This page offers additional information on Keith Sagar's Literature and the Crime Against Nature.
At the beginning of a new millennium, one problem towers above all others: how are we (as a species living what we think of as a civilized life) to survive? How, that is, are we to continue to live in an overcrowded world whose finite resources are being rapidly exhausted and whose biological life-support systems are close to breakdown? There is a widespread and fast-growing belief that tinkering with economics (»sustainable development«) and local conservation measures (always too little and too late) are not enough; that what is needed is a revolution in our consciousness regarding our place in the natural world and our responsibilities towards it. These concerns span many subjects, from science to religion; but there is little mention, in all the writing and debate, of literature, least of all from academic literary critics.
Yet, as Ted Hughes has argued, the creative imagination is an essential part of our biological survival gear, to be ignored at our peril. The imagination has access to depths and connections, warning and healing truths, closed to intelligence alone. Great imaginative literature, of any age, already embodies the holistic, biocentric vision now being advocated by deep ecology.
My central argument is that most of the world's ills through history, but especially the long, now critical, ecological disaster, are the result of what the Greeks called hubris – a kind of pride which drives men, both as a race and as individuals, to regard themselves, in consequence of intelligence and technology, as outside of and superior to the natural world. I argue that imagination is the only human faculty capable of a wider and deeper vision than the anthropocentric, being capable of breaking through the hard shell of ego (whether the ego of species, race, sex, nation, culture or individual) and releasing a vision of the sacredness and miracle of the created world, the ecosystem upon which mankind wholly depends; and that nearly all the great works of imaginative, especially poetic, art, have testified to this.
We are all criminals against Nature. Western civilization has set itself to complete its subjugation of Nature. Dualism is so deeply rooted in our language and culture that we can barely think in non-dualistic, that is holistic, terms. The difference between the imaginative artist and the rest of us is that, hauled into the dock by his own imagination, he must acknowledge his own guilt and submit himself to the correction and, if he is lucky, the healing power, of that imaginative atonement. His work consists of provisional bulletins on this process, and, perhaps, glimpses of the saving vision.
The characteristic language of poetry is a language developed specifically to express and communicate relationships, connections, patterns, systems, wholes (as opposed to the analytical language of almost all other modern discourse). A formal, rhetorical, crafted language is likely to allow the ego to reassert itself. The best style is therefore styleless, transparent.
Imaginative literature has a central and essential part to play in the transformation of our consciousness from anthropocentric to biocentric which will be necessary if we are to survive far into the new millennium. The only justification for the existence of professional critics lies in their ability to assist as interpreters, teachers, enthusiasts, and publicists.
This argument is not presented theoretically (the book being opposed to theory), but by cumulative examples drawn from sixteen of the greatest writers of the Western tradition from Homer to Hughes.
© Keith Sagar