I shall, perhaps ironically considering the content of this essay, ignore the broader context to Arthur Koestler the man, and the time period specific to his work and the writing of this essay. In totality I wish to focus on his perception of the issue that occurs when a writer falls prey to certain ‘failings’ with regards to their acknowledgement of, well, a broader context to their work. Then I’m going to quickly move into a broader point, using his metaphor as a guide.
As a writer myself, one who has struggled with the very issues within the creative process that Koestler here describes, I find his analogy of the closed window and the telescope incredibly apt. Not only have I observed this in the writing of other authors - often quite famous and well-regarded ones, but distinctly within my own work as well. Rather than overlooking the implicit reality hovering beyond the edges of my novel however, I’ve found myself falling prey to paralyzing indecision regarding how exactly I should go about exploring all the hundreds of issues that I believe my writing needs to tackle. It’s not an issue I have with smaller works, as short stories and the like have the benefit of being extremely focused pieces, but in that case I fear that I do not yet have the ability to sufficiently layer subtext within my work so as to have it considered “great”.
In this way I fear I have a tendency toward neither the novelist who leans out the window, nor the one who bars it tight against the world. Rather I find myself the novels who gets fed up with writing and goes out to enjoy a nice coffee and watch the new action flick at the cinema. I can commiserate with the writer who wishes to focus on a single, solitary story, without regards for the larger social framework of the time that they are writing within. No atom bombs here, just a young girl, some roses, an old house, and some sort of plot revolving around family and farming.
Which seems like a good spot to segue into the other part of the discussion. How can this be applied in a larger context? Well, rather easily actually.
There can be a tendency in life to tread closer to the things that are immediately close to home, to shut out the rest of the world and focus on your daily doings to the exclusion of what is happening next door. There are also many people who jump head first into life and get caught up in a myriad of little events, so ungrounded that they usually end up drifting listlessly from one thing to another, never quite satisfied with out their experience turned out. And then there are the people who grab the telescope and, looking through it, proclaim the problem at an end! “I’ve done it!” they say, fully convinced that they are now at the pinnacle of awareness. These last are, perhaps, the most dangerous - to themselves and others - for safe behind their narrow lens, they soon solidify in their opinions just as much as the person who closed and barred their metaphorical window. The chief difference being that the one with the telescope is keen to interact with the world, despite the narrow range of vision they have available to them. This leads to all manner of problems, because you end up with someone who is constantly focused on the little pieces of the whole, convinced that the whole doesn’t matter apart from its constituent elements. This is like saying that a great painting is meaningless without the individual brush strokes - in a certain essence correct, and yet obviously not a total truth. The painting may be comprised of individual brush strokes, but the finished creation takes on new meaning quite separate, and much larger, than what any single stroke embodies.
The solution then, it seems, is to take care to regard the world as a whole first, and then narrow down when required so as to view or interact with specific occurrences. One must learn to appreciate the finished painting, as well as the act of painting, as well as the process of learning to pain, as well as the history of painting in that particular style, and so on and so forth - so that there is always at least some sense of the totality of what the painting is - which, incidentally, quickly appears to be a far vaster genealogy than what began when the brush first touched canvas.
This strikes me as the ultimate aim of a critical thinker. Being a logical thinker is easy, as is (for anyone with sufficient will and a passing intellect) the skill of debating and argumentation. But the ability to relax the native urge to narrow one’s awareness and attention down to a single point - to instead work daily to explore the whole of all experience, that strikes me as the true method for intelligently exploring the world. Nothing is ever as simple as “it started with the brush stroke” and to look at and appreciate the finished painting requires at least some understanding and appreciation for the whole history of the art of painting, as well as the history of the painter and their efforts to produce the work of art before you. Not to mention the fact that there is, in life, never a point where something becomes truly “finished” - there will always be new movement, more history, new skills; new paintings are constantly being made, and old ones are randomly painted over to save on the cost of canvas.
Have I worked that metaphor to death yet?
As Koestler says, the author must “locate his work within a geometrical coordinate system, the axes of which are represented by the dominating facts, ideas, and tendencies of his time.” [Koestler 33]
I shall wrap up there for now, [shamefully] without following through on a return to the core subject of Koestler’s essay - the nature and importance of the writer within society. While fascinating, I believe that I’ve exhausted at present my (admitedly already limited) reservoir of post-midnight intellectualism. Perhaps I shall return at some point and move on with a more detailed reading, but for now I have achieved my goal.
I withdraw my telescope, and prepare to close the blinds.