no way lead us to a late form of idealism; they do not require us to suppose that there is no kind of reality outside the human mind; they point rather to the insistence that all human experience is an interpretation of the non-human reality. But this, again, is not the duality of subject and object – the assumption on which almost all theories of art are based. We have to think, rather, of human experience as both objective and subjective, in one inseparable process.

This inner-enlightenment enables our minds to transcend, in a sense, the limits of our own biology—to truly interact with the universe.

Caudwell (as cited in R. Williams, 1961 [1971 edn], pp. 36–37) puts it this way:

Body and environment are in constant determining relations . . . It is a determining relation between neural and environmental electrons. . . . It is determined by it and determines it, this interchange producing development ... This ... consciousness, or our ego ... separates out, as life separated out, as suns and planets and elements separated out from the process of becoming. . . . But in separating out, it does not completely separate out, any more than any element did. It remains like them in determining relation with the rest of the Universe…

This is exactly analogous to the creative process in covert scale structure composition. There is a combination of, and alternation between: association and dissolution; of observance and non-observance; of alignment and non-alignment; of freedom and determinism. Various aspects or elements of the covert scale structures may be combined or linked algorithmically, syntactically, etc. But this linkage is offset by intuitive detachment from those same scale structures 'here and there' as is deemed necessary or desired by the artist/composer. The analogue in music would be the tieing-over of notes, over bar lines (a scale structure applying to time ), resulting in 'non-observance' of this determinant of emphasis, and resulting in a feeling of suspension or syncopation.

Thus the criticism that this type of art would be too deterministic arises from a misunderstanding of the principle of such art, (and perhaps from language and social determinants which have tended to emphasise either-or-edness). This principle is that order and the unexpected, association and dissociation, repetition and non-repetition are to be found in complex interrelationship within covert scale structure works.

As Raymond Williams (R. Williams, 1961 [1971 edn.], pp. 38—39) so clearly sees,

At one level we can oppose art to science, or emotion to reason, yet the activities described by these names are in fact deeply related parts of the whole human process. We cannot refer science to the object and art to the subject, for the view of human activity we are seeking to grasp rejects this duality of subject and object: the consciousness is part of the reality, and the reality is part of the consciousness….

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