Texts and Pretexts
by Aldous Huxley, 1933
Descend, O Lamb of God, and take away the im-
putation of Sin
By the creation of States and the deliverance of
individuals evermore, Amen.
Thus wept they in Beulah over the four regions of
But many doubted and despaired and imputed Sin
To Individuals and not to States, and these slept in
Affections, Instincts, Principles and Powers,
impulse and Reason, Freedom and Control-
So men, unravelling God's harmonious whole,
Rend in a thousand shreds this life of ours.
Vain labour ! Deep and broad, where none may
Spring the foundations of the shadowy throne
Where Man's one nature, queen-like, sits alone,
Centred in a majestic unity ;
And rays her powers, like sister islands, seen
Linking their coral arms under the sea ;
Or clustered peaks, with plunging gulfs between
Spanned by aerial arches, all of gold,
Where'er the chariot wheels of life are rolled
In cloudy circles, to eternity.
I am gall, I am heartburn. God's most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste : my taste was me ;
Bones build in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed, the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine their sweating selves ; but worse.
Gerard MANLEY Hopkins.
For the homme moyen sensuel, Blake's doctrine of states
is one of the most alluring ever propounded. Accepted,
it frees us at one stroke from all moral responsibility
According to Blake's theory, the individual is no
longer accountable for his actions. Responsibility can
be attached only to states and not to the person (if
such a being any longer exists) who passes through the
states. The individual self is reduced to a mere locality
in space-the region where states occur ; nothing more.
There is no need for any of us to sleep in Ulro-to suffer,
that is to say, the pains of hell, whether posthumously
or in the form of present remorse. What a comfort !
But a question arises. How far does the doctrine
square with observable facts ? To what extent, if we
happen to be intellectually honest, can we accept it ?
Certain facts are clearly unamenable to interpreta-
tion in terms of Blake's theory. To start with, we have
bodies - bodies which retain though gradual change
an unmistakable individual identity. In the second
place, the ' bitter taste of me ' is something with which
each one of us is only too familiar. But ' self is an
illusion.' Possibly ; it is an illusion, however, which
lasts a lifetime and is shared by all human beings.
My mind has never been subtle enough to see much
difference between such illusions and reality. I am a
fact of my own immediate experience. But the
illusion, or the reality of self is not quite unbroken. It
has holes in it, so to speak, rifts and flaws. I am a fact
of my own experience ; but so, occasionally, is not-I.
For the bitter taste of self is not continuously on our
palate. There are times we forget it ; times when
some other savour seems for a moment to take its place ;
times when we are conscious of being something other
than our ordinary selves-better, worse, inhumanly
vaster or inhumanly more limited. Of the possible
significance of certain of these abnormal experiences I
have allowed the poets to speak in other sections of this
book. What concerns us here is the fact that we do
really have them, that we sometimes actually feel and
taste ourselves to be other than we ordinarily are. Even
the law recognizes the existence of these abnormal
states. By admitting, as in most countries it does, a
distinction between crimes of passion and crimes of
calculation, it admits that men are sometimes not them-
selves- it ' imputes sin and rightfulness to states '
and preserves the offending individual from sleeping in
Ulro, to say nothing of swinging from the gallows.
Blake’s doctrine, then, would seem to be partially
true. Our successive states are islands-but, for the most
part, ' sister islands linking their coral arms under
sea ' ; islands of the same archipelago, having the
same geology, the same fauna and flora, the same
climate and civilization. But here and there, in mid-
ocean, rises some isolated peak ; uninhabited, or
peopled by races of strange men and unknown animals ;
an island where life is unrecognizably different from
that which we lead on the familiar atolls of our home
waters. Between these and the oceanic islands, there
exists, no doubt, some obscure, submarine connection.
If in no other way, they are at least united in this : that
they rise from the crust of the same globe. But that
connection is invisible ; we have no direct knowledge of
it, can only infer its existence. For practical purposes-as
mystics and lawyers unexpectedly agree-it is not there.
In describing these islands, the psychological
geographer may lay his chief emphasis either on the sea
that sunders them, or on the linked coral arms under the
sea. It is less a matter of scientific accuracy (for, as we
have seen, man is simultaneously a diversity of states
and an individual unity) than of taste and expediency.
Individual responsibility is the essence of all existing
systems of ethics ; therefore moralists have always
insisted on the submarine connections. The imputa-
tion of sin and righteousness to states is subversive, not
only of morality, but of all organized society. lf a man
is nothing but a succession of states, then contracts,
property, social position are without justification or even
meaning. Suppose, for example, my state A makes an
agreement with your state X. A week later state B has
succeeded to state A and state Y to state X.
lf there are no coreal arms under the sea, if we impute
sin and righteousness only to states-then, clearly, there
is no reason why the old agreement should be binding
on the new states. We may try to wriggle out from under
the burden of sin and righteousness ; but simple
expediency demands that we should impute business
arrangements to individuals rather than to states.
Over against the moralist and the business man,
stand the immorality and the psychological analyst-
geographers, who emphasize the sea as opposed to the
coral. Immorality may be of the transcendental kind
- men beyond good and evil, like certain mystics,
Blake among them|-or else quite ordinary misbehavers
anxious to evade responsibility for their offences. The
transcendental immoralists provide the crowd of un-
transcendental average sensual men with a justifying
doctrine. Hence the popularity of Blake at the present
time. 'The religious bases of the traditional morality
were long ago destroyed ; and now after hanging for
some time miraculously suspended in air, the morality
itself has begun to crumble. Blake seems to offer a
justifying explanation for behaviour that would other-
wise be merely lawless and animal.
The psychological analyst is inevitably, whatever his
intentions happen to be, on the side of the immoralists.
Analysis is an insistence on separation. The analyst
perceives divisions in what had seemed continuous,
fissures through what others, less keen-eyed, had
thought the solid earth.
Under his pen, two islands grow where only one grew
before. He is perpetually recognizing new states,
emphasizing the distinction between those already
known. In the modern novel psychological analysis
has been carried to a point never reached before. With
what results ? That ' characters, ' in the accepted sense of
the word, have disappeared, to be replaced by a suc-
cession of states. We know each state very well ; but
what precisely is the sum of the states ? What, finally, is
the character of the man under analysis ? Of that, as
analysis goes further and further, we become less and
Writing of Stephan, Professor Saintsbury speaks of
' that psychological realism, which is perhaps a more
different thing from psychological reality than our clever
ones for two generation have been willing to admit or,
perhaps, able to perceive. ' Joyce, Proust and a host of
minor writers have carried the realistic analysis many
stages further than it was taken in Le Rouge at le
Noir. And the ' psychological reality ' of individualized
characters has correspondingly grown dimmer.
What has happened in the realm of psychology is
analogous to what has happened in the realm of physics.
The physicist who analyses any common object of
sensuous experience comes at last to a sub-atomic
universe not merely quantitatively, but even quail-
tatively different from the macroscopic world of daily
life. The laws of nature which hold good when we are
dealing with billions of atoms do not apply when we are
dealing with thousands or unities. A table is radically
different from the atoms of which it is composed.
Some such difference seems to hold between
characters, and the individual states into which they
can be analyzed. We can look at human beings
macroscopically or microscopically, with the eye of
Shakespeare or the eye of Lawrence. Thanks to the
psychological research-workers, it is possible for us to
see ourselves and our fellows as individuals or as suc-
cessive states-and therefore as morally responsible for
what we do, or as morally irresponsible.