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Paradise reframed: Lewis, Bergson, and changing times on Perelandra.

Ever since its publication, C. S. Lewis's Perelandra (1943) has been read primarily in terms of a sharply defined struggle between religious and naturalistic points of view. As in the other parts of his Space Trilogy, Lewis seems to present an impassable conflict between Christianity and the post-Darwinian tendencies of modern thought. In the first novel, Out of the Silent Planet (1938), the Christian protagonist, Elwin Ransom, contends with the imperial designs of two ambitious villains--the physicist Weston and the businessman Devine--who take for granted their own evolutionary superiority and regard it as sufficient warrant for the subordination or conquest of others. In Perelandra Ransom again encounters Weston, who has been converted to "biological philosophy" and now promotes the doctrine of "creative" or "emergent" evolution. In this modern reconstruction of John Milton's Paradise Lost, the contest between Ransom and Weston, or rather the Satanic tempter who takes possession of Weston's body, appears to represent the irreconcilable opposition between Christian doctrine and an insidious new philosophy inspired by the revolution in biology. A similar conflict would appear once more in That Hideous Strength (1945), which features Ransom in a mortal struggle with a demonic organization (N.I.C.E.) that pursues a eugenically inspired program to assume control of the evolutionary process. Taken together, these seemingly dear-cut confrontations between Christian tradition and modern apostasy reinforce the image of Lewis as the voice of an endangered heritage--a self-styled "dinosaur" waging spiritual warfare against the corruption and confusions of his age. (1)

Given these clearly defined battle lines, it is surprising to find that some of the most distinctive features of Perelandra's new Eden are derived from the same "biological philosophy" espoused by the enemy. In a dramatic departure from traditional views of the earthly paradise, Lewis presents the prelapsarian order as a state of continuous flux and dynamic development. Instead of an immutable condition that precedes the fall into time and change, Lewis's new Eden is a world of perpetual movement in which the one prohibition--its Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is to avoid habitation of the "Fixed Land." To appreciate the significance of this move, we must take a closer look at the doctrines of "creative" and "emergent" evolution and the functions they served in early twentieth-century culture.

The term "creative evolution" is associated specifically with the philosopher Henri Bergson, whose Creative Evolution (1907) became one of the most influential books of the period. "Emergent evolution" refers to a subsequent but closely related movement among British thinkers--including the philosopher Samuel Alexander, author of Space, Time and Deity (1920), and the zoologist C. Lloyd Morgan, author of Emergent Evolution (1923)--who modified the Darwinian paradigm to allow more room for novelty, discontinuity, and creative development in the evolutionary process. Lewis often expressed his admiration for certain features of Alexander's work (see note 10), but his mobile paradise seems especially indebted to Bergson's pioneering reformulation of the concept of time, which upset the traditional priority of Being over Becoming and paved the way for "emergent" evolution and comparable explorations of temporal process by Alfred North Whitehead and others in the 1920s. (2) As we shall see, in his early years Lewis read Bergson with much enthusiasm, and his often favorable remarks even after his midlife conversion to Christianity indicate some of the ways that Perelandra takes up the philosopher's vision of creation as a process of continuous and innovative development. Of course, as the portrayal of Weston clearly indicates, Lewis rejects much of Bergson's philosophy and the intellectual tendencies it represents. Nor was he sympathetic to process theology or the other currents of religious speculation that Bergson inspired. In light of this ostensive dismissal of creative evolution, it is all the more remarkable that Lewis conceived his imaginary paradise along largely Bergsonian lines.

At first glance it seems strange, if not contradictory, to think of Lewis constructing his new Eden according to a blueprint provided by the opposing side, but such a view of Perelandra is less perplexing if we consider Lewis's contemporaneous study of Milton, A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942). In this highly influential work Lewis overturns the Romantic reading of Milton as "of the Devil's party without knowing it" by reducing Satan from an exalted tragic hero to a parody of the God against whom he has rebelled. Invoking the Augustinian notion that evil has no substantial existence but is merely a defection from the good, Lewis shows that Milton's fallen archangel should be regarded not as an authentic hero but as a warped imitation of his Creator. The same logic may account for the otherwise baffling situation in Perelandra, where Lewis presents creative evolution as a dangerous distortion of the divinely ordained and beneficent temporal dynamism with which he invests his imaginary paradise. In other words, on the basis of his encounter with Bergson and those who followed him, Lewis took the Platonic step of conceiving an "original" of which the world as it appears in creative evolution maybe considered the misshapen image. Armed with Augustine's view that "what we call bad things are good things perverted" (Preface 66), Lewis shows how the fertile but flawed conception of time in creative evolution may lead to the discovery of real time--the dynamic temporality that Bergson liberated from the static categories of traditional metaphysics and mechanistic science but failed to extricate from the naturalistic tendencies that the latter had fostered. Put somewhat differently, just as Bergson unearthed a new principle of Becoming out of his encounter with a theory of evolution still entangled in the traditional language of Being, so Lewis constructed a Christian vision of Becoming out of his engagement with Bergson's dynamic naturalism. In this respect it is insufficient to consider Perelandra solely in terms of the opposition between "religious" and "materialist" viewpoints; we must also take into account the "in-between view" of Bergson and those he inspired (Mere Christianity 34). As a result of this shift in perspective, we may begin to look at Lewis's novel less as an irreconcilable struggle between an old-fashioned Christian humanism and a newfangled heresy than as the effort of a modern Christian intellectual to sustain and enrich the former through critical engagement with the latter. (3)

I

In order to understand Lewis's complex response to Bergson, we must consider the character and distinctive appeal of "vitalism," which occupied a strategic position in the ideological warfare of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Strictly speaking, the vitalist controversy was the province of biologists, who debated whether organic processes are reducible to the same kind of mechanistic laws as those that govern physics and chemistry. At the same time, however, a more momentous battle over vitalism was being waged in philosophy and the human sciences, where the assumptions and procedures of positivism--the use of mechanistic forms of explanation to account for the experience and actions of human beings--had penetrated virtually every field of inquiry. Late-nineteenth-century vitalism (or Lebensphilosophie, as it was often called) developed in opposition to the triumph of positivism. Whereas the positivist applies the procedures of the physical sciences to the study of human thought, feeling, and action, the vitalist maintains that the organic nature of "life" is irreducible to mechanistic explanation and that the methods appropriate to investigation of the physical world lead only to a distorted understanding of human nature. This insistence on the irreducible phenomenon of "life" and the primacy of "lived experience" plays a prominent role in the works of Bergson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Wilhelm Dilthey, and many of their contemporaries, who at once recall the Romantics in the early nineteenth century and anticipate the work of Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and others in the following century.

Seen from another vantage point, vitalism occupied the middle ground between naturalism and spiritualism, the two antithetical poles of nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century intellectual life, and it elicited enthusiasm and enmity on both sides of the ideological divide. The vitalist quarrel with positivism was especially attractive to those who regarded naturalistic explanation as an assault on the sanctity of the human spirit. To this group vitalism appeared to dispel the specter of mechanistic determinism and provide new grounds for affirming the moral freedom of the individual. At the same time, vitalist notions could also be employed in the opposite direction against religious orthodoxy and the metaphysics that was used to sustain it. In defiance of a tradition that privileged Being over Becoming, unity over multiplicity, and essence over existence, vitalists celebrated the creative and multiform power of "life" that spontaneously gives rise to new forms of expression and ceaselessly strives to overcome the obstacles that impede its realization. This type of vitalism was often attractive to secular progressives, who were themselves not always hospitable to positivism and welcomed a philosophy that sanctioned the dismantling of anachronistic institutions.

Thus Lebensphilosophie (or "Life-Force Philosophy," as Lewis sometimes called it) lent itself to cultural values at both ends of the ideological spectrum. There was in effect a vitalism of the Right and a vitalism of the Left, the first a modified form of spiritualism (or at least a repudiation of positivism), the second a more dynamic form of naturalism. This peculiar position between opposing ideologies accounts for the ambiguity of vitalism as a cultural phenomenon. It also accounts for the conflicting responses to highly complex figures such as Nietzsche and Bergson, whom both conservatives and progressives could regard as either friend or foe. In Bergson's case, the conflict was provoked by a single major development in the author's own work. Bergson regarded his career as the gradual unfolding of a single insight into the nature of time, first as the distinguishing feature of human experience (duree reelle) and later as a fundamental condition of all existence (elan vital), but this development, as we shall see, produced dissension among his early supporters and significantly shifted the character of his appeal. (4)

On the basis of his first two books, Time and Free Will (1889) and Matter and Memory (1896), Bergson established a significant reputation as a critic of positivism, demonstrating that the mechanistic procedures designed to explore the physical world are insufficient for the study of mental life. In Time and Free Will he distinguishes sharply between physical and psychological realms and attacks the various schools of psychology that rely upon the methods of physical science and thereby obscure the distinctive qualities of consciousness. For instance, the influential school of association psychology, which employs a model derived from the laws of mechanics, pictures the mind as a collection of discrete impersonal elements or "atoms"--such as fear and desire, or love and hate--that are juxtaposed side by side as if they were so many objects spread out in space. Once the mind is conceived in this manner, the associationist approaches consciousness in the same way that the physicist approaches matter. Adopting the scientific assumption that the same causes always produce the same effects, the associationist concludes that from any existing state of psychic elements we can calculate the course of future action--in other words, that we can reduce the moral life to a system of laws as determinate as those of mechanics. Bergson grants that this type of analysis may apply to our superficial mental states, which reflect our practical transactions with the external world. At a deeper level, however, our psychic life is not a mirror image of the spatial world of discrete and selfsame objects but rather a process in which the individual elements of consciousness "cease to stand in juxtaposition and begin to permeate and melt into one another, and each [is] tinged with the colouring of all the others" (Time and Free Will 164). Moreover, since we are endowed with memory, which preserves the past into the present and makes possible their mutual interpenetration, consciousness is not a sequence of isolatable moments but rather a seamless continuity--"a constant state of becoming"--in which each moment flows into all of the others in a manner distinctive to each individual. For Bergson this "succession without distinction" is the essential feature of consciousness as it exists in "real duration" (duree reelle). The principal assumption of mechanics--that identical causes will always produce identical effects--cannot be translated to the psychological realm, since identical conditions never reappear on the stage of consciousness and "the same feeling, by the mere fact of being repeated, is a new feeling" (Time and Free Will 200). The mind that develops in real duration is irreducible to a determinate calculus, which is to say that our thoughts and actions are free to the extent that they issue from a unique personality that develops and changes over time. Simply stated, "to act freely is to recover possession of oneself, and to get back into pure duration" (Time and Free Will 231-32).

In an intellectual milieu still dominated by positivism, Bergson's early works appealed to many younger intellectuals who flocked to his lectures at the College de France and referred to him as the "liberator"--the philosopher who redeemed Western thought from the nineteenth century's "religion of science." His young English publicist, T. E. Hulme, expressed a widespread sentiment when he stated that Bergson brought "relief" to an entire generation by dispelling "the nightmare of determinism" (173). Soon after the turn of the century, however, Bergson's thought began to develop along lines that would alienate many of his early admirers. In An Introduction to Metaphysics (1903), he veers away from the sharp division between physical and psychological processes and begins to extend the idea of real duration from the human mind to the external world. Whereas Time and Free Will presented the outer world as a collection of stable material objects, An Introduction to Metaphysics conceives it as a process of perpetual becoming. In this famous "inversion of Platonism," Bergson maintains that absolute reality does not reside in a system of unchanging forms apprehended by the intellect but is given to us directly in the transient stream of immediate experience. His principal distinction now lies in the division between the intellect, which organizes the flux of experience into useful but static concepts, and the faculty of intuition, which reverses this tendency of the intellect and paves the way for "fluid concepts, capable of following reality in all its sinuosities and of adopting the very movement of the inward life of things" (51). In other words, intuition is the means through which we grasp durations other than our own--the endowment that enables us to pass from our own psychic stream to the mobile reality of the universe around us.

The implications of this turn in Bergson's thought became explicit a few years later with the appearance of Creative Evolution. In this wide-ranging and enormously influential work, Bergson simultaneously dismantles the Darwinian theory of evolution and proposes an alternative view in which real duration provides a model through which to reconceive the development of life itself. Tracing the problems of nineteenth-century positivism back to the origins of Western philosophy, Bergson claims that by its very nature the rational intellect reduces time to a function of space and that, as a consequence of this spatializing function, it treats the past and the future as calculable functions of the present. In other words, the intellect is an ingenious instrument for organizing and arranging the existing products of creation, but its inability to comprehend processes involving true novelty and unforeseeable change accounts not only for the problems of traditional metaphysics but also for the failures of modern scientific theories of evolution. By definition the mechanistic theories of Charles Darwin and his successors explain future states on the basis of antecedent conditions, while teleological theories, which assume that antecedent conditions are merely stages in the realization of "a programme previously arranged" (Creative Evolution 39), are simply mechanistic theories in reverse. Bergson departs from both of these conceptions by postulating the existence of a creative spiritual impetus, the elan vital, that spontaneously produces novel forms of life and thereby raises creation to new and previously unpredictable levels of development. While acknowledging the speculative character of the elan vital, Bergson marshals a formidable array of scientific evidence to demonstrate that the creative impetus accounts for many biological facts distorted or ignored by previous theories. To complete the argument he also suggests that the future of the human species, and perhaps of the evolutionary process itself, may lie not in the further development of the rational intellect as we know it but in the creative interaction between the intellect and the still emergent faculty of intuition. This interaction, which is already bringing us to a recognition of the dynamic character of the human psyche and the surrounding universe, may have the capacity to advance the natural order to a higher though as yet indefinable stage of self-realization.

Creative Evolution was a huge popular success, and its author soon became an international celebrity. The basis of Bergson's remarkable appeal lay in his synthesis of opposing points of view. Under his spell the presumably unbridgeable gap between religious and naturalistic viewpoints appeared to dissolve into mere illusion. Bergson achieved this feat by simultaneously spiritualizing biology and naturalizing the spiritual. After reading his book one could believe that the Darwinian theory is essentially a consequence of the mechanistic nature of intellect and that the elan vital makes far more sense of the entire evolutionary process. One could also view the traditional metaphysical conception of God as a product of the intellect, which leads us to identify reality with stasis rather than dynamic process, and reconceive the Divine as a creative spirit that realizes itself progressively in the natural order. As it turned out, this middle way between naturalism and spiritualism achieved a considerable if momentary following, but it also elicited a good deal of criticism. At one end of the ideological spectrum, Bergson's emphasis upon dynamic and open-ended change endeared him to many progressives, including George Bernard Shaw, who incorporated Bergson into his own vision of evolutionary progress, and the young Walter Lippmann, who adapted Bergson's metaphysics to the politics of the progressive era, declaring that we must discard the notion of government as a static mechanism and reconceive it along vitalist lines as "a process of continual creation, an unceasing invention of forms to meet constantly changing needs" (13). For every progressive who applauded Bergson's idea of spontaneous development, however, there was another who dismissed the elan vital as a pseudo-mystical confection and bristled at his deprecation of the rational intellect. On the other side of the spectrum, many French Catholics continued to applaud Bergson's work, but others, who had been inspired by his early studies of the psyche, were far less receptive to his evolutionary cosmology and his account of ancient and medieval philosophy. Sympathetic critics such as Charles Peguy praised Bergson for restoring the distinction between the mechanistic realm of matter and the vital realm of human existence, but they also attacked him for collapsing the distinction between the vital and the spiritual realms. From their perspective Creative Evolution denied the transcendence of God by reducing the Divine to an immanent life-force that realizes itself through the course of evolutionary progress. Bergson continued to inspire many Catholic intellectuals, particularly those who believed that the Church must eventually come to terms with modernity; but by suggesting that the elan vital may be equated with God, he had entered into a fatal collision course with Rome, which ultimately placed his works on the Index of Prohibited Books. Hence the Bergsonian synthesis proved to be an unstable compound, and as a means of reconciling opposing points of view it was often treated as a suspicious compromise by representatives of both sides. Moreover, with the outbreak of World War I, the cultural climate of Europe began to change dramatically, and by the time the war was over the ethos that could support either the notion of an immanent spiritual force or the idea of unlimited progress had seriously eroded. Bergson would remain a significant influence during the postwar decade, but the extraordinary vogue of Bergsonism had begun its steady descent.

II

Ironically, Lewis's fascination with Bergson began while he was recovering from his battlefront wounds in 1918, and the young scholar continued reading Bergson intermittently in the years that followed. (5) As might be expected, after his conversion in the early thirties Lewis assumed the more critical stance of Peguy and other French Catholics. While affirming Bergson's separation of the vital and mechanistic realms, he rejected the virtual equation between the vital and the spiritual. According to the older Lewis, creative evolution is a "modern form of nature religion" (God in the Dock 86). Its distinctive appeal lies in its "in-between view" which promises to deliver us from the "material" while diluting the "religious" into an emotionally uplifting but ethically undemanding sense of "striving" or "purposiveness" in the natural universe (Mere Christianity 34-35). (In Perelandra Lewis would explore the darker implications of this ethical deficiency in his portrayal of Weston, for whom evolutionary advancement is the supreme end that justifies any means of achieving it.) Nevertheless, even as he dissected the temptations and dangers of "Life-Force philosophy," Lewis continued to treat Bergson himself with considerable if qualified respect. He admired the Bergsonian critique of "orthodox Darwinism" and repeatedly distinguished the philosopher's own works from its various popularizations by Shaw and others. (6) In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (1956), Lewis is quite open in his praise as he recalls his initial response to Bergson in 1918:
 The other momentous experience was that of reading Bergson in a
 Convalescent Camp on Salisbury Plain. Intellectually this taught me to
 avoid the snares that lurk about the word Nothing. But it also had a
 revolutionary effect on my emotional outlook. Hitherto my whole bent had
 been toward things pale, remote, and evanescent; the water-color world of
 Morris, the leafy recesses of Malory, the twilight of Yeats. The word
 "life" had for me pretty much the same associations it had for Shelley in
 The Triumph of Life. I would not have understood what Goethe meant by des
 Lebens goldnes Baum. Bergson showed me. He did not abolish my old loves,
 but he gave me a new one. From him I first learned to relish energy,
 fertility, and urgency; the resource, the triumphs, and even the insolence,
 of things that grow. I became capable of appreciating artists who would, I
 believe, have meant nothing to me before; all the resonant, dogmatic,
 flaming, unanswerable people like Beethoven, Titian (in his mythological
 pictures), Goethe, Dunbar, Pindar, Christopher Wren, and the more exultant
 Psalms. (198)


Bergson may have naturalized the supernatural, but for the young agnostic caught between a dreamy late Romanticism and the horror of the trenches, Bergson's way of infusing nature with spirit appears to have worked like a charm. In one respect, Perelandra is Lewis's own paean to "the resource, the triumphs, and even the insolence, of things that grow"--a celebration of the vital realm that reaches its highest expression in the "animal rationale" who presides over the rest of creation (Perelandra 207). However much he criticizes Bergson and those he inspired, Lewis constructs his own version of creative evolution by endowing his imaginary world with a principle of dynamic change in which even the evolutionary lapses, including the spiritual catastrophe that has overtaken our fallen planet, are transfigured into something new and more marvelous by the redeeming act of God.

Far less obvious than the tonic effect of Bergson's vitalism is his lesson on "the snares that lurk about the word Nothing." In his autobiography Lewis goes on to explain the significance of this discovery:
 Finally, there was of course Bergson. Somehow or other (for it does not
 seem very clear when I reopen his books today) I found in him a refutation
 of the old haunting idea, Schopenhauer's idea, that the universe "might not
 have existed." In other words one Divine attribute, that of necessary
 existence, rose above my horizon. It was still, and long after, attached to
 the wrong subject; to the universe, not to God. But the mere attribute was
 itself of immense potency. When once one has dropped the absurd notion that
 reality is an arbitrary alternative to "nothing" one gives up being a
 pessimist (or even an optimist) [...]. It was perhaps the nearest thing to
 a religious experience which I had had since my prep-school days. It ended
 (I hope forever) any idea of a treaty or compromise with reality.
 (Surprised by Joy 204-05)


Lewis may have forgotten the details, but his memory did not betray him. In a long and challenging section of Creative Evolution, Bergson argues that concepts such as "nothingness" are actually complex derivatives proceeding from the negation of the original plenitude of creation. Whereas ancient philosophers and modern scientists share the assumption that "Nothing" is prior to "Being" (chaos precedes cosmos, and void is anterior to the emergence of things), Bergson demonstrates that each of these negative terms issues from, and depends upon, the positive term it supposedly precedes. The same relation holds for other oppositions such as absence/presence, emptiness/fullness, and disorder/order. Somewhat surprisingly, it also pertains to the distinction between possibility and actuality: in line with his emphasis upon unforeseeable development, Bergson reverses the assumption that the possible precedes the actual and shows that possibility may be regarded as the retrospective effect of a new actuality (Creative Mind 91-106). In the case of "Nothingness" the negative term is the final result of a complicated process that develops from the temporal structure of human consciousness, which allows us to feel disappointment in the present by comparing it to the recollected past or the anticipated future (Creative Evolution 272-98). Lewis welcomed Bergson's solid appreciation of the actual over "what might be" or "what might have been" just as he found satisfaction in the Bergsonian plenum that upholds the priority of Being (as opposed to "Nothingness") and presence, and that consigns their opposites to a secondary and derivative position.

In Perelandra Lewis merges Bergson's notion of "Nothingness" with his own Augustinian view that grants ontological status only to the Good and relegates evil to a privative notion that is parasitic upon it. As we shall see, just as Lewis ascends much higher than Bergson with his reaffirmation of divine transcendence, so his Augustinian sense of sin leads him much deeper into the darkness of negation. Nevertheless, in a manner akin to Bergson's treatment of "Nothingness" Lewis considers the problem of evil in relation to the difficulties inherent in the temporal experience of a free agent. He thus draws on Bergson not only for his celebration of creative development but also for his critical examination of the trials of temporality that plague our own world--the limitations of our fragile finitude in a world of ceaseless change; the insecurities that lead us to fixate on the past or attempt to control the future; and, ultimately, the temptation to deny our time-bound condition and thereby defect from the developing stream of actual life into self-deceptive fictions and the eternal darkness of "Nothing."

III

The first two chapters of Perelandra take place on Earth and set the stage for the new temporal order that Ransom encounters on Venus. As the narrator (identified as "Lewis") disembarks from his train and apprehensively begins his walk to Ransom's cottage, he is acutely aware of the distressing effects of time--the transition from daylight to darkness, the decay of an abandoned industrial site, the gloom of an empty house with a single unboarded window "staring like the eye of a dead fish" (14). Anticipating Ransom's own temptation to resist the flow of time, the narrator is repeatedly assailed by "the impulse to retreat" and must rely on "the rational part of [his] mind" to maintain his resolve to go on (16, 13). The emphasis upon time shifts to the cosmic level when we meet Ransom and the supernatural "eldil" who is sponsoring his mission. Ransom wishes to return to Mars, the planet he visited in the first book of the trilogy, but he knows that he "can never, never get back" Maleldil's universe is changing continuously and irreversibly, and Ransom has been called to assume an as yet undefined role in what may be "a whole new phase in the life of the Solar System" (22). The presence of the eldil underscores the predicament of our time-bound condition. When the narrator expresses his concern that they have kept the eldil "waiting," Ransom informs him that unlike humans, who possess "a sense of cumulative duration," the angelic eldila are exempt from the travails of creatures who grow weary or restless over time: "`You might as well say that a tree in a wood was waiting, or the sunlight waiting on the side of a hill'" (29). Even the progression of the narrative calls attention to the dynamics of time. As Ransom prepares for his voyage, the relatively slow-paced narration, which has lingered over the uncertainties of the impending future, suddenly races forward to the hero's return a year later. Perhaps this is merely a convenient device for casting the ensuing narrative in the form of a tale told retrospectively to a circle of friends, but this fast-forward in time also conveys a compound sense of time traversed (Ransom casually resumes conversation as if he had never gone), of time reversed (the "new Ransom" looks ten years younger than he appeared the year before), and of time transcended (since like the eldila we have been relieved of the burden of waiting).

The sense of time, change, and movement shifts once more when Ransom lands on the watery surface of Venus. As he rides the ocean waves, the hero finds himself in the midst of a confusing though surprisingly pleasurable flux. Inspired by scientific accounts of Venus's "floating islands" Lewis depicts a "universe of shifting slopes" that never ceases to change and offers the observer no still point of orientation:
 It looked exactly as though you were in a well-wooded valley with a river
 at the bottom of it. But while you watched, that seeming river did the
 impossible. It thrust itself up so that the land on either side sloped
 downwards from it; and then up farther still and shouldered half the
 landscape out of sight beyond its ridge; and became a huge greeny-gold
 hog's back of water hanging in the sky and threatening to engulf your own
 land, which was now concave and reeled backwards to the next roller, and
 rushing upwards, became convex again. (51)


Such passages are not merely a display of their author's formidable powers of description; Lewis is also inverting the traditional conception of paradise as an immutable state that precedes the lapse into time and change. Just as Bergson and others were challenging the traditional relationship between Being and Becoming, so Lewis presents his new Eden as a world of continuous movement in which the one proscription is to avoid settling on the Fixed Land.

Lewis's portrayal of paradise as a perpetual flux is also a means of examining the human predicament in our own world, where temporal progression is distorted by insecurity and the specter of death. These issues begin to surface when Ransom notices that he wants to repeat the experience of tasting the wondrous fruit of Perelandra:
 This itch to have things over again, as if life were a film that could be
 unrolled twice or even made to work backwards [...,] was it possibly the
 root of all evil? No: of course the love of money was called that. But
 money itself--perhaps one valued it chiefly as a defence against chance, a
 security for being able to have things over again, a means of arresting the
 unrolling of the film. (48)


Ransom understands the implications of his urge to immobilize the flux: our desire to overcome the temporal conditions of our existence and assume control of our own destiny is the very basis of our fallen state. Echoing the narrator's "impulse to retreat" in the opening chapter, Ransom's desire to substitute the past for the present also anticipates the Un-man's .attempt to ruin the new Eden by exploiting the temptation to replace "what is" with seductive fictions of "what might be."

As long as Ransom's experience is confined to the vegetable and lower animal life of Perelandra, the surface of the planet appears as a ceaseless but directionless flux, more akin to the cyclical stream of Heraclitus than to the developmental views of Bergson and his successors. (7) The situation begins to change, however, when Ransom meets the Green Lady--the Eve of this mobile Eden. Physically, the Queen of Perelandra manifests the perpetual novelty of Maleldil's creative activity: she possesses human form, though as Ransom soon realizes, she is the progenitrix of a new and independent species. Spiritually, she is even more remarkable. Unlike her earthly counterparts who feel the compulsion to repeat, the Green Lady simply accepts "the unrolling of the film" and finds it difficult to imagine why anyone would wish to do otherwise. In this pristine state the Lady possesses a kind of intuitive wisdom, but as it turns out she is also a fast learner who grows "older" with each new conversation. Not surprisingly, her development involves an emerging awareness of the modalities of time, as her worldly-wise tutor tries to enlighten her on the quandaries of recollection and anticipation. But even as she learns to take account of past and future within the unfolding present, the Lady also reveals what it would be like to possess a mind at peace with the progression of time. When Ransom remarks that one cannot become much "older" in a single night, the new Eve responds with Bergsonian insight into our propensity to reduce time to a function of space: "`I see it now, she said. `You think times have lengths. A night is always a night whatever you do in it, as from this tree to that is always so many paces whether you take them quickly or slowly. I suppose that is true in a way. But the waves do not always come at equal distances'" (60). The Lady also lives in harmony with duration at the cosmic level. In response to Ransom's lament that Maleldil no longer brings forth rational creatures with non-human form of the kind he met on Mars ("Are they to be swept away? Are they only rubbish in the Deep Heaven?"), she offers a refreshing corrective that sanctifies each moment of the creative process:
 "I do not know what rubbish means," she answered, "nor what you are saying.
 You do not mean they are worse because they come early in the history and
 do not come again? They are their own part of the history and not another.
 We are on this side of the wave and they on the far side. All is new." (63)


From this vantage point, cosmic progression entails no loss. Untouched by our impulse to transform the qualitative into the quantitative and measure one moment against another, the Green Lady rejoices in the distinctive character of each phase of the creation as it unfolds in time. Along with Ransom we are just beginning to learn that it is our own troubled condition that makes the passage of time such a difficult burden to bear.

While the Lady unfolds the temporal logic of her unspoiled world, Ransom attempts to press upon her the perils of time in our own world. In a revealing moment Ransom foreshadows the Un-man's temptation by launching into a Bergsonian account of the origins of negation in recollection and anticipation: "`But even you' he said, `when you first saw me, I know now you were expecting and hoping that I was the King [her husband]. When you found I was not, your face changed. Was that event not unwelcome? Did you not wish it to be otherwise?'" When the Lady responds, "`You make me grow older more quickly than I can bear'" Ransom begins to understand the fragile character of free agency in a time-bound world where nothing prevents us from wandering off into the "otherwise":
 It was suddenly borne in upon him that her purity and peace were not, as
 they had seemed, things settled and inevitable like the purity and peace of
 an animal--that they were alive and therefore breakable, a balance
 maintained by a mind and therefore, at least in theory, able to be lost.
 There is no reason why a man on a smooth road should lose his balance on a
 bicycle; but he could. There was no reason why she should step out of her
 happiness into the psychology of our own race; but neither was there any
 wall between to prevent her doing so. (68) (8)


Ransom has every reason to feel terrified by what in the same passage is described as a "sense of precariousness." He has ruptured the pristine "unrolling of the film" and generated the self-consciousness that is the precondition of our freedom and therefore of the fallibility inherent in it. Once again, however, the Lady surprises him with her reply. Instead of shattering her innocence, the birth of self-consciousness engenders the joyous realization that she is a free agent who willingly assumes her place in Maleldil's creation. She now understands how recollection and expectation can entice us into making "the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other," or into sensing disappointment in "finding a stranger when you wanted your husband." At the same time she realizes that in affirming the actual and the present "it is I, I myself, who turn from the good expected to the given good. Out of my own heart I do it. One can conceive a heart which did not: which clung to the good it had first thought of and turned the good which was given it into no good" (69). The awakening of self-consciousness entails no necessary rupture of the primordial unity with the will of Maleldil, suggesting that it is our own fallen state that leads us to associate the passage from innocence to experience with a lapse from an original state of purity.

For the Green Lady the dawning sense of freedom is not so much terrifying as "a delight with terror in it!" (69). She is awed but excited by the recognition that "He made me so separate from Himself [...]. The world is so much larger than I thought. I thought we went along paths--but it seems there are no paths. The going itself is the path" (70). While the Queen of this new world continues to delight in the challenge of this freedom, her visitor from an unhappier world grows increasingly sullen, and when she asks him why he is wrinkling his brow and shrugging his shoulders, his evasive reply that these gestures "mean nothing" is at once a lie (which in shame he emends to "nothing I could explain to you") and an acknowledgment of the impassable difference between her present condition and his own. As the conversation ends, we appear to have reached a state of irresolvable tension between innocence and experience, between the ennobling freedom for which we were meant and the dejection of a creature whose fragile freedom has ended up in woeful acquaintance with all "the snares that lurk about the word Nothing."

All of these issues are compressed into the ban on the Fixed Land. If acceptance of temporal progression is the defining feature of the paradisal state, the archetypal transgression lies in the attempt "to make sure--to be able on one day to command where I should be the next [...,] to put in our power what times should roll towards us" (208). Translated into the terms of our own world, the Fixed Land is a kind of surrogate eternity--a false haven of security that offers an idolatrous escape from the disappointments and terrors of an uncertain world. It is a flight from the transient reality of the present that expresses our desire for an eternal present that can never roll into the past because it has already foreclosed on the future. Not surprisingly, it is during their visit to the Fixed Land that Ransom and the Lady catch sight of the diabolical Weston. In his effort to alert the Lady to the imminent danger, Ransom tries to explain the archetypal rebellion of Lucifer, which he describes in terms of "`clinging to the old good instead of taking the good that came'" (83). In her innocent wisdom, however, the new Eve simply replies that "`the old good would cease to be a good at all if he did that.'" When Ransom tells her that "`there is no time to explain,'" the Lady's response--"`No time? What has happened to the time?'" (83)--not only reveals the vulnerability of her condition but also characterizes the impending threat to her world of pure duration.

IV

When Weston arrives on the Fixed Land, he claims that he is a different man from the crude materialist of Out of the Silent Planet. As a result of his encounter with "biological philosophy" he is now an emissary of the new gospel of "emergent evolution" (90). (9) At this point Lewis turns from his "beatific" transfiguration of creative evolution to the more familiar "miserific" version presented by his villain (111). To be sure, Weston's doctrine bears only a rough resemblance to the sophisticated views of Bergson, Alexander, and Morgan, or even to the more popular adaptations of Shaw and others. Nevertheless, Lewis employs Weston's self-serving vulgarization to bring to light the dangerous assumptions behind "biological philosophy": by positing a scale of evolutionary progress and placing humanity at its forefront, the developmental paradigm can turn into a means of rationalizing our own worst impulses. In Weston's hands it degenerates into little more than an excuse to pursue the "fixed idea" of interplanetary conquest (89), while closer to home his real-world counterparts twist this type of thinking into pseudo-scientific theories that justify the domination of one sector of humanity over another. In this respect modern "biological philosophy" is another manifestation of a disastrous turn in Western thought--the transfer of the "vortex of self-thinking, self-originating activity" from a transcendent God to an immanent power that realizes itself in the dynamic development of Man (92). Behind all the various Promethean visions from William Blake and Percy Bysshe Shelley to Nietzsche and Bergson resides the temptation to deny our dependent condition and assume the sovereignty traditionally reserved for the gods. From this perspective the theory of "creative" or "emergent" evolution is ultimately an expression of our desire to usurp control over the conditions of our existence. It is a parody of true temporality, a theory of cosmic progression that paradoxically reveals our inability to accept the inexorable flow of time.

The Un-man's temptation, which occupies the three central chapters of the novel, turns on this paradox. The Un-man tries to seduce the Green Lady with a vision of dynamic development that at once resembles and distorts the beneficent dynamism of Maleldil's universe. The process begins with an attempt to disrupt the Lady's acceptance of "what is" by enticing her into inventing stories of "what might be" (104). By associating "what is" with static repetition and "what might be" with dynamic change, the Un-man reverses the primordial relationship between flux and fixity and tries to persuade his victim that Maleldil secretly wishes her to violate his interdict because He longs "to see His creature become fully itself, to stand up in its own reason and its own courage even against Him" (117). In terrestrial terms this ploy to corrupt the Lady's imagination is a readily identifiable (and at times rather clever) version of the Romantic myth of creative rebellion. As envisioned by Shaw in Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921) and elsewhere, the initial act of disobedience ignites the spark that liberates the species from its inherited dependency and propels its march toward the realization of its higher destiny. From the outset of this section, however, the Green Lady discerns that the Un-man's unwavering fixation on the same topic belies his emphasis upon change and progress: "`I am wondering, said the woman's voice, `whether all the people of your world have the habit of talking about the same thing more than once. I have said already that we are forbidden to dwell on the Fixed Land. Why do you not either talk of something else or stop talking?'" (103). Knowing that "to walk out of His will is to walk into nowhere" (116), the Lady proves remarkably resilient in countering the tempter's efforts to dislodge her from the actual into the abyss of infinite possibility. Ransom sees the Un-man's distortion as well, but as one of our own kind he also knows how readily we are seduced into imagining that our freedom lies not in voluntary obedience but in the rebellious assertion of our own autonomy.

In the final phase of temptation, the element of repetition and sameness subsumes the Un-man's vision of dynamic development as the tempter settles into the routine of relating countless stories of courageous, self-sacrificing women. As Ransom soon realizes, the Un-man is attempting to lure the woman into envisioning herself as a tragic heroine enacting "a grand role in the drama of her world" (133). At first this promotion of an "external and, as it were, dramatic conception of the self" may seem like an inexplicable shift in tactics (139), but it recalls and exploits the initial awakening into self-consciousness when the Green Lady first senses the danger of "stepping out of life into the Alongside and looking at oneself living as if one were not alive" (60). In an effort to incite this pathological form of self-consciousness, the Un-man offers the Lady a mirror with which "to walk alongside oneself as if one were a second person and to delight in one's own beauty" (137). To the still unfallen Queen of Perelandra, this bifurcation of the self into spectator and actor is a strange and confusing phenomenon--an unnatural process of self-alienation in which the individual is no longer simply living one's life but observing oneself perform a prescripted role. For fallen beings such as ourselves, who are rarely exempt from some degree of self-dramatization, it is more a matter of remaining aware of an ever-present temptation and reminding ourselves of the ease with which we can be subsumed into our self-constructed fictions. (10)

Appropriately, the terminal development of this dissociation between consciousness and action lies in the tempter himself or, more precisely, in the Un-man's possession of Weston's body. As the tormented physicist realizes in his occasional moments of self-possession, the process of dissociation has reached the point where "he does all my thinking for me." When the Unman assumes full control, Weston's body merely executes the actions it is directed to perform. Ransom notices the frightful disjunction between the demonic spirit and the body it inhabits. The actions of the latter seem inorganic and "mechanised" (129), as if they were an "imitation of living motions" manipulated by some "external force" (122). In Bergsonian terms the Unman represents the reduction of humanity from the vital to the mechanistic realm, the devolution from a condition of flexible responsiveness and continuous development to a lifeless state of repetition and interminable sameness. (11) In line with its mechanistic character, the Un-man requires no sleep, and Ransom begins to suspect that its chance of victory over the woman lies as much in its capacity for relentless and monotonous repetition as in the theatrical self-image it is attempting to instill. Ransom is well aware of the enervating power of this repetition, which identifies itself in the Un-man's ceaseless and self-canceling solicitation of his name:
 "Ransom" it said. "Well?" said Ransom. "Nothing," said the Un-man.

 "Ransom," it said again. "What is it?" said Ransom sharply. "Nothing," it
 answered. (122-23)


In contrast to the Un-man's repetition and sameness, Maleldil never repeats Himself, and in His presence Ransom begins a process of self-clarification that gradually reveals the terrifying singularity of his mission (chapter 11). (12) Like the Lady he must struggle against his own version of the "external" and "dramatic" conception of the self. Ironically, while the Un-man tempts the Lady with "a grand role in the drama of the world" Ransom's tempter--his own "voluble self" who serves as the skeptical critic within him--protests against his dawning realization that "he himself was the miracle" (141). In the stillness and darkness associated with Maleldil's presence, Ransom is overwhelmed by the recognition of how much depends on his own actions:
 If the issue lay in Maleldil's hands, Ransom and the Lady were those hands.
 The fate of a world really depended on how they behaved in the next few
 hours. The thing was irreducibly, nakedly real. They could, if they chose,
 decline to save the innocence of this new race, and if they declined its
 innocence would not be saved. It rested with no other creature in all time
 or all space [...]. Thus, and not otherwise, the world was made. Either
 something or nothing must depend on individual choices. And if something,
 who could set bounds to it? A stone may determine the course of a river. He
 was that stone at this horrible moment which had become the centre of the
 whole universe. (142)


As he continues to clarifiy his mission, Ransom also comes face to face with the seemingly absurd and terrifying recognition that he has not been called to reenact the more familiar scenario of a purely spiritual struggle but rather to engage in direct physical combat with the Un-man. (13) In terrestrial terms the emerging story makes little sense: "If the Lady were to be kept in obedience only by the forcible removal of the Tempter, what was the use of that? [...] Did Maleldil suggest that our own world might have been saved if the elephant had accidentally trodden on the serpent a moment before Eve was about to yield? Was it as easy and as un-moral as all that? The thing was patently absurd!" (144). In the presence of Maleldil, however, Ransom knows that parallels between Eden and Perelandra are misleading. The new world is not "a mere repetition" of the old: "The same wave never came twice. [...] Nothing was a copy or model of anything else" (144-45). Slowly the impulse to escape the reality of the present by comparing it to the past gives way "to the here and the now, and to the growing certainty of what was here and now demanded. [...] Only the actual was real: and every actual situation was new" (145-46).

Ransom resigns himself to the stark singularity of his assignment, but still finding the task as impossible as it is necessary, he discovers within the apparent accident of his own name the one divinely sanctioned repetition that places his mission within a larger design: "`My name also is Ransom,' said the Voice." In this utterance he finds the assurance that "if he were not the ransom, Another would be," though his failure would entail real loss and require "not a second crucifixion: perhaps--who knows--not even a second Incarnation [...,] some act of even more appalling love, some glory of yet deeper humility." That the future will be secured at such a price makes Ransom even more daunted by the "frightful freedom that was being put into his hands. [...] It lay with him to save or to spill" (148). Once again reassurance comes in the form of a repetition that secures the future through the recollection of singular events in the past:
 The thing still seemed impossible. But gradually something happened to him
 which had happened to him only twice before in his life. It had happened
 once while he was trying to make up his mind to do a very dangerous job in
 the last war. It had happened again while he was screwing up his resolution
 to go and see a certain man in London and make to him an excessively
 embarrassing confession which justice demanded. In both cases the thing had
 seemed a sheer impossibility: he had not thought but known that, being what
 he was, he was psychologically incapable of doing it; and then, without any
 apparent movement of the will, as objective and unemotional as the reading
 on a dial, there had arisen before him, with perfect certitude, the
 knowledge "about this time tomorrow you will have done the impossible." The
 same thing happened now. His fear, his shame, his love, all his arguments,
 were not altered in the least. The thing was neither more nor less dreadful
 than it had been before. The only difference was that he knew--almost as a
 historical proposition--that it was going to be done. [...] The future act
 stood there, fixed and unaltered as if he had already performed it. (149)
 (14)


At first it seems a strange regression to find Ransom attempting to bestow the fixity of the past upon the uncertainty of the future, but the very fact that Lewis regards the openness of time as a necessary condition of freedom underscores the distinctive character of this moment. At an elementary level Ransom has simply hit upon an effective means of bolstering individual resolution in the face of a dreadful and seemingly impossible situation. At a higher level, and in a spirit more reminiscent of Kierkegaard than Bergson, Ransom is choosing to meet the wave that is rolling his way and clearing the last obstacle to the fulfillment of his destiny. In his reckoning with the Voice of Maleldil, he has reached the point where it is no longer meaningful to distinguish freedom and necessity: "You might say, if you liked, that the power of choice had been simply set aside and an inflexible destiny substituted for it. On the other hand, you might say that he had [been] delivered from the rhetoric of his passions and had emerged into unassailable freedom. Ransom could not, for the life of him, see any difference between these two statements. Predestination and freedom were apparently identical" (149). At this summit of spiritual awareness, Ransom foresees his impending action in the light of the Eternal One for whom our future deeds are as much an accomplished act as our past deeds are to us.

V

What ensues from Ransom's spiritual crisis is an extended ordeal with the powers of darkness. In one respect Ransom's confrontation with the Un-man is an archetypal journey to the Underworld: after driving the Evil One from the surface of Perelandra, the hero descends to the interior of the planet where he endures a series of trials before finally destroying his enemy. In the symmetrical structure of Perelandra, the four chapters of this section (12-15) are the antithesis to the four-chapter celebration of life on the surface of the planet (3-6), and they pose a serious challenge to the hero's faith in Maleldil and His creative activity. Ransom's trial is at once physical and spiritual. After reconciling himself to a physical contest, he awakens on the first morning of the conflict to find that "he thought better of himself as a human animal" and proceeds directly to battle with the Un-man (151). (15) Soon enough, however, a new struggle commences as Ransom pursues his wounded enemy across the vast expanses of the sea and begins to feel a sense of isolation and estrangement from his surroundings. He is disturbed by the sea-birds whose cry "had least to do with Man" and by other sounds and smells that intimidate not by their enmity but by their complete indifference to him:
 It was not hostile: if it had been, its wildness and strangeness would have
 been the less, for hostility is a relation and an enemy is not a total
 stranger. It came into his head that he knew nothing at all about this
 world. Some day, no doubt, it would be peopled by the descendants of the
 King and Queen. But all its millions of years in the unpeopled past, all
 its uncounted miles of laughing water in the lonely present [...,] did they
 exist solely for that? It was strange that he to whom a wood or a morning
 sky on earth had sometimes been a kind of meal, should have had to come to
 another planet in order to realise Nature as a thing in her own right. The
 diffused meaning, the inscrutable character [...] which would be, in one
 sense, displaced by the advent of imperial man, yet, in some other sense,
 not displaced at all, enfolded him on every side and caught him into
 itself. (160)


Soon afterwards the experience of the "illimitable ocean," compounded by sea-creatures with nearly human faces but no link to humanity, begins to take its toll on Ransom's mind. Unlike the Edenic floating islands, the open seas of Venus feel haunted "not by an anthropomorphic Deity, rather by the wholly inscrutable to which man and his life remained eternally irrelevant" (164).

Ransom's encounter with indifferent nature gradually turns into a reckoning with scientific naturalism, or rather the dualism that arose in the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century and that established a sharp division between mind and matter, human consciousness and an external world conceived in strictly quantitative and mechanistic terms. Ransom is plagued by what he had once dismissed as "the Empirical Bogey [...] the great myth of our century with its gases and galaxies, its light years and evolutions, its nightmare perspectives of simple arithmetic in which everything that can possibly hold significance for the mind becomes the mere by-product of essential disorder" (164). The erudite Ransom has been reasonably well fortified against scientific naturalism, but given that he has always assumed the centrality of man in the divine scheme of creation, the recognition that so much of the natural universe is irrelevant to humanity begins to erode the pillars of his faith. As we shall see, Ransom's problem does not simply evaporate once he emerges from the Underworld. He remains troubled by the questions raised during the journey, and before the novel ends he will be compelled to rethink his conception of humanity's place in the universe.

The dying Weston tries to exploit Ransom's vulnerability with his ghastly vision of darkness and emptiness beyond the grave. Just as the hospitable surface of Perelandra rests upon a vast abhorrent interior, so our earthly lives are merely the outer rind of an existence that in time will sink into an abyss of eternal suffering:
 "If your God exists, He's not in the globe--He's outside, like a moon.
 [...] He doesn't follow us in. You would express it by saying He's not in
 time-which you think comforting! In other words He stays put: out in the
 light and air, outside. We `move with the times.' That is, from His point
 of view, we move away, into what He regards as nonentity, where He never
 follows." (168)


Under ordinary circumstances Ransom might not be disturbed by such a distortion. He knows that God in Christ follows man into the grave and redeems him with His own death. Already suspicious of the anthropomorphic character of his beliefs, however, and soon to be exposed to the vast indifferent core of the planet, Ransom comes to wonder whether his conception of God encompasses anything more than the superficies of the human condition and the universe we inhabit. (16) He is being lured from a legitimate concern over the centrality of "imperial man" to the nihilistic conclusion that there is only "the meaningless, the un-made, the omnipotent idiocy to which all spirits were irrelevant and before which all efforts were vain" (180). He will soon be delivered from the nightmare of nihilism, but the issue of man's place in the divine scheme of the universe will remain unresolved until the final chapter.

After the slaying of the Un-man and the slow ascent from the Underworld, the exhausted Ransom is carried upward by a stream that deposits him in a blissful mountain setting. Here he begins his convalescence, which is rendered as a rebirth, "a second infancy, in which he was breast-fed by the planet Venus herself" (185). Later he is unable to recall how long he remained in this place, since the ordinary experience of passing time has been suspended, and the very sense of past and future--the problem of recollection and anticipation that first tempted him on Venus--has dissolved in the satisfaction of the present. Similarly, as he begins his ascent of the Holy Mountain, "he had no desires and did not even think about reaching the top nor why he should reach it. To be always climbing this was not, in his present mood, a process but a state, and in that state of life he was content" (192). The anticipation begins to mount, however, as he approaches the summit and enters into a valley where he senses the presence of the eldila, who inaugurate the final movement of the novel.

In the last two chapters Ransom becomes a witness of and participant in the ceremonial transfer of guardianship from the transcorporeal eldila to creatures that "breathe and breed like the beasts" (197). Just as the Lady delighted in each new wave as it passes, so the eldila who have presided over Mars and Venus feel no sadness over the passing of their order. Instead, they welcome the new King and Queen, Tor and Tinidril (as the Green Lady is now called), whose arrival signifies the restoration of humanity--or, rather, the animale rationale who now assumes the role originally meant for our own species--to its proper position as guardian over the rest of creation. After a lengthy scene in which he reveals his wisdom and humility, the King looks ahead to the days when his people will multiply and mature, and even the beasts "shall awake to a new life in us as we awake in Maleldil" (211). However, as the King presents his triumphant vision of a flourishing world, the clouds start to darken for Ransom when it appears that after thousands of years of creative progress there is no definitive end in sight. The final transfiguration that Ransom assumes will be "the end of your world" turns out to be merely the approach to "the beginning of all things" (212). Although at that time our own planet will be redeemed, the Last Days will mark not the end of time but "the wiping out of a false start in order that the world may then begin." Ransom is troubled by this prospect of illimitable time just as he was previously overcome by the vista of limitless space. This vertiginous extension of time and space deprives the earthly drama of its centrality and, as Ransom laments, "gives me a universe, with no centre at all, but millions of worlds that lead nowhere or (what is worse) to more and more worlds for ever, and comes over me with numbers and empty spaces and repetitions and asks me to bow down before bigness" (213). Perhaps more disoriented by modern science than he had realized, Ransom assumes that the loss of a center, or what was once regarded as the center, implies a universe without design or purpose: "Is the enemy easily answered when He says that all is without plan or meaning? As soon as we think we see one it melts away into nothing, or into some other plan that we never dreamed of, and what was the centre becomes the rim, till we doubt if any shape or plan or pattern was ever more than a trick of our own eyes, cheated with hope or tired with too much looking. To what is all driving? What is the morning you speak off What is it the beginning of?" (213-14). (17)

The response to these questions comes in the form of a Hymn of Praise that culminates in a vision of the Great Dance. This section is often aptly compared to Edmund Spenser's Mutabilitie Cantos, but it involves more than a traditional reconciliation of time and eternity. After proclaiming the eternal presence of the Creator, the Hymn unfolds a vision of creative evolution that includes and transcends the failure of the Fall:
 "Never did He make two things the same; never did He utter one word twice.
 After earths, not better earths but beasts; after beasts, not better
 beasts, but spirits. After a falling, not a recovery but a new creation.
 Out of the new creation, not a third but the mode of change itself is
 changed for ever. Blessed is He!" (214)


The Hymn is especially striking in its vision of the relationship between the Creator and His creation. The response to Ransom's distress over the loss of a center is that each created thing is the center or, more precisely, that Maleldil is the center and "He dwells (all of Him dwells) within the seed of the smallest flower and is not cramped" (214-15). Each of the peoples--Malacandrans, Thulcandrans, and Perelandrans--is "at the center" (217), but so is every other creature of the universe, and even the "Dust itself,' which, "if it spoke, would say, I am at the centre; for me all things were made." As in the ancient hermetic formulation, God is the circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere:
 "Where Maleldil is, there is the centre. He is in every place. Not some of
 Him in one place and some in another, but in each place the whole Maleldil,
 even in the smallness beyond thought. There is no way out of the centre
 save into the Bent Will which casts itself into the Nowhere. Blessed be
 He!" (216)


The animale rationale is "the keystone of the whole arch" (207), but it must live in the humble recognition that the rest of creation does not "await your coming to put on perfection. [...] You are not the voice that all things utter, nor is there eternal silence in the places where you cannot come" (216).

As an updated form of Christian Neoplatonism, the cosmology of the Hymn of Praise recalls a historical moment prior to the modern dissociation of nature from its divine source. In its dual emphasis upon the transcendence of God and His immanence within each created thing, this vision is particularly reminiscent of the works of the influential bishop and philosopher, Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1465). (18) Of course, the Hymn does not address the complex philosophical and scientific issues surrounding the various Neoplatonic systems from Nicholas to Henry More (the seventeenth-century philosopher and critic of Rene Descartes on whom Lewis once planned to write his doctoral thesis), nor does it explore the reasons for which scientific revolution took an entirely different course. (19) Lewis's own contribution is to integrate this Christian Neoplatonism with a new conception of time that challenges the mechanistic assumptions that dominated modern science until the close of the nineteenth century. To this end he develops what appears to be a version of Nicholas' remarkable coincidentia oppositorum--the transcendent God who is immanent in each element of the universe--into a dynamic cosmology that unites Bergson's anti-mechanistic vision of continuous and novel development with a Christian understanding of the singularity, sanctity, and divine indwelling within each moment of the creative process.

The final stanzas of the Hymn are the most dark and difficult. The only way to orient oneself in the vast web of interlocking centers is to "set your eyes on one movement and it will lead you through all patterns and it will seem to you the master movement." We are offered assurance that "the seeming will be true," but the concluding stanza relates the disturbing tension between "seeming" and "truth" to an ineluctable element of trial and testing in this world:
 "Yet this seeming also is the end and final cause for which He spreads out
 Time so long and Heaven so deep; lest if we never met the dark, and the
 road that leads nowhither, and the question to which no answer is
 imaginable, we should have in our minds no likeness of the Abyss of the
 Father, into which if a creature drop down his thoughts for ever he shall
 hear no echo return to him. Blessed, blessed, blessed be He!" (218)


The finale hints at a divine purpose in the very scale and complexity of the universe--a purpose tied to the destiny of the one creature who seeks to comprehend the universal design. Once more the issue is free will and its relation to the openness of time: each creature is at the center, but only a free agent can choose either to obey Maleldil's will or to walk out of the center "into the Bent Will which casts itself into the Nowhere." Earlier in the novel Ransom explains to the Lady that the proscription on the Fixed Land puts us in a position to "do something for which His bidding is the only reason" (118). Later the King tells Ransom that we must learn to follow Maleldil with "no assurance. No fixed land. Always one must throw oneself into the wave" (210). The conclusion of the Hymn points to a similar issue at stake in our relation to the enigmas of the universe. The very condition of out finitude--our vulnerability within a world that seems to overwhelm us with its immensity and threaten us with uncertainty--situates us on a precipice that opens onto "the Abyss of the Father." Only a portion of the cosmic pattern is within our grasp. We are asked to walk forward in the awareness of out limitations with only the assurance that the "seeming will be true." If we deny these limitations and attempt to reduce the heavens to out measure, we are walking into the "Otherwise" and will end up with a distorted knowledge that ultimately denies the Creator Himself.

The Hymn of Praise passes into the Great Dance, which reveals the complex totality of the cosmic design in a vision of intersecting cords "leaping over and under one another and mutually embraced in arabesques and flower-like subtleties." It is a pattern with a temporal dimension, as one "master-figure" is incorporated into another while "finding in its new subordination a significance greater than that which it had abdicated" (218). Surprisingly, however, the Great Dance itself is not the end. At this point Lewis commences a process that turns the Great Dance into "the mere superficies of a far vaster pattern in four dimensions, and that figure as the boundary of yet others in other worlds [...,] the relevance of all to all yet more intense, as dimension was added to dimension." This movement continues to accelerate, and the pattern grows ever more vast and ecstatic until, "at the very zenith of complexity, complexity was eaten up and faded [...] and a simplicity beyond all comprehension, ancient and young as spring, illimitable, pellucid, drew him with cords of infinite desire into its own stillness" (219). In this vision Lewis builds upon his synthesis of Bergson and Neoplatonism by drawing upon his acquaintance with mathematical techniques for extrapolating beyond the familiar dimensions of space and time. (20) In the early twentieth century these methods of extrapolation were acquiring a new relevance as models of a multi-dimensional space-time began to overtake the scientific assumptions of the previous centuries. Lewis was intrigued by this new frontier, which he believed would issue not in further disenchantment of the world but in the recognition of a multi-tiered universe with "Natures piled upon Natures" (Miracles 203)--a creation far more complex, but also more hospitable to spiritual presence, than the "one-floor reality" of nineteenth-century science (Miracles 202).

After the vision fades. Ransom finds himself alone with the King and Queen. It is still morning, as it was when the vision appeared, but the King announces that it is "not the same morning" for in the seemingly momentary epiphany an entire Perelandran year has passed. In this new moment the King also begins to sense a new phase in the development of his species: "I believe the waves of time will often change for us henceforward. We are coming to have it in our own choice whether we shall be above them and see many waves together or whether we shall reach them one by one as we used to" (220). By contrast, as he washes Ransom's bleeding heel and recalls that in the long-lived generations after Adam's Fall "the men of your race did not learn to die quickly," he reminds us of the unnaturalness of the sorrow, suffering, and death that mark the passage of time on out own planet. Then, as the King and Queen proceed with Ransom to the casket that will convey him back to earth, "all felt an impulse to delay":
 "It is like a fruit with a very thick shell" said Tinidril. "The joy of
 our meeting when we meet again in the Great Dance is the sweet of it. But
 the rind is thick--more years thick than I can count."

 "You see now," said Tor, "what that Evil One would have done to us. If
 we had listened to him we should now be trying to get at that sweet
 without biting through the shell"

 "And so it would not be 'That sweet' at all," said Tinidril.

 "It is now his time to go" said the tingling voice of an eldil. (221)


In this context the impulse to delay reminds us of the inevitable sorrows and losses of our time-bound condition and offers a hint of compassion for our &sire to transcend its limits. It also suggests, however, that we must endure, if not embrace, the trials of finite freedom. The image of rind and core harks back to Weston's final tormented vision (168), though here the relations of surface and depth are reversed: instead of a brief flicker of life on the rind followed by eternal darkness, the often bitter passage through the rind is relieved by the recognition that this is the ordained route to an eternal joy.

VI

The representation of time in Perelandra suggests that in reading the novel we should be thinking not simply of an impassable conflict between "religious" and "materialist" viewpoints but rather of a three-term system that includes the once influential via media of "creative" or "emergent" evolution. Admittedly, in his novel as well as his expository writings, Lewis was often dismissive of vitalism and condemned it as a seductive pseudo-religion, a disguised form of naturalism whose danger lies in the very way it promises to deliver us from mechanistic determinism. As he put it in Mere Christianity, the "Life-Force philosophy" is an "achievement of wishful thinking,' an alluring but ultimately defective utopian vision through which fallen man might imagine his way beyond "a mere mechanical dance of atoms" and regain a sense of purpose and belonging in the scheme of the universe (3435). (21) On the other hand, we have seen that Lewis was intrigued by certain aspects of this "in-between view" especially its insights into the nature of time and the complexities of temporal experience, and he seems to have taken Bergson's creative evolution seriously enough to rework its dynamic naturalism into a Christian vision that reconciles divine transcendence with continuous development in the created universe. Stated in more dynamic terms, just as Bergson transfigured orthodox Darwinism, so Lewis transfigured Bergson's creative evolution. In describing his own intellectual development, Bergson attributed his rethinking of the concept of time to his early encounter with Herbert Spencer's "mechanistic" theory of evolution (Creative Mind 11-29). Born in 1859, the year of Darwin's Origin of Species, Bergson developed a new philosophy of time and change from a theory of development still embedded in the spatial categories of the past. In the process he established the autonomy of the vital realm and demonstrated that the dynamic phenomena of "life" cannot be contained within the mechanistic assumptions of nineteenth-century science. Lewis, who was born as Bergson was consolidating his reputation, came to age in an intellectual milieu overflowing with new philosophical and scientific ideas that radically challenged traditional conceptions of time and space. Lewis assimilated these momentous developments and, beginning Perelandra in the year of Bergson's death, reversed Bergson's naturalization of the supernatural and reshaped his vision of dynamic development into a Christian epic of Becoming.

NOTES

(1) See Hannay on the elaborate parallels between Perelandra and Paradise Lost, and Downing for a comprehensive account of the Space Trilogy that devotes some discussion to the modern developmental paradigm under assault in each of the novels. Lewis refers to himself as a "dinosaur" and representative of the "Old Western order" in "De Descriptione Temporum," his 1954 inaugural lecture at Cambridge University (Selected Literary Essays 13).

(2) The British fascination with a dynamic conception of nature is evident not only in the "emergent" evolutionists and in Whitehead's later works--Science and the Modern World (1925) and Process and Reality (1929)--but also in the more philosophical writings of well known physicists such as Arthur Eddington, who included a chapter on "Becoming" in his influential book The Nature of the Physical World (1928). See Bowler, who situates "emergent" evolution and related developments in the context of the broader struggle between religious and scientific viewpoints in early-twentieth-century Britain.

(3) Of the many edifying studies of Lewis's fiction, Myers' stands out for its emphasis upon his debt to the intellectual, cultural, and literary developments of the early twentieth century. While her insightful analysis of Perelandra focuses primarily on the relationship to H. G. Wells's The Time Machine, my reading emphasizes the need to link the novel not only to the mechanistic conception of time underlying Darwinian "Wellsianity" (Lewis, Weight of Glory 79) but also to the new anti-mechanistic conception of time first articulated by Bergson and later developed by Alexander, Morgan, Whitehead, and others.

(4) There are many expository and critical studies of Bergson, a fair portion of them from the period of his enormous fame in the first few decades of the century. (See Grogan, Bowler, and Quirk on Bergson's reception and the religious issues at stake in his work in France, Britain, and the U.S.A., respectively.) Since the eclipse of his reputation in the middle third of the century, Bergson has been rehabilitated primarily through the efforts of Gilles Deleuze, and as a precursor of the ongoing shift "from the physical world to the biological universe" (Dick, Biological Universe 10), he is again receiving attention as an original and significant voice in modern philosophy (see Ansell Pearson and Mullarkey). On Bergson and the double character of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century vitalism, see my essay in Burwick and Douglass. Other essays in the volume explore various facets of the vitalist controversy from the eighteenth century to the present.

(5) The main autobiographical account appears in Surprised by Joy (198, 204, 211). Lewis mentions that he is reading Bergson in a letter of 19 June 1920 to Arthur Greeves (They Stand Together 281). His diary entry for 17 September 1923 states that he is "re-reading" Creative Evolution. The diary also records his reading of Mind-Energy (L'Energie spirituelle, a collection of essays published in 1919) in January 1924 and Matter and Memory in February 1925 (All My Road 269, 285, 349). Later references to Bergson are scattered throughout his works.

(6) In a discussion of modern "scientific cosmology,' Lewis states that "the Bergsonian critique of orthodox Darwinism is not easy to answer" (Weight of Glory 89). Of the various formulations of creative evolution, "the wittiest expositions of it come in the works of Bernard Shaw, but the most profound ones in those of Bergson" (Mere Christianity 35).

(7) In A Preface to Paradise Lost, Lewis compares the Greek sense of time as "mere flux" to the Virgilian view of time as a developing and irreversible process: "But Virgil uses something more subtle than mere length of time. Our life has bends as well as extension: moments at which we realize that we have just turned some great corner, and that everything, for better or worse, will always henceforth be different" (34). Milton is more akin to Virgil than Homer in recording "a real, irreversible, unrepeatable process in the history of the universe" (133). A few passages in Paradise Lost suggest that Milton regarded the Edenic state as progressive rather than static. Prior to the Fall, for example, Raphael tells Adam that "Your bodies may at last turn all to spirit, / Improved by tract of time, and winged ascend / Ethereal, as we, or may at choice / Here or in heavenly paradises dwell" (5.497-500). See also 7.154-61.

(8) In this section as well as others, readers may be struck by the similarities between Lewis and existentialist philosophers such as Heidegger, Jaspers, Marcel, and especially Sartre (whose Being and Nothingness also appeared in 1943). Although Lewis seems to have struggled with the little Sartre that he read, the similarities are not entirely accidental. For one thing, Bergson's reformulation of the concept of time and its relationship to human freedom anticipated and influenced many of the philosophers associated with existentialism, particularly in France, though most accounts of this movement still follow the lead of Sartre and his contemporaries in excluding Bergson from the canonical list of seminal figures, which typically includes Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Husserl, and Heidegger among others. See Guerlac on this problematic dismissal of Bergson by French philosophers of the succeeding generation.

(9) In this chapter Weston uses the expression "emergent evolution." Later on, Ransom refers to Weston's doctrine as "Creative Evolution" (121). Here and elsewhere Lewis tends to use "emergent evolution" "creative evolution" and "life-force philosophy" interchangeably. The term "nisus" (94), which Weston uses to describe the tendency of creation toward higher levels of development, appears in Alexander's Space, Time and Deity.

(10) The difference between experiencing life and "stepping out of life into the Alongside" is closely related to Alexander's distinction between "contemplation" and "enjoyment" which Lewis regarded as "an indispensable tool of thought" (Surprised by Joy 218). Whereas in "contemplation" we attend directly to the object of thought, in "enjoyment" we attend to the thoughts and emotions elicited by the object rather than the object itself. According to Lewis, "contemplation" and "enjoyment" are "distinct and incompatible" activities of mind: "The surest means of disarming an anger or a lust was to turn your attention from the girl or the insult and start examining the passion itself. The surest way of spoiling a pleasure was to start examining your satisfaction." Moreover, in the process of disrupting attention to the object, the shift from "contemplation" to introspective "enjoyment" also distorts the object so that what we "enjoy" is the "mere sediment or track or by-product" of what we "contemplate" (Surprised by Joy 218, 219).

(11) The regression from the vital to the mechanistic is a significant motif in Bergson's works. In Time and Free Will, for instance, he maintains that in our more superficial states we are less like "vital" beings who are free and constantly developing and more like "mechanical" entities that are determined and predictable. His well known account of laughter is based on the same principle: laughter is produced when we see human beings lapse into behavior we associate with the automatism of a machine (see Laughter). There is little laughter in Ransom's encounter with the Un-man, but the latter's chillingly "external" and repetitive behavior displays the telltale signs of the descent from the vital to the mechanistic.

(12) As Gibson and others have pointed out, chapter 11 also begins to reveal the structural symmetry of the novel's seventeen chapters. The three temptation chapters in the center of the novel (8-10) are preceded by the chapter in which Weston gradually discloses his diabolical identity (7) and followed by the chapter in which Ransom gradually comprehends his own identity and the character of his mission (11). Taken together, chapters 7 and 11 frame the middle chapters and, in turn, are framed by chapters 3-6 and 12-15, the first tetrad portraying the Edenic surface of Perelandra and the second bringing us into its hellish underworld. The opening chapters on Earth (1-2) and the finale on the Holy Mountain of Perelandra (16-17) constitute the outer frame of the novel.

(13) When Ransom first raises the possibility of physical combat in chapter 2, he refers to the exigencies of "`our little war here on earth'" and tells an astounded Lewis, "`Now your idea that ordinary people will never have to meet the Dark Eldila in any form except a psychological or moral form--as temptations or the like is simply an idea that held good for a certain phase of the cosmic war'"(24). Lewis is emphasizing the perpetual novelty of Maleldil's actions, but he also had other reasons for this recourse to physical violence. Like many of his compatriots, Lewis looked back on his nation's reluctance to use force against Nazi Germany as the fatal error of the 1930s. He had little patience for Christian pacifism and wished to remind his contemporaries that some of the Lord's work might require the virtues of St. George. Needless to say, the donnish manner of Ransom's speech in chapter 2 is quite different from the voice of personal anguish when the prospect of direct physical combat with the Evil One turns from abstract possibility to imminent reality.

(14) It is significant that when Lewis's characters are facing difficult or seemingly impossible decisions, or struggling to uphold prior resolutions, the language often shifts from the prevailing emphasis upon novelty and spontaneity to constancy and repetition. In this respect Lewis is reminiscent of Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling and Repetition, though Lewis differs in assigning a more central role to rationality in the process of making and sustaining one's decisions. On the latter, recall the narrator's "impulse to retreat" from his mission to Ransom's cottage and his reliance on "the rational part of [his] mind" to maintain his resolution to proceed. On Lewis' other affinities to existentialist philosophy, see note 8.

(15) Ironically the Un-man assumes that this conflict will be a repetition of terrestrial events epitomized by Christ's agony on the Cross: "`And you think, little one;" it says to Ransom, "`that you can fight with me? You think He will help you, perhaps? [...] They all think He's going to help them--till they come to their senses screaming recantations too late in the middle of the tire, mouldering in concentration camps, writhing under saws, jibbering in mad-houses, or nailed on to crosses. Could He help Himself?. [...] Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani'" (153).

(16) Weston presses his point with the claim that contemporary physics is beginning to uncover a universe that subverts the very notion of rationality itself: "Haven't you seen the real meaning of all this modern stuff about the dangers of extrapolation and bent space and the indeterminacy of the atom[ .... ] the knowledge that reality is neither rational nor consistent nor anything else. In a sense you might say it isn't there'" Ransom disputes some of these remarks, but to the extent that modern physics has taught him "that the account a man gives of the universe, or of any other building, depends very much on where he is standing" (165), the new science seems only to fuel the suspicion that his God cannot survive the decentering of man. Lewis himself was usually quite favorably disposed to contemporary developments in physics and mathematics, which called into question the "one-floor reality" of scientific naturalism prior to the revolution of the early twentieth century (Miracles 202; see note 20).

(17) Note that Ransom's dismay over the decentering of humankind, the earth, and Christ's Incarnation are not alleviated but rather aggravated by the knowledge that there is life on planets other than our own. On the metaphysical and religious issues surrounding the surprisingly long history of the debate over the "plurality of worlds" see Crowe, Dick, and Guthke.

(18) Departing from the hierarchically ordered cosmology of his predecessors, Nicholas not only anticipates Copernicus by dislodging the earth from its stationary and central (if lowly) position but also maintains that the transcendent God, who alone may be conceived as the center, is also equally close to all points in the universe and inhabits them fully and without mediation. Nicholas was responding in part to the division between the realms of nature and grace that had arisen in late medieval Scholasticism; but insofar as he anticipates the metaphysical issues ensuing from the Copernican system and the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, Nicholas offers a resolution to the problems that torment Ransom in the wake of his journey to the Underworld. Simply stated, Nicholas constructs a system that at once repairs the late Scholastic rift between God and the natural world and avoids the modern dissociation between subjective and objective realms that eventually developed out of it. (On the philosophical and historical significance of Nicholas, see Cassirer, Dupre, and Koyre.) At the beginning of English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (1954), Lewis refers to Cusanus as "an early believer (for his own, metaphysical, reasons) in earth's movement" and he then goes on to discuss the advent of scientific methodology and the triumph of dualism: "By reducing Nature to her mathematical elements it substituted a mechanical for a genial or animistic conception of the universe. The world was emptied, first of her indwelling spirits, then of her occult sympathies and antipathies, finally of her colours, smells, and tastes [...]. The result was dualism rather than materialism. The mind, on whose ideal constructions the whole method depended, stood over against its object in ever sharper dissimilarity. Man with his new powers became rich like Midas but all that he touched had gone dead and cold" (3-4). Given the scarcity of specific references to Nicholas earlier in his career, however, it is difficult to determine whether or to what extent Lewis drew on him directly for the cosmology of the Hymn.

(19) Lewis was well acquainted with Neoplatonic and other alternatives to the purely quantitative and mechanistic science that emerged in the seventeenth century. He was especially interested in the metaphysical debates between Descartes and More, and his portrayal of the eldila may owe something to More's argument (directed against Descartes' dissociation between spirit and matter) that spiritual beings such as angels possess extension and therefore occupy space in a manner similar to material bodies. The single footnote in Perelandra (18-19) is a playful discussion of this issue; it also suggests that something akin to More's vision of a multi-tiered universe may be resurfacing in the "multi-dimensional space" projected by modern geometry (see note 20). In The Abolition of Man (1943), Lewis offers a more extensive analysis of the scientific revolution and concludes with an intriguing call for "a new Natural Philosophy" that recovers what was lost in the process of reifying the natural universe (85).

(20) See Neuhouser on Lewis's appropriation of higher-dimensional geometry. Like many of his contemporaries, Lewis may have been introduced to these matters, and his thinking was certainly influenced, by Edwin A. Abbott's immensely popular Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884).

(21) In a related formulation Lewis &scribes creative evolution as a "modern form of nature religion" that affirms "my natural desires" (God in the Dock 86).

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Schwartz, Sanford. "Bergson and the Politics of Vitalism." The Crisis in Modernism: Bergson and the Vitalist Controversy. Ed. Frederick Burwick and Paul Douglass. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. 277-305.

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Sanford Schwartz teaches literature at Pennsylvania State University. Currently engaged in a project on C. S. Lewis in the context of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century thought, he is the author of various studies of modern literary, cultural, and intellectual history.
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