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The artist as universal mind: Berkeley's influence on Charles Johnson.

Charles Johnson's volume of short stories The Sorcerer's Apprentice opposes the artist's imaginative world to a naive realism that reduces all objects to their sheer materialistic value. In general terms, the "negative" characters of Johnson's stories are all materialists, and their world view postulates a mind-independent universe of physical objects obeying laws of force, energy, and economics. Against these "realist" characters, Johnson deploys metaphorical artists whose job it is symbolically to restructure the world into spiritual patterns, restoring a cohesive sense of connectedness. The controlling motif of the volume is a competition of alternative metaphysics, pitting the artist who creates reality against the skeptical materialist who would segment and divide it.

In opposing the artist to the materialist, Johnson explores alternative metaphysical positions of Realism and Idealism - the two fundamentally different ways people conceive of their world, think about their world, and make crucial decisions about their world and other people. Johnson intends to jolt emotionally the assumed realist reader into an entirely different perception of the world, making him/her forego a customary, conditioned, and ordinary version of material reality in favor of a more expansive and aesthetic sense of the world. Johnson reveals himself to be an Idealist whose mission is to persuade his readers of the philosophical claims of Idealism, a vocational calling that he has made his own in interviews and his book Being & Race. Johnson writes that the purpose of all great art is beyond conventional morality; it is to challenge our metaphysics: "Our perception - or way of seeing - has been shaken, if one is talking about great art" (Being 4). Johnson's artist combats the "Age of Hype" (xi) - the province of the marketplace - to establish an intellectual justification for his or her art.

In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Bishop George Berkeley's metaphysics guides Johnson's thematics, for in Berkeley's philosophy, Johnson discovers his ally against what he envisions as a reductionist world view. A commercialized version of the world is based, for Johnson, on a materialist metaphysics. This essay will investigate the Berkeleyan framework that Johnson employs, then apply it to two stories in the volume, "Menagerie" and "China." "Menagerie" satirizes a world that banishes Berkeleyan Idealism in favor of a crass materialism, while "China" enacts the performance of the artist as Divine Creator. The stories depict the conflict between the Artist and the Marketplace in philosophical terms, with Bishop Berkeley of Cloyne used metaphorically in each story. Berkeley's philosophy assists Johnson in arguing for a view of the world appropriate to his own exalted vision of the artist as Divine Creator. Berkeley's theory of perception, his attack on the erosive skepticism and rationalism of his own age, and his complex quarrel with materialist reality suggest a philosophical framework in which Johnson can establish art as the supreme human activity, and the artist as the source of our shared world. With Berkeley's philosophical approach used as scaffolding, Johnson "raise[s] the high wire of artistic performance" to make the writer the divine artificer of our culture ("Acceptance" 209).

Such a contention requires evidence, especially in light of Johnson's lack of extraliterary citation of Berkeley, and his oft-avowed debt to the phenomenologists, especially his acknowledgments of the writings of Husserl and Heidegger. The Sorcerer's Apprentice provides internal evidence of Johnson's philosophical debt, for The Sorcerer's Apprentice reveals that Berkeleyan Idealism is a constant correlative in his writing. Johnson alludes to Berkeley the man in "Menagerie, A Child's Fable" (to his portly physical frame, "weighing more than some men" [43], and to his mental acuity - ". . . Berkeley was, for all his woolgathering, never asleep at the switch" [43-44]); in his reference to the "playful verse attributed to Bishop Berkeley" in "Alethia" (100); and to Berkeley the philosopher in "China" ("the body as it must be in the mind of God" [84]). Berkeley, then, is amply summoned into use throughout the volume, and these allusions hint at Berkeley's Idealism as a source for Johnson's own metaphysical view.

"An Idea Consists in Being Perceived"

Berkeley's influence on Johnson is seen primarily in the Bishop of Cloyne's rejection of an empirical reality that transcends perception. Generally considered the founder of the modem school of Idealism, Berkeley argues that things cannot exist on their own, separate from an imaginative agent. Berkeley's insistence on the mind's primary role in the constitution of the world mirrors Johnson's own conception of the delicate balancing act of the artist "on the high wire," as he/she challenges our ways of knowing the world.

Berkeley's central metaphysical theory is expressed in the following passage:

For as to what is said of the absolute existence of unthinking things without any relation to their being perceived - that is to me perfectly unintelligible. Their esse is percipi; nor is it possible they should have any existence out of the minds of thinking things which perceive them. (2: 42)

This passage from The Principles of Human Knowledge is the centerpiece of Berkeley's conception of "ideas" (i.e., sensory objects) which exist, and only exist, in the mind. Berkeley insists that we do not inherit an unchanging, static reality independent of experience (John Locke's unchanging, eternal, but utterly unperceived substratum of all material things). All aspects of our consciousness are ideas existing in the mind. If absolute reality were inaccessible and unknowable, if things are forever beyond the shaping powers of the creative faculties of human beings, then the artist cannot claim an independent vision of the world - let alone reconfigure the reader's perception of the world. For Berkeley, there is no irreducible "something-I-know-not-what" concealed behind the sensory world, some noumenal reality that we can never apprehend but only dimly intuit.

On the contrary, for Berkeley, as for Johnson, the active, creative mind continuously shapes and reshapes the world by perceiving it. The world exists and has meaning directly because of the vigorous effort of the imagination that perceives it, imparts order to it, and gives it its meaning. Berkeley does not argue that human beings can conjure reality into being through imagination, however. The world is dependent upon the imagination of God, the "Author of nature" who "produces" the ideas of the consciousness: "The ideas imprinted on the senses by the Author of nature are called real things; and those excited in the imagination, being less regular, vivid, and constant, are more properly termed ideas, or images of things, which they copy and represent" (1: 43). In Berkeley's elevation of God's imaginative faculty, in his giving priority to the divine creative mind rather than to an unknowable noumenon, Johnson finds his own intellectual justification as a writer. Johnson supplants the Christian God with the artist; the writer, for Johnson, becomes the Divine Artificer.

Thus Johnson himself doubts that a writer "imitates" a world that exists independently of his consciousness; instead, the artist gives the world a reality by writing it into being, in the sense of giving the reader a new experience of the world. In a recent interview, Johnson deprecates the "mimetic" function of literature:

As a writer, I don't believe that art imitates. There is a mimetic element, but I really think that what a writer does is create an experience on the pages of the book for the reader. You're creating experience. You're not transcribing experience. If you talk about the African-American past in your work, you're obviously interpreting an experience. . . . It's all filtered through a consciousness, and the consciousness obviously of the author. ("Interview" 169)

Johnson's aversion to "imitation" as opposed to "creation" has a distinctly Berkeleyan ring. Berkeley writes:

But besides all that endless variety of ideas of objects of knowledge, there is likewise something which knows or perceives them, and exercises divers[e] operations, as willing, imagining, remembering, about them. This perceiving, active being is what I call mind, spirit, soul or myself. (1: 41-42)

For Johnson, Berkeley's act of perception elevates his own artistic imagination to a position of fundamental epistemological importance, and his philosophy provides the basis for Johnson's own aesthetic ontology - there is no intelligibility in the world apart from the active imagination. The centrality of this passage in Berkeley's philosophy relates to Johnson's commitment to his vocation as a creator, the philosophical underpinning for his urgent need to "shake" the way we see our world. Johnson wishes to inspire a radical revision of the materialist's understanding the world. His artistic, Godlike perception transforms the uncreated world for the reader. In this way, Berkeley offers Johnson a metaphor for his conception of the urgencies of aesthetic creation in an "Age of Hype."

Berkeley's deliberations on perception allow Johnson to create a metaphysics appropriate to his sense of artistic passion, the crucial act of imaginative ordering of the world, of rescuing the world from materialistic reduction - and from racism. Johnson's metaphysics is clearly tied to his vocation as an African American writer. In both "Menagerie" and "China," racial issues form part of the philosophical dialog. In his early essay "The Male Body" (republished in 1993), Johnson argues that racism is the consequence of defective (i.e., materialist) metaphysics. When a Black male body is perceived, Johnson writes, too often racist constructions control the perception: "The mind is no way passive; it is a participant in each act of knowing" (602). The perceiver, initially nonracist, feels fear when perceiving an African American male because he/she creates a meaning for the Black body: "I see the [Black] student in a certain way because I fear for my daughter while she is across town." At this point in his argument against racism, Johnson makes a Berkeleyan assertion: "To perceive a content is to conceive that content" (603). For Johnson, the writer's duty is to undermine the reader's confidence in a world of material objects entirely independent of the conceiving mind, in the social constructions of race and identity that we supposedly take for granted, to remind the reader of the metaphorical nature of reality, and of his/her part in the creation of reality. The reader must know that any racist construction is a mental reality, not an empirical one. Johnson's effort to remind us that reality is mental, the intellectual significance of his debt to Berkeley, restores to the reader a transforming spiritual power. It becomes possible miraculously to recreate the world through understanding it philosophically.

"A Child in a Dark Forest": "Menagerie" as Berkeleyan Parody

In "Menagerie, A Child's Fable," Johnson introduces the Berkeleyan correlative in caricature. It is as if Johnson wishes to imagine what the world would be without Berkeley's defense of the creative mind, without the transformative powers of the imagination. As a fable, the story employs animals to set forth its admonitory moral - the disastrous consequences of the loss of artistic vision. In the pet store, things, as opposed to creative intelligence, reign supreme. Without the ordering vision of the artist, the world is analogous to a pet store gone mad, a dystopian universe of conflicting, confused, and disruptive rebellion against organic form imposed by the creative act. The "Age of Hype" Johnson inveighs against in Being & Race is symbolized in the story by the pet shop's collapse into a disordered, capitalistic market exchange, an effect of the deliberate erasure of a shared sense of meaning provided by artistic integration.

The narrative is organized on allegorical significance tied to the characters through philosophical parody. Mr. Tilford, the pet store owner, allegorically represents an absent God. "A real gumboil, whose ways were mysterious," Tilford has created a Noah's Ark world of diversity and conflict within the pet store that he no longer manages directly; neither does he interfere with its natural operation (44). Instead, like the mechanistic God postulated by Deists, he expects it to run smoothly by itself, "like an old Swiss watch that he had wound and left ticking" (53). (Bishop Berkeley himself wrote in opposition to the Deistic concept of God.) He is now "sliding toward senility," gone, and perhaps dead: Such is the speculation of the philosopher-animals. As a Creator of a marketplace economy, he debased the world by his own reduction of life to a materialistic emphasis on the profit margin: "Sometimes he treated the animals cruelly, or taunted them; he saw them not as pets but profit" (44).

In banishing the imaginative dimension of unity among animals in favor of marketplace values of profit and loss (where some animals are "worth" more than others), Tilford has guaranteed divisiveness and rancor, which become metaphors for racial conflict and multicultural wars. Without his authoritarian presence to coerce uniformity among the animals, his creation devolves into a mechanical world of bitter division and mutual antagonisms, "an entire federation of cultures . . . with a plurality of many backgrounds, needs, and viewpoints" (46). Without an artist (like Johnson) to promote mutual understanding and tolerance among the animals, the pet store becomes a dystopia where individuals cannot conceive of other ways of perception because of differences they assume to be innate, genetic, or biological. Conflict becomes the norm of the Shoppe: mammal against reptile, reptile against fish, fish against bird. In such a world, art itself is corrupted into shabby parochialism: The "reptiles" have "an elaborate theory of beauty based on the aesthetics of scales," implemented to denigrate another set of animals as "lowlifes on the evolutionary scale" (50). Each animal is "lost in [the store] with no way out, like a child in a dark forest" (54).

Berkeley, the story's "pious" protagonist, functions as the parody of the Bishop of Cloyne, as the onomastic pun Barkly implies.(1) As the watchdog with "a great deal of Tilford inside" him, Berkeley is supposed to protect the animal denizens of the pet store from the predatory world of necessity that they slip into. But he is no worthy guardian of Idealism, since he is "not the smartest" (43). Johnson folds Berkeleyan Idealism into the plot by making the action of his watchdog protagonist philosophically resonant. The plot hinges on Berkeley's dogged conscientiousness in never being "asleep at the switch" (44). Always awake, Berkeley seems to guard perceptually the existence of the sensory pet store world: The world continues to be, Berkeley thinks, simply because the watchdog continues to perceive it.

The plot's climax occurs when Berkeley finally takes a short nap while waiting for Tilford, exhausted from the demands of maintaining the pet store's reality. Significantly, he dreams of Tilford's Second Coming - Tilford appears in a "burst of preternatural brilliance," blinding the animals with light. This "ancient light," however, is figured as destructive of the animals' unique identities, for Tilford is dictatorial and coercive, and the animals are "somehow imprisoned in form" (56). This capitalistic pet store God is no creative artist. From this nightmarish vision of enforced uniformity and exclusion of imagination, Berkeley awakens. To his surprise, the world has gone on whether he perceived it or not; the Monkey (the pet store's arch-materialist, who knows things simply because he can grasp them with his hands) gains supremacy, shoots Berkeley with Tilford's pistol, and the story ends with the world spiraling downward into chaos and destruction.

Berkeley's sleep and awakening represent Johnson's allusion to Bishop Berkeley's view in Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous of what happens to the world when all modes of perception are extinguished: Hylas says, "Suppose you were annihilated, cannot you conceive it possible that things perceivable by sense still exist?" (2: 230). Johnson playfully poses the same question in the story: Is Berkeley's doze calamitous for the existence of his world? In the story, Berkeley the guard dog is humbled by his realization that the world continues to exist independently of his vision, his perceiving faculties. He is satirically punished for believing vainly that the world depends upon his own vigilant perception of it, and that his promise to protect the animals is an absolute and unconditional guarantee of their continued existence.

The dog's comeuppance is not Johnson's refutation of Berkeleyan Idealism but an elaboration of it. Another mind or perceiver, Charles Johnson himself, stands behind Berkeley's consciousness of the world. In "Menagerie," through his many literary jokes and self-reflexive techniques, Johnson calls attention to himself as the creator of the pet store world in which Berkeley participates. In this way, Johnson rewrites Philonous's answer to Hylas as to why the world remains when one ceases to perceive it (as when one is asleep or absent). Bishop Berkeley resorts to God in defending his theory of perception, claiming that whatever our perceptual condition, we are continuously perceived, "held in mind," by an "omnipresent, eternal Mind, which knows and comprehends all things, and exhibits them to our view" (2: 230-31).(2)

But Johnson's use of Berkeley avoids the metaphysical predicament that has been criticized by philosophers, for Johnson, by metaphorical substitution, replaces the Christian God of creation with himself as the artist and, thus, transposes Berkeley's God onto an existential stage.(3) Johnson as artist performs as a substitute for Berkeley's postulation of a "universal Mind" that shapes and presents the world to the reader - unbeknownst, of course, to characters like Berkeley the watchdog. It is Johnson himself who stands behind his creation, creating and "watching," just as, for Bishop Berkeley, God stood behind Creation constantly keeping it in an eternal consciousness. In Johnson's shaping imagination, all characters and events have meaning. Because the artist, like Berkeley's God, stands at the center of creation, the universe depends on him. Johnson is his own Divine Artificer.(4)

In "Menagerie," Berkeley reveals himself to be only a dog and not an artist after all. His hopeful, unifying vision of cooperative effort among the animals breaks down as he sleeps. Instead of his wish for justice and endurance, the animals' usurpation, invasion, and injustice dominate the plot's conclusion. Though some animals are predatory by nature, the excessive violence they display as they destroy each other in the pet store is a direct consequence of their entrapment in an economic and materialist version of experience that reduces them to the status of things: ". . . truth was decided in the end by those who could be bloodiest in fang and claw" (55). The animals are living in a world of exchange - they are on the block, to be bought and sold according to materialistic whims of the consumer.(5)

The pet store is a microcosm of the fragmentation of meanings that necessarily arise in the absence of the artist's controlling imagination, which Berkeley the dog cannot supply. He cannot convince the animals of their spiritual oneness because in fact he is a false Idealist himself. Berkeley's naivete consists in reducing the animals' needs within the store to their barest requirements for food and water. He believes that, if only the animals are fed properly and enjoy the commodities the store offers, they should be happy to cooperate with Tilford and be commodities themselves. But this is an accommodation to a destructive fragmentation of materialism, since they need even more than their daily bread a transformative spiritual power, an understanding of the legitimate views of the world that other perceivers experience. Berkeley's only concern is that the animals are hungry; he never realizes that their hunger is also spiritual (in that they cannot imagine the needs of other animals). They need a character with expressive, artistic abilities; all Berkeley can do is howl "like a mountaintop wolf silhouetted by the moon in a Warner Brothers cartoon" (52). His simplistic version of existential needs and his inarticulateness doom his own "idealistic" project (55). In "Menagerie," Johnson employs Berkeley as an emblem of the ineffectual philosopher who is defeated by the world because he lacks confidence in his own imagination as a transforming power.

The Artist as Universal Mind in "China"

In "Menagerie," Johnson introduces the Berkeleyan correlative, not because he wishes to ridicule Berkeley but because Berkeley offers him a metaphor for his conception of aesthetic creation. Given the premise that Johnson understands Berkeley as a philosophic defender of imagination against rationalism and skepticism, we can understand how Johnson uses Berkeley's posture as a metaphor for the artist's combat with the "Age of Hype." In "China" as in "Menagerie," Johnson again imprisons his characters within a materialist vision of experience, but he also dramatizes the means by which human beings may transcend the world of commodity. The two main characters, Rudolph and Evelyn, begin the story as a married couple entrapped by the commodities that define their material world: Van de Kamp's pastry, Self magazine, beer, Ben-Gay, Harlequin romances, grade-B movies, color television, the Book-of-the-Month Club, Preparation H, and countless other items found at the department stores or the local mall. It is this world, Johnson implies, that makes the two characters "'sick'" (89) - Rudolph, physically; Evelyn, spiritually. In his discovery of the martial arts, however, Rudolph liberates himself from this materialist reality as he becomes an artist, while Evelyn recognizes her own death-in-life because she can find no release from it in her own imagination.

Both "Menagerie" and "China" are constructed on concealed Berkeleyan riddles. The plot of "Menagerie" is constructed on the philosophical objection to Berkeley's Idealism - Does the world continue to exist when the perceiver sleeps or is otherwise absent? "China" too employs a Berkeleyan conundrum as the plot's organizing principle. In "China," Johnson revises Berkeley's concern with Natural Law (e.g., gravity) and measurements of Nature. In an immaterialist philosophy such as Berkeley's, how do we measure the natural world? If God imagines the world, is science possible?

Berkeley responds to these questions by asserting that all measurements are at least to some degree dependent on the observer and that no measurement can be definitive or exhaustive. In this argument, Berkeley criticizes John Locke's distinction between primary qualities of objects (i.e., those characteristics existing in the object itself, independent of the perceiver) and secondary qualities (i.e., characteristics dependent on the perceiver, and existing only in the mind). For Locke, extension, figure, and motion are primary qualities; that is, these qualities are independent of the mind and may be quantified.

But Berkeley eradicates Locke's distinction: All qualities exist only in the mind; all qualities are reduced to Locke's "secondary" qualities. The world for Berkeley is therefore qualitative rather than strictly quantitative, and irreducible to exactness:

In perusing the volume of Nature, it seems beneath the dignity of the mind to affect an exactness in reducing each particular phenomenon to general rules, or showing how it follows from them. We should propose to ourselves nobler views, such as to recreate and exalt the mind, with a prospect of the beauty, order, extent, and variety of natural things . . . . (1: 219)

In this passage, Berkeley regards distance and all spatial measurement as something suggested or judged. He dismisses Newtonian ideas of absolute time and space; absolute measurements are abstractions, not realities, requiring an ordering principle of consciousness, a relative judgment of the perceiving mind. He disagrees with Newton's idea that human beings have an "innate geometry": "I argue only against those who are of the opinion that we perceive the distance of objects by lines and angles or as they term it by a kind of innate geometry" (1: 23738). As opposed to an absolute and unequivocal conception of a quantifiable world, Berkeley elevates the creative imagination (for Johnson, God-in-Man) over empirical exactitude of physical laws. For Berkeley, the miracle, a suspension of Newtonian laws within God's will, is always a potentiality. Johnson takes much the same approach, although, as in "Menagerie," he discovers in "China" divinity in the artist.

Berkeley's theory of science and his exaltation of the divine imagination ground the plot of "China." Evelyn and Rudolph wrestle with these Berkeleyan questions without knowing it. They go to the movies, "pretty trashy stuff at that," and see a martial-arts film, where the combatants could

leap twenty feet through the air in perfect defiance of gravity. Rudolph's mouth hung open.

"Can people really do that?" He did not take his eyes off the screen, but talked at her from the right side of his mouth. "Leap that high?"

"It's a movie," sighed Evelyn. "A bad movie."

He nodded, then asked again, "But can they?" (65)

Can human beings leap twenty feet? Can they defy Newtonian laws of gravity? Despite Evelyn's derision, Rudolph commits himself to achieving this goal by studying the martial arts, and at the story's climax, he leaps "twenty feet off the ground in a perfect flying kick" (95). The story explores the meaning of Rudolph's victory over gravity within a Berkeleyan framework.

In "China," the martial arts (Johnson is a martial artist) provide the means of transcendence over the physical laws of objects. Karate represents for Johnson a form of art through which, in creating an alternative world, the artist does not work but "plays" at the creation of his/her body: "'I've never been able to give everything to anything. The world never let me. It won't let me put all of myself into play'" (76). The martial arts are transformative, as is literature. In Being & Race, Johnson defends his analogy of writing to karate, just as Hemingway compared writing to boxing: "It's fair to compare the severe discipline of the Asian martial arts to writing" (47). As ludic artist himself, Johnson allows Rudolph true liberation: He creates in Rudolph's self-created body "the body as it must be in the mind of God" (84) - an explicit allusion to Berkeley's philosophy. Rudolph believes that he can miraculously suspend Newtonian laws by submitting to the "severe discipline" of his art, and the narrative voice asserts that he succeeds - succeeds in refashioning not only his body but his mind, and therefore the world he inhabits.

In describing Rudolph's new vision of the world, acquired through practice of his art, Johnson employs specifically Berkeleyan language: "himself, Rudolph Lee Jackson, at the center of the universe; for if the universe was infinite, any point where he stood would be at its center - it would shift and move with him" (87). Rudolph, as a marker for the artist, allows his perception to transform the uncreated world. Rudolph's consciousness becomes the measure of all space; all matter radiates from him. His art engages the world: Matter is the void awaiting his imaginative fiat. Everything ("things," in a Berkeleyan sense) becomes a matter of reading and perceiving. Space becomes contingent on the creative mind.

Rudolph's liberating artistic vision is in stark contrast to Evelyn's pessimistic pietism. For her, no miracles are possible, and Nature is an arid space of economic, religious, and physical laws. She dismisses Rudolph as a "faker" (87), not understanding her pun ("fakir"). But her vision of the world (associated in Johnson's philosophical subtext with Berkeley's antagonists - Locke, Hobbes, and Newton) demeans humankind: "Man was evil - she'd told him that a thousand times - or, if not evil, hopelessly flawed. Everything failed; it was some sort of law" (78). If the world is controlled by "some sort of law" - be it gravity or the imperfection of humanity - no miracle could be possible, even for the artist. Evelyn's problem is her reduction of all experience to lifeless matter, a world without spirit or energy. Her mundaneness is confirmed by the escapist literature she reads, works that dismiss the world in favor of fantasy; the image of lovers "clinging to one another" in the Harlequin romances parodies her relationship with Rudolph (78), since she tries to control all aspects of his life. Rudolph, unlike Evelyn, has recognized that the marketplace is no "fulfillment of his potential" (79). Her reaction to the new Rudolph is summarized in this sentence: "'Rudolph, I want you back the way you were: sick'" (89).

The story's title, the epigraph from The Dhammapada, and Rudolph's martial arts are set against Evelyn's Puritanism and her Westernized commodification of her life. Although at the plot's beginning both characters are identifiably American and middle-class, Johnson's dichotomy of East-West implies Johnson's privileging of Idealism in the story as a means of racial transcendence. The story's controlling pattern is the revelation of Idealism, and its effects in the practical world: Evelyn's revelation of her comparatively wasted life that has been devoted to a materialized vision of existence; and Rudolph's revelation of the potentiality of miracle implicit in an imaginative reordering of space and physical law that is available to him only through the commitment that art demands.

Even more significant than his defiance of gravity, however, is Rudolf's feeling of oneness with other people (human beings different from him in race, geography, religion, age, and culture) and his appreciation for the Asian world view that he had not taken seriously before. Evelyn derogates his art by pointing out that he "'didn't grow up in China'" and that he "'can't be Chinese'" (90-91). Ignoring her specious racial divisiveness, Rudolph becomes engrossed in a different way of seeing reality. In Johnson's words in a different context, Rudolph gets "beneath those sedimented meanings, all the calcified, rigid perceptions of the object" ("Interview" 164). Perhaps for Johnson, this transformation of vision, attainable through art, is the real miracle.

Rudolph's miracle occurs because he abandons a life that he had previously thought determined for him by American culture. Rather than continue to assume that the world exists independently, filled with threatening Others, he realizes that the world's existence depends upon him, and his ordering vision. He relinquishes his former metaphysics (materialism) in favor of Idealism. In doing so, he accomplishes what Johnson himself argues is the purpose of art. Johnson defends art that would allow individuals to understand the Other. His mission as artist is evoking "the intuition of other lives":

Using imagination and the techniques of variation, we try to occupy the real place of the other and view from this standpoint the world as it is present in all its texture, limitations, and possibilities. . . . We must quit the familiarity of our own lives momentarily to experience this. (Being 43)

In "Menagerie" and "China" Johnson gives his mission a metaphysical substructure. His use of Berkeleyan doctrines keeps him balanced on the high wire.


1. "Menagerie" may be also read as a parody of Bishop Berkeley's attempt to found a missionary college in Bermuda. In 1728, he went to America to found a college for American colonists, Indians, and Caribbeans (a multicultural group that is parodied by the pet store variety of animals). After receiving the promises of financial support from many prominent Englishmen, he also received support from the Parliament. While Berkeley worked to maintain the school and establish farms on which to raise food for the students (the main concern of Johnson's pet store is the lack of food), he was betrayed by the Parliament and his individual subscribers. Money never came to maintain the farms, the school failed, and Berkeley had to return to London in 1732. Allegorically, Berkeley the watchdog is also betrayed, and the lack of food supplies in the pet store causes the failure of his mission.

2. Berkeley writes: "When I deny sensible things an existence out of the mind, I do not mean my mind in particular, but all minds. Now it is plain they have an existence exterior to my mind; since I find them by experience to be independent of it. There is therefore some other Mind wherein they exist, during the intervals between the times of my perceiving them: as likewise they did before my birth, and would do after my supposed annihilation. And as the same is true with regard to all other finite created spirits, it necessarily follows there is an omnipresent, eternal Mind, which knows and comprehends all things, and exhibits them to our view in such a manner" (2: 230-31).

3. Johnson's strategy in the story resembles Berkeley's argument in Principles, in which he supposes that a person imagines "trees . . . in a park, or books existing in a closet, and nobody to perceive them" (1: 39). Berkeley's point is that the person is imagining a world without a perceiver in the world - the activity is more analogous to the creative artist than to God.

4. In replacing the Christian God with the Artist as Divine Artificer, Johnson employs a strategy that is similar to that of William Butler Yeats in his essay "Bishop Berkeley." Yeats argues that Berkeley managed to overcome one Western obstacle to self-realization - empiricism; but not the other - Christianity. To protect his Christian orthodoxy, "Berkeley deliberately refused to define personality" as reflecting "the whole act of God; his God and Man seem cut off from one another" (405-06). He dared not take "the next step" - the step taken by William Blake and Hinduism - that conceives God as embodied in man (408). Blake, Hinduism, and the Romantic poets, Yeats suggests, substituted for Berkeley's God the creative self as the connection between the perceiver and the perceived world.

5. In the story "The Education of Mingo," Johnson alludes to Aristotle, and "Menagerie" covertly sustains this allusion. Unlike Berkeley, Aristotle theorizes that the sense of touch alone is essential for the existence of an animal: "An animal is a body with a soul in it: every body is tangible, is perceptible by touch; hence necessarily, if an animal is to survive, its body must have tactual sensation. All other senses . . . apprehend through media; but where there is no immediate contact the animal, if it has no sensation, will be unable to avoid some things and take others, and so will find it impossible to survive" (601). Johnson's pet store animals, of course, "find it impossible to survive," but what they lack is not "tactual sensation" but a spiritually unifying vision that the artist can provide.

Works Cited

Aristotle. "De Anima." The Basic Works of Aristotle. Ed. Richard McKeon. New York: Random, 1941. 535-603.

Berkeley, George. The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne 2 vols. Ed. A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop. London: Nelson, 1967.

Johnson, Charles. Being & Race: Black Writing since 1970. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1988.

-----. "An Interview with Charles Johnson." By Jonathan Little. Contemporary Literature 34.2 (1993): 159-81.

-----. "The Male Body." Michigan Quarterly Review 32.4 (1993): 599-614.

-----. "National Book Award Acceptance Speech." Triquarterly 82 (1991): 208-09.

-----. The Sorcerer's Apprentice. New York: Atheneum, 1986.

Yeats, W. B. Essays and Introductions. New York: Macmillan, 1961.

Gary Storhoff is a former contributor to AAR. He teaches American and African American literature at the University of Connecticut at Stamford. Professor Storhoff would like to thank Professor Susan Anderson of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut for her advice on George Berkeley.
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Title Annotation:Irish bishop-philosopher-writer's influence on another author
Author:Storhoff, Gary
Publication:African American Review
Date:Dec 22, 1996
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'Oxherding Tale' and 'Siddhartha:' philosophy, fiction, and the emergence of a hidden tradition.
An interview with Charles Johnson.
Self-discovery and the quest for an aesthetic; The emergence of Black Canadian Literature: 1975 towards the Millennium.
Deals. (Between the lines: the inside scoop on what's happening in the publishing industry).
Jozef Matula, ed. Florentine Platonism and Central Europe: Florentinischer Platonismus und Mitteleuropa.
Beverley Zimmerman. The Making of a Diocese: Maitland, its bishop, priests and people 1866-1909.

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