Art as Well as Men

A quote from CS Lewis’ ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY EXCLUDING DRAMA. Here is the speaking of the sudden cessation of Scottish poetry.

But however we explain the phenomenon, it forces on our minds a truth which the incurably evolutionary or developmental character of modern thought is always urging us to forget. What is vital and healthy does not necessarily survive. Higher organisms are often conquered by lower ones. Arts as well as men are subject to accident and violent death.

The philosophy of history outlined by Keats’s Oceanus is not true. We ask too often why cultures perish and too seldom why they survive; as though their conservation were the normal and obvious fact and their death the abnormality for which special causes must be found.

It is not so. An art, a whole civilization, may at any time slip through men’s fingers in a very few years and be gone beyond recovery. If we are alive when such a thing is happening we shall hardly notice it until too late; and it is most unlikely that we shall know its causes.

We currently live in an era when popular art and entertainment is vandalized and unfit for consumption: some of us, yours truly included, have theories as to why this is, as perhaps many a man in Atlantis had a theory about the rising flood and falling towers.

For those of you unfamiliar with Keats’ HYPERION, C.S. Lewis above is making a reference to this speech by Oceanus, as he yields the sovereignty of the older titans over to the younger and fairer gods. Lewis sees in it the mythic elements of Darwinism, which propose (as Darwin himself never did) that later stages mean better stages. The Morlocks of H.G. Wells, a posthuman but nowise superhuman race, would in silent mockery sharply disagree.

As Heaven and Earth are fairer, fairer far
Than Chaos and blank Darkness, though once chiefs:
And as we show beyond that Heaven and Earth
In form and shape compact and beautiful,
In will, in action free, companionship,
And thousand other signs of purer life;
So on our heels a fresh perfection treads,
A power more strong in beauty, born of us
And fated to excel us, as we pass
In glory that old Darkness.
 (II 206-215)