Tate Papers ISSN 1753-9854

‘A Summing Up of All I Have Ever Thought’: Adrian Stokes’s ‘In Short’ (1942) and his Other Writings of the Period

The intertextual links between Stokes’s unpublished essay ‘In Short’ (1942) and his other writings of the period justify his own estimation of it as ‘a summing up of all I have ever thought incorporating experience of six years of daily psycho-analysis’. This and other texts, now found among Stokes's papers in the Tate Archive, reveal him, especially in the first half of his career, to be a writer continually engaged in a retrospective integration and adjustment of idea and expression.

Adrian Stokes’s concern with art was characterised from the start by breadth of conception as well as personal urgency. In a manuscript among his papers in the Tate Archive, drafted probably in the spring of 1927 as part of the work-in-progress on Italian Renaissance art that would find partial realisation in The Quattro Cento (1932), he wrote of the painter whose work had been among the first to stimulate that concern: ;’So different is a Giorgionesque painting from other paintings, that the facts of paint and canvas can barely restrain the phenomenon to the sphere of pictures.’1

A painting by Giorgione had been examined in Sunrise in the West, published the previous year, in relation to the mental history of Western culture and in terms of a general mode or phase of consciousness there termed ‘Poetry’, in opposition to a cast of mind termed ‘Prose’.2 Stokes now celebrated such painting as a supreme instance of ‘European ecstasy’, an ‘apprehension of the lyrical’ of a kind manifested no less in painting than in literary art.3

In ‘In Short’, a brief unpublished essay held in the Tate Archive and dateable to 1942, art, not a specific art, nor the art of a specific artist, culture or period, is presented as ‘simply the prototype process of all human activity’. In so far as ‘To live is to apply an inner pattern to an outward scheme’, art epitomised the profound ‘interrelationship between what is inside us and outside’.4 Consideration of this text, and especially of its intricate relations with foregoing, contemporary and ensuing writings, published and unpublished, throws light on the ways in which Stokes’s initially wide-angled conception of art broadened and transmuted in the intervening ten to fifteen years, while accommodating, indeed feeding on, critical engagement with the ‘facts’ and expressive properties of specific artistic media, in particular those of visual art. It further illuminates the role played in this development by his personal experience, as analysand, of psychoanalysis, and the character of the creative process itself as practised by Stokes the writer.

The statement that art is ‘simply the prototype process of all human activity’ is likely to sound familiar even to readers of Stokes unacquainted with ‘In Short’. For it is echoed in the discursive ‘Envoi’ to Venice, published three years later: here art is said to be ‘the symbol of human process’.5 Indeed, the ‘Envoi’ not only echoes but actually incorporates passages from ‘In Short’, in some instances via an intermediate text, ‘Notes for a Book Beginning August 1943’.6 Appendix 1 presents the most substantial passage from ‘In Short’ to have been re-used in the ‘Notes’ and in the ‘Envoi’. The typographically differentiated portions of text indicate how the original passage has been split up, re-ordered and inserted at different points of the ‘Envoi’, having in some instances first been used in the ‘Notes’. Yet ‘In Short’ itself incorporates passages from a manuscript entitled ‘The Outer and the Inner Life’, a new work-in-progress occupying Stokes between 1939 and 1943 or 1944, but most intensively from the spring of 1939 to that of 1940.7 Appendix 2 takes the same passage from ‘In Short’ and compares it with text from this manuscript, showing how the essay was in part assembled out of re-ordered fragments culled from the latter. Indeed, it is likely the essay’s title privately alluded to its effectual reduction of the considerably longer and in large part earlier ‘The Outer and the Inner Life’.

This text comprises just over fifty leaves of manuscript, entered in a notebook apparently acquired some time earlier in Italy.8 On internal and external evidence, six phases of writing can be distinguished:

A) Spring 1939 to February 1940: pp.1–24

B) 1 February 1940 to March or April 1940: pp.24–38

C) March/April/May 1940: pp.38–41

D) 3 January 1941 (single entry): p.41

E) 7 December 1942 to Easter 1943: pp.41–42

F) Easter 1943 on, possibly until the early months of 1944: pp.43–52

Phase A is the most extended in time: it dates from the period immediately following Stokes’s move, with his first wife, the painter Margaret Mellis, to Little Park Owles, Carbis Bay, St Ives in April 1939 (fig.1). Phase B yielded the most sustained or continuous piece of writing and led to the typing up of the first thirty-eight pages of manuscript, perhaps with a view to its publication, or at any rate to facilitate revision or re-use. The top copy of this typescript is also among Stokes’s papers in the Tate Archive.9 The orthographical errors it contains suggest that it was dictated.10 This might explain its omission of some of the more ‘confessional’ passages in the manuscript,11 as well as that of phrases and passages likely to cause embarrassment of a different kind.12

Little Park Owles, Carbis Bay, St Ives, Cornwall, 1940s

Little Park Owles, Carbis Bay, St Ives, Cornwall, 1940s
Courtesy of Ann Stokes Angus

Neither confessional tone nor embarrassing content explain the total omission from the typescript of the manuscript’s programmatic opening, which outlines the prospective ‘life’s work’ now initiated:

The object of these notes and of the eventual book (a life’s work) is to mirror correspondence between the outer world as present to the senses and to the imagination, also activities and personal relationships, between the outer world, then, and the inner aspects of personality, the physical inside of the body, and fantasies connected with it. I would mirror then, all patterns to which the clue is our conception of ourselves, what seems to us enclosed within the physical body, everything of which the microcosm is the ego: and that is everything except that the outer world is essentially otherness or non-ego extending beyond the ego, a projection, therefore, of the ego in the form of non-ego.13

The omission of this passage and its continuation is perhaps explained by personal ambivalence towards abstract speculation as such,14 more or less openly declared in the first entry made in the manuscript after its initial thirty-eight leaves had been typed up (although the above opening reflections are not instanced in justification of the resolution there expressed):

When re-writing all of this, I must not start in quite so rapidly with a philosophical, contemplative attitude to the external world … All that seems nonsense when engaged on practical things. Such contemplation is exaggerated by a contemplative, non-practical life. It is too extreme a picture for the working man.15

‘The Outer and the Inner Life’ was not re-written as such but formed the matrix from which parts of Inside Out (1947) and, before that, of ‘In Short’ were extracted.

A letter from Stokes to his Rugby schoolfriend, the poet and BBC newsreader Joseph Macleod,16 licenses the inference that ‘In Short’ was the piece there perhaps hyperbolically described as of ‘less than a 1000 words’ (it is about half as long again) and as ‘a summing up of all I have ever thought incorporating experience of six years of daily psycho-analysis’, drafted specifically with a view to publication in Cyril Connolly’s recently founded magazine Horizon. Stokes’s letter is undated but must have been written between November and December 1942: he there makes reference to an article ‘about American industrial civilization’ in the ‘current’ number of the magazine which clearly corresponds to one by the American novelist Henry Miller in the November issue.17 The outcome of the essay’s submission, as reported to Macleod, was that

Connolly sent it back with a note saying that he couldn’t understand it, but as far as he did understand it [it] appeared to be an attack on intellectuals: not a lucid & documented attack i.e. intellectual, which would be the only kind he might publish. And in as far as it was an attack on intellectuals, it was an attack on Horizon.18

‘This was palpably absurd’, Stokes complained, ‘since the only “attack” was the suggestion that intellectuals were not nearly intellectual enough’.19 By which he meant, most immediately, that they did not actively oppose such ‘exploitation of stupidity’ as was exemplified in Connolly’s editorial note on Miller’s article.20

More generally, intellectuals were not nearly intellectual enough in that they did not face up to the simple ultimate facts of life, facts whose honest admission entailed metaphysical disillusionment and the embracing of an unadorned dualism, or interrelated series of dualisms – life and death, fact and fantasy, subject and object, inner and outer, reality and image – which now supplemented the earlier opposition between prose and poetry.21 ‘A less anthropomorphic conception of the universe’, Stokes claimed, ‘adds poignancy to the relationship of inner with outer’:

Since we may now accept in terms of our science the complete otherness of things, the poetry of things is purer, and the prose … We are alive and we shall die. That is both obvious, and the sum of all we know, all we need to know for a complete philosophy, a complete aesthetic; since life and death define each other.22

An intellectual was under an obligation not to ‘bolster up his morale at the expense of truth’, and especially not in favour of such a  ‘rotten medieval morale’:

Many leaders in contemporary art and thought – I think it is fair to say all of them – are in varying degrees unaware of this potential essence, a purer prose which entails a purer poetry, in the above sense of these terms. With boost propaganda, religion and personal mysticism they seek to rationalize for themselves some life-saving myth.23

This was ‘unnecessary as well as retrograde’. Compressing the matter of ‘The Outer and the Inner Life’ into a few sentences, he retorts, ‘We create a myth for ourselves every time we gaze or listen’:

The world of the image is unending. It has needed a self-denying discipline through thousands of years for man to extend so far the range of relatively pure facts, science, prose. Would we re-infuse this tiny world of science which has opened such vast horizons, with animus, just as the Nazis do?24

Acceptance of the interrelated dualisms set out above entailed the ‘rationalization of fantasy’ under the aegis of art taken ‘in its very broadest sense, the creation of any epitome’:

Rationalization of emotion, then, even of the deep spiritual needs promoted by fatality, must be viewed as a matter of art, not as possessing the kind of validity that is desired for dogma.25

The burden of this statement had been rehearsed more discursively in ‘The Outer and the Inner Life’, and succinctly in a letter to the British critic Herbert Read prompted by a reading of the latter’s autobiographical study, Annals of Innocence and Experience (1940):

On the intellectual side, our single aim should be to be free of the medieval type of thought, I consider there is a very long way to go yet and every possibility of the whole matter slipping back. For this reason, whatever admiration I have for your equally famous contemporaries as artists, I do not share your admiration for them as intellectual leaders. From Eliot to Auden they somewhat betray. The vastly extended areas of fact, pure fact, and the vastly extended areas of fantasy, pure fantasy, must be more comprehended before they are re-related. To do so prematurely and in a hurry is half-baked, half medieval still. But only such a one as yourself whose inner harmony, as well as inner fire, is irrevocable, is strong enough to approach this astonishing new correlation and the deeper poetry it implies. But there is, or rather, there cannot be a hurry. Immediate aims must be abandoned: it is perverting and popular to think in public.26

A year later, under pressure no doubt of the deepening world crisis, Stokes evidently felt himself ready to ‘think in public’ to the extent of issuing a statement encapsulating – in the manner he so often predicated of the work of art – the thought of many years and the ‘attitudes to the contemporary scene’ devolving from that thought.

Yet the intertextuality of ‘In Short’ – the word is here used in sole reference to Stokes’s own body of writing, published and unpublished – is a good deal more complex than this. For its matrix, ‘The Outer and the Inner Life’, despite its often exploratory and occasional character,27 shows evidence at times of having been deliberately, though covertly, composed through tacit incorporation of passages gleaned from notebooks compiled a decade or more earlier, in the period immediately following the publication of Sunrise in the West. This practice goes well beyond the tendency to ‘auto-quotation’ noted by Etienne Jollet,28 reflecting as it does a creative method to which Stokes adhered, off and on, until the early 1950s.29 In the present instance, moreover, it is of more than philological interest, since the interpolated passages are contiguous with an explicitly expressed concern to comprehend, in the sense of understanding and embracing, his earlier thinking.

The first of the interpolations in ‘The Outer and the Inner Life’ is a sentence adapted from one found at the beginning of a long manuscript text dated November 1926 and dealing with Western civilisation as ‘the outcome of the Mediterranean climate, in its effect upon races that live, or have lived, in the East and North’.30 A cluster of similar interpolations, mostly taken from this same text,31 immediately precedes a passage in the wartime work-in-progress beginning ‘We have a higher standard of fact’, itself transposed, slightly abridged, into ‘In Short’ (see Appendix 3). And in ‘The Outer and the Inner Life’ this latter passage is followed by the comment:

This formulation of my basic subject came to me today as something of a revelation: but the real surprise was the realization that I was only compressing the subject-matter of ‘Sunrise in the West’ which I wrote, long before acquaintance with psycho-analysis, fifteen years ago. It is the realization of this new enquiry, then, which is the basis of all my thought and the reason for my preoccupation with art which embodies the supreme blending of subject and object, particularly visual art.32

This assessment of Sunrise in the West was reiterated in a letter to the painter Graham Bell a year or more later, in which he wrote, ‘it certainly is the book that I always have [been], and always will be, re-writing’.33

In what sense is this true? What justification for such a claim may be found in the writing? What is the connection between the ‘subject-matter’ of Sunrise in the West and the psychoanalytical theory with which Stokes was now indeed intimately acquainted, that inaugurated by Sigmund Freud and developed by his own analyst Melanie Klein, and to which he would himself begin to contribute only a few years later? And what is the connection with his long preoccupation with art? The remainder of this paper will sketch possible answers to these questions.

The key is provided, as such, by Stokes himself, in ‘The Outer and the Inner Life’, which in one of its aspects is the chronicle of this ‘discovery’ of consistency and continuity in his thinking and of the profound personal need which it meets.34 For one of the later entries in the manuscript identifies ‘the key-word of [his] thought’ as the term substitution, understood as the expression of one thing in terms of another, a constant refrain of this group of texts.35 The comprehensive explanatory potential imputed to this term seems to be a function of its capacity to evoke a whole family of psychoanalytical concepts – Freud’s displacement, sublimation and substitute-formation; Klein’s expanded notions of symbol formation and of projection and introjection – and to associate these with the philosophical and specifically metaphysical and ethical questions of value, meaning and truth.

Early in ‘The Outer and the Inner Life’, still ‘groping’ for his theme amid confessions of unease and disorientation, Stokes writes:

What I have to show, the phenomena I have to produce, must go to illustrate the yet wider theme of value or significance, which seems to be always connected with the expression of one thing in terms of another. Sublimation, in fact, is the very heart of value in living. That is really my theme. The naked facts of life are few, little in themselves. The thing-in-itself is always cold and abstract. Values spring primarily in their relation with one another, and thence, from their expression in terms of one another, from the mingling of all classes of image, from sublimation, from the expression of the inner in terms of the outer, and of the outer in terms of the inner. The supreme symbol, of course, of value viewed thus, is the work of art.36

Again, commenting on the philosopher Hans Vaihinger’s claims that ‘the basic contradictions of most concepts is due to their fictional nature’, being ‘based on the principle of analogy although they are not true analogies’,37 Stokes writes:

One thing is put in terms of another thing that is rather different. It is interesting that this is the same process, perhaps in principle, as that of sublimation and of all art. I have long wondered how to give further reference for the value that we find in the function which seems to characterize all creative activity ie the value that lies in putting one thing in terms of another underlying all imagination, all projection of the inner life both in thought and feeling, and all interchange between the inner and outer life.38

And on the very last page of the manuscript he is able to declare:

My theme for the last 20 years has been that it is the conjunction of meanings, rather than this or that meaning snatched from the concourse, which must be the ultimate object of contemplation. It is, I suppose, an aesthetic point of view. Hence, starting as a fanatical searcher for philosophical truth, for the meaning that interpreted all meanings in terms of itself, I passed to the study and practice of art. Nevertheless the fanatical search for truth remains: it is that impetus, not an escape from it, that brought me [sic] and sustains me in the present position.39

The extent to which this is borne out by the writings of those twenty years, published and unpublished, is remarkable, as is the continual process of conceptual modulation – of clothing and re-clothing – they effect on a persistent dialectical ‘nexus’, a process as restless and manifold as the nineteenth-century critic John Ruskin’s unrelenting revision of his own ‘modes of opposition’.40 With this difference, that Stokes’s constant concern is specifically with the interdependence and interpenetration of his opposed categories, subjective and objective, and with the significance of art as the embodiment of their conjunction, or as what might be called their concrete, enigmatic interface.

In illustration, there follows a series of passages from the earlier writings, especially the unpublished earlier writings, written before the commencement of Stokes’s analysis with Klein, in which this essential idea of intermingling and interchange between opposed categories is already expressed, though in varying terms:

the lyric wonder that is the nucleus of poetry, can only effect an escape from the oppressive jungle of primitive poetry by entering, for a time, upon a prosaic career, enduring prosaic disguise, finding shelter in the house of Fact and Coherence.
(Sunrise in the West, p.27.)

We are confronted with the near and the distant. We must weave them both into life. They must not be sacrificed to one another, for they are necessary to one another. The only way that it can be truly done is by complete conversion, by transposing the desire promoted by the near to the distant as object.
(Notebook 10, Tate Archive TGA 8816/10.)

Art is the supreme achievement of conversion, man’s greatest triumph in the fight to ‘make something of’ the dualism of existence.
(‘Jesi’, Notebook 15, Tate Archive TGA 8816/15.)

Beauty resides in the power of transcription, that is to say in the expression of many things in the terms of another one thing, the reduction of the many and the hithertoo [sic] disparate, to the one. This is effected in poetry by rhythm, – sound – image, so that a poem is a rocking cradle that holds the marvel of a perfect child who is yet the sum of dreary generations, in successful painting by composition – colour the arrangement of which not only give[s] pleasure to the eye because it presents a scene in terms of paint, but because in so doing – or even without so doing as in much modern art, though from the painter’s point of view some scene to be interpreted must be the origin of his activity, experiences of the senses particularly of movement and of touch and of colour, are generalized. In such generalization and synthesis, and in the saying of one thing in terms of another, exists an ever-present power to satisfy, to stimulate and to re-assure, all at once or each by itself if wanted by itself.
(‘Jesi’, Notebook 15, Tate Archive TGA 8816/15.)

We throw out the best of us under the disguise of contemplation of a landscape, and feeling that the landscape is the excuse or symbol of something more general – the specific excuse is always essential and cannot be foregone – we come to the abstraction beauty, and give that as the cause for our pleasure in the landscape, whereas the cause lies in the need of the soul for externalization.
(‘Loneliness’, Notebook 13, Tate Archive TGA 8816/13.)

(‘Loneliness’, Notebook 13, Tate Archive TGA 8816/13.)

In his correspondence and writings of the 1940s and early 1950s Stokes manifests a certain resistance to full-fledged theoretical and terminological engagement with psychoanalysis.41 Inside Out and Smooth and Rough, he much later told Herbert Read, were ‘not theoretical formulations but “poetic” books written under the influence of Melanie Klein’, imaginative rather than clinical presentations of a ‘case-history’ – a strategy hit upon in the course of writing ‘The Outer and the Inner Life’, in typical evasion of explicit assertion of ‘a philosophy’.42 In view of such resistance and in the light of his prominent use of substitution in ‘The Outer and the Inner Life’ – as also in ‘In Short’ and in the ‘Envoi’ to Venice (see Appendices 1 and 2) – it will be of interest, in conclusion, to consider the emphasis given the term in his first psychoanalytical paper, published in 1945:

The expression of one thing or many things in terms of something else, or, as it might be called, substitution, is obviously a paramount characteristic of the mental life. The artist and the aesthete would appear to have found cause for celebrating and admiring the mechanism in and for itself. But the aesthetic substitution is especially distinguished by the power to synthetize meanings. A synthesis of inner meaning put outwards to be on its own, as it were, in the open world, always characterizes the work of art.43

The non-technical and very general significance ascribed to substitution by Stokes is highlighted by the disqualifying hedge ‘as it might be called’. At the same time its relevance to the technical discourse is signalled by the definite article in the expression ‘the aesthetic substitution’, with its hint of nomenclature. In thus introducing the term into the discourse Stokes is pursuing his principal goal in writing the paper. For he argues here that art presents a major challenge to Freudian theory in so far as this subsumes it under an idea of sublimation understood in terms of illusion and of a turning inwards, away from the external world.44 Stokes, by contrast, insists that art is a practice and a process materially embedded in the external world:

the essence of artistic creation especially is the bestowing on pieces of matter the power to communicate a particular set of phantasies; or, as it might be expressed in more general language, the transposing to the external world of a formless inner nexus, through a medium of the external world, in terms of the external world.45

Art is the supreme or extreme instance of substitution as Stokes intends this, namely as a positive principle of mental life ‘derived from the omnipresence of the external world as such’. This principle is thus opposed to Freud’s regulatory reality principle.46 Rather than as one among several ways of seeking independence of the external world under the pressure of reality, Stokes suggests that art exploits the independence of the external world through the imaginative manipulation of materials so as to form objects expressive of ideal completeness and stability:

As well as an abounding liveliness, as well as, maybe, an impression of growth, a chrysalis stage in expression, of change, of exaggeration, etc., there is imputed to the communication that issues from the work of art a stability and a fixity of relations, which would rival, and hence would partake of, the absolute otherness attributed to the very materials of which it is made; to the physical world. The generating relations of a work of art have the air of a set-out finality, of a diverse expression that is single, of a phantasy that has been detached from its originator to become an object, as if he were able to make of his mind a stone which yet displays and manifests the contents of his mind.47

The finality of aesthetic form is theorised as a compromise between the opposed forces of life and death, art as ‘a parable of the over-all aim of human activity to force by substitutions of every kind the completeness or externality of death to serve the purposes of Eros until we die’.48 For Stokes the work of art – now in particular the work of visual art – is the self-subsistent pledge of interchange between inner and outer worlds. It is material proof of a lovely deathliness, or, conversely, in a phrase adapted from Sunrise in the West, harnessed madness,49 affirming, in every sense, the contest between Eros and Thanatos, latest in the series of opposites whose involved relationship he explored in his writing.

See also