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Rosebury's view of creativity and power


Mar 6 2012, 10:32pm

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Rosebury's view of creativity and power Can't Post

In the first edition of this book, Rosebury treated Tolkien's theological anarchism as something
marginal that ought to have been cut away. He now believes it's closely related to Tolkien's
overethical vision and the rest of the third section of the chapter is devoted to a more close look at it.

According to Rosebury Tolkien, like other Christian writers since the 18th century, is in a position
where he cannot take for granted that his readers believe in the Christian myths. He therefore aims to express himself in his books in a way which is compatible with Christian doctrine, but must «speak persuasively to readers without invoking the same doctrines». While in LoTR Tolkien can absorb the religious elements into the story and symbolism and omit any direct reference to God (except the appendices), he cannot do so in the Silmarillion, which is seen from the point of view of the Elves.

Rosebury turns to Tolkien's view of power and creation as described in Ainulindalė, the creation myth of the Silmarillion. But first he introduces a text for comparison where God's power of creation is conceptualized in different terms, a chapter of the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes' book
«Leviathan» (1651). Rosebury would like to think that Tolkien read and criticized Hobbes, but unfortunately cannot see any evidence that he actually did. All the same he thinks it's legitimate to make a contrast between Tolkien and Hobbes as a way of comparing different view of power and government

Hobbes' arguments in the relevant chapter of Leviathan can be summarized as follows:
a) Human beings in civil societies are obliged to obey the existing sovereign authority, because one
can suppose they have made a pact to surrender their individual rights to one person or agency
b) This is a rational thing for human beings to do, given the conditions of human existence, where life without this sovereign power would be everyone's struggle against everyone, all of the time.
c) Hobbes theory of government is justified or based by the concept of natural rights.
d) Hobbes sovereign has the right to govern and where neccessary punish and coerce his subjects
and that right is based on his irresistible power. The sovereign's right to power and govern is connected to the creation of the world as an act of power by God.

God's rights over his creatures are not based upon their debt of gratitude to him or the right to punish sins, but on his omnipotence. Hobbes argues this on the basis of God's words to Job, such
as «Where wast thou when I layd the foundations of the earth»..

Rosebury argues that there's a considerable difference between presenting God's creation as an act of power, as Hobbes' does, and as creativity and creative processes, as it is done in the creation story of The Silmarillion. The latter emphasizes the freedom and independence of the creatures created, while the former quickly moves to justification of coercive politics, where the authoritarian state is justified in natural right based solely on power.

Ainulindalė and Genesis
Tolkien's deep suspicion of the state and his attitude towards political power is based on an understanding of God as original artist rather than original power, where the original artist delegates powers to others and renounces power over his creatures. In the Ainulindalė, the creation story of The Silmarillion, Tolkien adheres to the doctrine of creation, while pulling the origins of moral value clearly towards creativity.

While there are structural similarities between Ainulindalė and Genesis, like Eru Ilśvatar in the role of God, the Ainur in the role of the angels and Melkor preparing for the role of the fallen angel, there are also striking differences.

In The Silmarillion the creation of the world is carried out through intermediaries, the Ainur and their music

The Ainur (Angels) gradually learn what to do and how to collaborate, they are not merely extensions of God's power

Each Ainu has a native power, but their music is a synthesis rather than an aggregate of
their powers. Their intuition, discipline and way of learning is made to resemble human creativity and its processes.

Specific features of the world are presented as both intentional and unintentional effects of collaboration: (as an example he quotes Ilśvatar's words to Ulmo about how Melkor has tried to destroy his work, but how he should consider his friendship and affinity with Manwė, and the products of their joint imagination, like mist, rain and clouds) .

The metaphors for creation are in themselves artistic – it starts with a music which becomes a vision of the world and which later is realised as a story.

The engineering of the physical world is delegated to the Ainur, and while God has overall narrative direction his creations act out history as free agents.

God's supreme power is manifest through the role of the imperishable flame, which gives being to the imagined. But this act of creation comes after the artistic creativity, not before

The dangers of creativity and creative power

Tolkien presents in the Silmarillion both positive and negative aspects of creativity.
Melkor's rebellion is initially creative in nature, he is described as an impatient spirit, wanting to create beings of his own. Rosebury points to the fact that Melkor's rebellion being creative is natural, given the artistic culture God has created. Rosebury points out that Melkor cannot make war against God or conceive of war, unlike Satan in Milton's heaven in «Paradise lost», where heaven is militarized. Melkor's rebellion is therefore presented rather as a protest against the harmony of the other Ainur than against Eru/God.

Gradually Melkor's desire to create becomes increasingly tainted with desire to glorify himself which leads to the desire for servants who only obey his will – as opposed to independent beings - and end in the hatred of the products of all other wills than that of his own.

Melkor's and Sauron's creatures in The Silmarillion and LoTR are shown as nearly all dependent on their will, they are more like machines, dependent on a steering will. As a counterpart to this you find
Aulė's creation of the dwarves, where he tells that he does not want machines or lordship over them, but desires things other than himself, to teach them and love them (Silmarillion chapter 2)

Throughout the Silmarillion the dangerous temptations of creation for Elves and Dwarves are presented as the inability to let go of the products of their skill.

In general you might say that in Tolkien's universe God creates independent beings who are created for freedom and sub-creation instead of being dominated. Those who seek power over
their creations or others creations through coercion, like Melkor and Sauron, are themselves diminished.

Tolkien's sympathy for anarchy in the meaning abolition of control is rooted in his moral
conception of the universe. The fundamental human right is the right to create, but while Tolkien 's
exaltation of the creative artist has its roots in Coleridge, he also saw that this creative power was as capable of corrupting its owner as any other gift. In this way Tolkien's work is both a continuation of the romantic tradition and a criticism of it.

Rosebury hopes to have shown that the creation story of the Silmarillion is more than a pastiche,
an exercise at playing the Old Testament, but rather expresses a serious moral purpose.

While recognizing the consistent metaphysic base of Tolkien's anti-political stance, Rosebury still regrets Tolkien's indifference to the neccessary «unaestethic structures that imperfectly curtails political power».

Rosebury believes that his analysis of Tolkien's view of power shows how Tolkien's rejection of the idea of the author's purposed domination over the responses of the reader is consistent with the moral values of his work.


Is there a consistent line of argument on Rosebury's part throughout this chapter? If so, is it convincing?
Does it give the reader a better understanding of the underlying philosophy of Tolkien's works (works centering on Middle Earth)?

Other thoughts?

Subject User Time
Rosebury's view of creativity and power elostirion74 Send a private message to elostirion74 Mar 6 2012, 10:32pm
    Thanks for these! FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Mar 9 2012, 12:05pm
        some answers elostirion74 Send a private message to elostirion74 Mar 12 2012, 10:15pm
    I like the distinction Rosebury makes sador Send a private message to sador Mar 12 2012, 9:00am


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