Creativity in Art, Empirical Reality,
and the Stunted Man

[Let's] consider your highly important worries about creativeness in art. . . . I quite agree with you that literature constitutes reality, if it is any good, and does not merely imitate or interpret it. The starting point for theoretical consideration would be for me the Aristotelian observation (in the Poetics) that the poets give better insights into human nature than the historians, because they do not report reality but imaginatively create the "nature" of things. "Reality" as observed is always nature in the state of potentiality; the "true" reality of actualized nature is rarely a given, but must be constructed from the resources of the artist.

In this Aristotelian conception the artist is forced to create, because the difference between the potentiality empirically given and actualization is absent from empirical reality. Unless the artist supplies the fullness of human nature as the background, the empirical reality will be as flat as it usually is.

As an example, take our pet grievance, the ideologist. If you simply describe him, he will be an unintelligible caricature; if you interpret him by a psychology of motivations, you will at best get the rationale of his actions. In order to bring him to life you will have to reflect on the problem of a man who wants to transform the world in his image.

If you try that, you may find that there are men who cannot grow with themselves and cannot make their own life transparent for death. When they stop [growing], an event that frequently occurs around twenty, the tension between the status at which they have arrived spiritually and intellectually and the relentless process of time in themselves and the world surrounding them will cause anxiety, and from anxiety is born hatred.

From such hatred then may arise an infinite variety of attempts at stopping the flux of time—childish things like the professor for whom science must stop at the point that he has reached with so much labor at the time of his Ph.D.; terrible things like the political leader who wants to freeze history at some ridiculous point of order that he has picked up somewhere in his youth (Hitler for instance in the Ostara phantasies, as has come out now).

A reconstruction of complete reality in this sense, adding to empirical reality its tension with true reality, requires a considerable creative effort, because the imperfections are infinitely various; it requires a genius of perceptiveness to see in a recalcitrant raw material its relation to the "nature" of things.

Above all, it requires genuine love of true reality. . . .

Robert B. Heilman and Eric Voegelin
A Friendship in Letters, 1944-1984,
Hurried over the Face of the Earth ,
Notre Dame, Indiana, Letter 91, January 14, 1961,

pp 210-211.