Brain Pickings

Anthony Burgess on What Gives Art and Science Their Immeasurable Value

Anthony Burgess on What Gives Art and Science Their Immeasurable Value

“Because of their outstanding permanence, works of art are the most intensely worldly of all tangible things,” Hannah Arendt wrote in contemplating the difference between how art and science illuminate the human condition. It’s a sobering sentiment to consider at a time when the funding of the arts and sciences — that is, of the wellspring and measure of our humanity — is being weighed as an expenditure against military budgets and commercial goals. Wars begin and end, countries come into existence and dissolve into oblivion, entire civilizations rise and fall, yet what remains are humanity’s works of art and scientific discoveries.

But what, exactly, lends art and science their centrality in culture, their supreme significance to our experience of being human? And how do they differ in what they nourish in us, despite their creative sympathies? A physicist might give one answer, and a philosopher another — Schopenhauer likened science to “the innumerable showering drops of the waterfall, which, constantly changing, never rest for an instant,” and art to “the rainbow, quietly resting on this raging torrent.”

Anthony Burgess (February 25, 1917–November 22, 1993) offers a beautiful, dimensional answer to that question in the opening chapter of his student guide English Literature (public library), which he wrote while working as a teacher of English literature in Malaya in 1954, eight years before A Clockwork Orange catapulted him into worldwide artistic acclaim.


[The remainder of this article has been removed because the Anthony Burgess Foundation’s litigious arm feels that my excerpting briefly and in a celebratory spirit from an academic book that has been out of print for decades is somehow to the detriment of their commercial aims.]

Published March 21, 2017




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