The Mind of the Maker
Dorothy Sayers

Dorothy Sayers

These pages: The Mind of the Maker

Preface & Chapters I–VII

Chapters VIII–XI & Postscript (here)




index pages:

The Mind of the Maker

Copyright © 1941 by Dorothy L. Sayers
Copyright renewed 1968 by Anthony Fleming


VIII. Pentecost

The habit, very prevalent today, of dismissing words as “just words” takes no account of their power. But once the Idea has entered into other minds, it will tend to reincarnate itself there with ever-increasing Energy and ever-increasing Power. It may for some time incarnate itself only in more words, more books, more speeches; but the day comes when it incarnates itself in actions, and this is its day of judgment. At the time when these words are being written, we are witnessing a fearful judgment of blood, resulting from the incarnation in deeds of an Idea to which, when it was content with a verbal revelation, we paid singularly little heed. [...] The fact, however, that “all activity is of God” means that no creative Idea can be wholly destructive; some creation will be produced together with the destruction; and it is the work of the creative mind to see that the destruction is redeemed by its creative elements.

It is the business of education to wait upon Pentecost. Unhappily, there is something about educational syllabuses, and especially about examination papers, which seems to be rather out of harmony with Pentecostal manifestations. The Energy of Ideas does not seem to descend into the receptive mind with quite that rush of cloven fire which we ought to expect.




The demand for “originality”—with the implication that the reminiscence of other writers is a sin against originality and a defect in the work—is a recent one and would have seemed quite ludicrous to poets of the Augustan Age, or of Shakespeare’s time. The traditional view is that each new work should be a fresh focus of power through which former streams of beauty, emotion, and reflection are directed. [...] The criterion is, not whether the associations are called up, but whether the spirits invoked by this kind of verbal incantation are charged with personal power by the magician who speeds them about their new business.

The Power—the Spirit—is thus a social power, working to bring all minds into its own unity, sometimes by similarity and at other times by contrast. There is a diversity of gifts, but the same spirit.

You now lie within the orbit of the Power, which (immanent and transcendent) is also within you, and your response to it will bring forth further power, according to your own capacity and energy. If you react to it creatively, your response will again assume the form of: an Idea in your mind, the manifestation of that Idea in some form of Energy or Activity (speech, behavior or what not), and a communication of Power to the world about you.

This threefoldness in the reader’s mind corresponds to the threefoldness of the work (Book-as-Thought, Book-as-Written, Book-as-Read), and that again to the original threefoldness in the mind of the writer (Idea, Energy, Power). It is bound to be so, because that is the structure of the creative mind. When, therefore, we consider Trinitarian doctrine about the universal Creator, this is what we are driving at. We are arguing on the analogy of something perfectly familiar to our experience.


Frederick P. Brooks, Jr.

IX. The Love of the Creature

But when the job is a labor of love, the sacrifices will present themselves to the worker—strange as it may seem—in the guise of enjoyment. [...] I do not mean that there is no nobility in doing unpleasant things from a sense of duty, but only that there is more nobility in doing them gladly out of sheer love of the job. The Puritan thinks otherwise; he is inclined to say, “Of course, So-and-so works very hard and has given up a good deal for such-and-such a cause, but there’s no merit in that—he enjoys it.” The merit, of course, lies precisely in the enjoyment, and the nobility of So-and-so consists in the very fact that he is the kind of person to whom the doing of that piece of work is delightful.

It is because, behind the restrictions of the moral code, we instinctively recognize the greater validity of the law of nature, that we do always in our heart of hearts prefer the children of grace to the children of legality.

The work can live and grow on the sole condition of the maker’s untiring energy; to satisfy its will to die, he has only to stop working. In him it lives and moves and has its being [...] It would not, if it were wise, petition its maker to wrest its own nature out of truth on any pretext at all, since (as we have seen) any violence of this kind serves only to diminish its vitality and destroy its identity. Still less would it desire him to subdue his own will or alter his purpose in the writing, since any such deviation from the Idea will disintegrate the work and send the fragments sliding the random way to chaos.



A perfect identity of the creature with its creator’s will is possible only when the creature is unselfconscious: that is, when it is an externalization of something that is wholly controlled by the maker’s mind. But even this limited perfection is not attainable by the human artist, since he is himself a part of his own material. So far as his particular piece of work is concerned, he is Godlike—immanent and transcendent; but his work and he both form part of the universe, and he cannot transcend the universe. All his efforts and desires reach out to that ideal creative archetype in whose unapproachable image he feels himself to be made, which can make a universe filled with free, conscious and co-operative wills; a part of his own personality and yet existing independently within the mind of the maker.



The child who relates his fantasied adventures as though they were fact is about as far removed from creativeness as he can possibly be; these dreamy little liars grow up (if into nothing worse) into the feeble little half-baked poets who are the irritation and despair of the true makers. The child who is creative tells himself stories, as they do, but objectively.

X. Scalene Trinities

So the Creator-similitude points to the perfect human artist. There are, however, no perfect artists—a fact on which literary criticism (an art-form with an exceptionally strong bias to death and destruction) tends to lay an almost exaggerated emphasis. The imperfections of the artist may be conveniently classified as imperfections in his trinity—a trinity which, like that Other to which it serves as analogy, must, if the work is to be saved, be thought of as having all its persons consubstantial and co-equal.
It was, I felt, quite unnecessary to warn anybody that there was “one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Ghost, not three holy ghosts.” The suggestion seemed quite foolish. [...] But critical experience has persuaded me that the Fathers of the Western Church knew more about human nature than I did. So far as the analogy of the human creator goes, their warning is justified. Writer after writer comes to grief through the delusion that what Chesterfield calls a “whiffling Activity” will do the work of the Idea; that the Power of the Idea in his own mind will compensate for a disorderly Energy in manifestation; or that an Idea is a book in its own right, even when expressed without Energy and experienced without Power. Many an unreadable monument of scholarship is exposed as the creature of three fathers; many a column of sob-stuff betrays the uncontrolled sensibility of three impressionable ghosts; many a whirlwind bustle of incoherent episode indicates the presence of three sons at the head of affairs.
The uncreative artist is the destroyer of all things, the active negation. When the Energy is not Christ, it is Antichrist, assuming leadership of the universe in the mad rush back to Chaos.

Now, actors and scenery are fully imbued with the general tiresomeness of all material things; in the random landslide to chaos they are particularly slippery and hard to check; and I suppose there is no good playwright from Æschylus to Noel Coward who has not, at various agitated moments, heartily wished his company in hades. This kind of tussling and wrestling is all part of the creative game. But it is doubtful whether anybody ever yet wrote a good play who did not gladly think in terms of the stage while he was writing—who did not lovingly embrace the actress as well as the heroine, and who had not a lively affection for grease-paint and lath-and-plaster.

The son works simultaneously in heaven and on earth; this needs to be unceasingly reaffirmed, artistically as well as theologically. He is in perpetual communion, both with the Father-Idea and with all matter. Not just with some particular sort of etherealized and refined matter—with things enskied and sainted—but with all matter; with flesh and blood and lath-and-plaster, as well as with words and thoughts.



The glory of the sonhood is manifest in the perfection of the flesh; and in insisting on the perfect Manhood, theologians are laboring no academic thesis, but one which is abundantly supported by theatrical experience.

In the case of our example, the reason is perfectly clear. By working with the material means in mind, the writer can so frame his words and action as to use all the strength of the stage medium and avoid all its weaknesses; that is, he is enlisting on his side the theater’s will to creation. Oddly enough, for those who genuinely love the stage, this business of working and thinking on two planes at once presents no difficulty of any kind; nor does the material vision, as might be supposed, impair or destroy the ideal vision.

Any weakness in the son will inevitably affect the ghost. Indeed, if the creative artists had been called in to give evidence about the filioque clause, they must have come down heavily on the Western side of the controversy, since their experience leaves them in no doubt about the procession of the ghost from the son.

A bodiless Gnosticism is the besetting heresy of the “literary” dramatist and assumes many forms: such as, for example, the “literary” dialogue, which reads elegantly, but which no living actor can get his tongue round, and the “literary” stage-direction, which requires the actor to impart, by face and gesture, complicated states of mind or detailed bulletins of information which it would strain the combined resources of a Henry James and a Gibbon to compress into a paragraph. What the actor is required to practice is, in fact, a species of telepathy.

Under the terms of our analogy, failure in the ghost is the characteristic failure of the unliterary writer and the inartistic artist. I do not mean the “natural,” untrained artist as distinct from the bookish or academic kind; I mean the men who use words without inspiration and without sympathy. [...]

The unghosted writer is thus not only uninspired, but also uncritical. The notion that self-criticism is necessarily a clog upon inspiration is quite erroneous, and is honored only in the mind of the fifth-rate poetaster. Creative criticism is the Spirit’s continual response to its own creation; the purely destructive and inhibiting kind of criticism being, like all destructive forces, merely the diabolic antitype of its divine archetype.

It is the deadness of the unghosted that hangs like a millstone upon the eloquence of pedestrian politicians and of conscientious parsons who have no gift for preaching. Words which should be living fall from their lips like stones, lacking the spirit of wisdom, which is the life. It is as though the speaker could not hear what he was saying—still less, hear himself with the ears of his listeners. The spirit is poured out neither in heaven nor in earth.

All this, indeed, comes back to that which is the very essence of the ghost’s persona: the power to know good from evil. It is the failure of this power which cuts off inspiration by cutting off contact with the father, who is the positive goodness in creation, and which destroys critical judgment by destroying the disjunction between negative and positive, between chaos and creation.

XI. Problem Picture

True, the artist can, out of his own experience, tell the common man a great deal about the fulfillment of man’s nature in living; but he can produce only the most unsatisfactory kind of reply if he is persistently asked the wrong question. And, as I have (perhaps somewhat heatedly) maintained in my preface, an incapacity for asking the right question has grown, in our time and country, to the proportions of an endemic disease.

The desire of being persuaded that all human experience may be presented in terms of a problem having a predictable, final, complete and sole possible solution accounts, to a great extent, for the late extraordinary popularity of detective fiction. This, we feel, is the concept of life which we want the artist to show us. It is significant that readers should so often welcome the detective-story as a way of escape from the problems of existence. It “takes their minds off their troubles.” Of course it does; for it softly persuades them that love and hatred, poverty and unemployment, finance and international politics, are problems capable of being dealt with and solved in the same manner as the Death in the Library. The beautiful finality with which the curtain rings down on the close of the investigation conceals from the reader that no part of the “problem” has been “solved” except that part which was presented in problematic terms. The murderer’s motive has been detected, but nothing at all has been said about the healing of his murderous soul.

What is obvious here is the firmly implanted notion that all human situations are “problems” like detective problems, capable of a single, necessary, and categorical situation, which must be wholly right, while all others are wholly wrong. But this they cannot be, since human situations are subject to the law of human nature, whose evil is at all times rooted in its good, and whose good can only redeem, but not abolish, its evil. The good that emerges from a conflict of values cannot arise from the total condemnation or destruction of one set of values, but only from the building of a new value, sustained, like an arch, by the tension of the original two. We do not, that is, merely examine the data to disentangle something that was in them already: we use them to construct something that was not there before: neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

All human achievements can be looked on as problems solved—particularly in retrospect, because, if the work has been well done, the result will then appear inevitable. It seems as though this was the only “right” way, predestined and inevitable from the start. So it is the “right” way, in the sense that it is the way which agrees with the maker’s Father-Idea. But there was no inevitability about the Idea itself.

It is here that we begin to see how the careless use of the words “problem” and “solution” can betray us into habits of thought that are not merely inadequate but false. It leads us to consider all vital activities in terms of a particular kind of problem, namely the kind we associate with elementary mathematics and detective fiction. These latter are “problems” which really can be “solved” in a very strict and limited sense, and I think the words “problem” and “solution” should be reserved for these special cases. Applied indiscriminately, they are fast becoming a deadly danger. They falsify our apprehension of life as disastrously as they falsify our apprehension of art.

There are four characteristics of the mathematical or detective problem which are absent from the “life-problem”; but because we are accustomed to find them in the one, we look for them in the other, and experience a sense of frustration and resentment when we do not find them.

Note (Hal’s):
Omitting most of the discussion, the four characteristics describe the detective problem as:

  1. always soluble;
  2. completely soluble;
  3. solved in the same terms in which it is set; and
  4. finite.

— end note

The spiritual and mental energy which we expend upon resenting the inevitability of death is as much wasted as that which we from time to time have expended on attempts to “solve the problem” of perpetual motion.

Further, this irrational preoccupation curiously hampers us in dealing with such a practical question as that of the possibility of war. It encourages us to look on the evil of war as consisting, first and foremost, in the fact that it kills a great many people. If we concentrate on this, instead of thinking of it in terms of the havoc it plays with the lives and souls of the survivors, we shall direct all our efforts to evading war at all costs, rather than to dealing intelligently with the conditions of life which cause wars and are caused by wars.



The mind in the act of creation is thus not concerned to solve problems within the limits imposed by the terms in which they are set, but to fashion a synthesis which includes the whole dialectics of the situation in a manifestation of power. In other words, the creative artist, as such, deals, not with the working of the syllogism, but with that universal statement which forms its major premise. That is why he is always a disturbing influence; for all logical argument depends upon acceptance of the major premise, and this, by its nature, is not susceptible of logical proof. The hand of the creative artist, laid upon the major premise, rocks the foundations of the world; and he himself can indulge in this perilous occupation only because his mansion is not in the world but in the eternal heavens.

Compare to:

Frederik Pohl



The Worth of the Work

The sterner side of love is, as we have seen, powerfully present in the artist’s attitude to his work; and it is equally present in the attitude of the lovers of mankind. It is a short and sordid view of life that will do injury to the work in the kind hope of satisfying a public demand; for the seed of corruption introduced into the work will take root in those who receive it, and in due season bring forth its fearful harvest.

That the eyes of all workers should behold the integrity of the work is the sole means to make that work good in itself and so good for mankind. This is only another way of saying that the work must be measured by the standard of eternity; or that it must be done for God first and foremost; or that the Energy must faithfully manifest forth the Idea; or, theologically, that the Son does the will of the Father.

text checked (see note) Jan 2008

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