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THE MIND OF THE MAKER by Dorothy L. Sayers

THE MIND OF THE MAKER (original 1941; edition 1958)

by Dorothy L. Sayers

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Authors:Dorothy L. Sayers
Info:Living Age Books {Meridian} (1958), Paperback
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The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers (1941)

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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
I've wanted to read this book for years, and it is everything I'd hoped it would be. Very like C.S. Lewis, which is high praise indeed. It's a synthesis of literary theory and theology, which means that it could have been written only for me. The first quarter, where she's setting up her thesis, made me think I'd dropped a few IQ points - it is very dense - but it is a very happy ride from then on. This is now one of my favorite books. ( )
  CatherineBurkeHines | Nov 28, 2018 |
Sayers argues that the trinity is part of man's inherent nature and illustrates this through an examination of the human creative process. Her views of literature are fairly traditional and may strike some as outdated. But her observations on the formal unities and on the differences between literary art and reality are fascinating. Christian readers will find her insights into the analogy of human to divine nature fascinating. Highly recommended for writers and "close" readers who want new ways of looking at literature as well as those interested in Christian theology. ( )
  kaitanya64 | Jan 3, 2017 |
I cannot pretend to have comprehended all of this, but here is what I gleaned.

She uses the terminology of Christianity, such as Trinity and Creator, to instruct on the art of artistic creation, with a focus on writing, since she is a writer. Her "trinity" is the Father (artist or Idea of the work), the Son (practical craft of material creation such as plot, grammar, etc.) and the Spirit (the power of the work in the minds of those who behold it). From there she proceeds to describe how and why a work fails or succeeds. Demonstrating that it is usually a lack in one or the other of the trinity. I love her insights into the craft of writing. She uses the playwright as a special example, because it is easier to demonstrate the above ideas in a drama written for the stage. Fascinating stuff.

At the very beginning and towards the end of the book, she points out the differences in the way language is used. Describing the scientific/literal bent of the world she was living in (WWII era), and the inclination of scientists and behaviorists of the day to dismiss analogy from their terminology, she points out the futility of it, since human experience of our world is really the only thing we have to go on. At the end, there is a bit of a rant over the use of the words "problem" and "solution." She spends a chapter disputing that view of life and suggesting that when a problem has been solved, it is then finished or dead. This is no way to live life and leads to great disappointment, since most of life is not a detective novel and therefore cannot be "solved." She suggests that a better way to approach life is to apply our natural creativeness and through that create a new thing which has not been before. This is really a chapter which must be read to be fully appreciated, it offers a great way to look at life and this world.

Now, if what I've written above does not make a lot of sense, don't blame Dorothy L. Sayers, blame me for my lack of descriptive abilities! ( )
  MrsLee | Aug 27, 2012 |
I had this book in my library for years before I read it, even though I am a devoted fan of DLS's fiction. I am pleased to say it is marvelous. Psychological analogies of the Trinity can only be so good, but this is as good as they get. The result, though, is one of the best analyses of the creative process I have ever read. It certainly gave me a lot of insight into my own writing process, insight that I'd been pursuing elusively for some time: it crystallized suspicions and opened up why certain strategies were successful. I realize now that the human being as creator in the image of The Creator was really the driving theological passion of DLS's life and work. That's a neglected emphasis in the Christian tradition and I am happy to see it restored to its proper place here. ( )
3 vote SarahEHWilson | Dec 30, 2010 |
The Mind of the Maker is a masterly thesis on how human creativity reflects the triune nature of the Christian God, the ultimate Creator. Dorothy Sayers, an acquaintance of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien and sometime Inkling, was a brilliant scholar and creative artist as well as a Catholic Christian. This work is not a defense of Christian doctrine in the apologetic sense, but is rather an exploration of whether or not Christian theology "works" in practice as observed in the artist.

Sayers' main contention is that human creativity can be broken down into three parts: the Idea, the Energy, and the Power. These three elements correspond with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In human creativity, the Idea (the Father) is the core of the work, the creative seed, perfect and whole, before it is expressed. The Energy (the Son) is the manifestation of that Idea, the medium in which the Idea is clothed. The Power (the Spirit) is that which gives life to the work of art, conveying the artistic vision to its audience.

Sayers explores each of these elements as they relate to human art. The chapter on scalene (unequal) trinities was especially fascinating because Sayers diagnoses artistic problems in light of her Trinitarian premise. She points to Blake as a father-centered artist — which means that he was deficient in the son and the spirit. Son-centered artists are very good at expressing the artistic vision, but the vision itself is not unified or well defined. The spirit-centered artist has power to convey, but the Idea is weak and the Energy flawed. The closer an artist comes to equality among his trinity, the better his work will be.

Like many works which attempt to deal with the Person and role of the Holy Spirit, this book falls somewhat short in explaining the Spirit's corner of the triangle. Perhaps it is just my understanding of it that is deficient, but it seems that the roles of the Son and Spirit are rather similar. I did not see enough distinction between what they do. The Father is the Idea, the Son is the manifestation of that Idea... and the Spirit conveys it? Isn't that what the manifestation does? I think I need to reread that part for clarity.

Not that Sayers is difficult to read! She is often quite witty and funny. I loved the part where she talks about a man named Garrick who rewrote Hamlet to make it (what he considered to be) a better play. Sayers' utter abhorrence of his version is evident, and in her dryly British style, rendered very funny indeed. I imagine it would be even more comical if one had read Garrick's play. But from Sayers' description, it doesn't sound as if we've missed much! And there are many other witty little asides that made the reading fun as well as enlightening.

I do think there are some theological issues here. Sayers claims that human nature "runs true to itself" when not sinning, and this would *appear* to deny the doctrine of man's depravity. Perhaps what she means is that human nature runs true to its original design when not sinning. In one place Sayers quotes the Old Testament passage about the sins of the fathers being visited upon their children, and calls it an observation of the Jews (p. 12). It isn't a mere observation of the Jews; in Christian doctrine, it is the Word of God. I didn't like the implicit devaluing there. I was also not a fan of an author she kept quoting, Berdyaev, who seems to have a very unorthodox view of God and man. I don't know how extensively his work influenced Sayers', but the direct quotes of his that are in this book were, more often than not, theologically problematic.

I found that most of the theological issues occur in the early chapters, and once we really got going I found much less to criticize and much more to appreciate. Sayers makes so many keen observations that I started reaching for pen and paper to note the good stuff around page 22. I'll just give a quick précis of the main points that jumped out to me:

• We are continually tempted to confine the mind of the writer to its expression within his creation (p. 50).

• The vital power of an imaginative work demands a diversity within its unity (p. 53).

• God's work in creation is like the misquotation of a perfect poem; the poet is responsible for the poem, but is not guilty of the misquotation. The poem is still his (p. 104–5).

• "It is the business of education to wait upon Pentecost" (p. 112). We can teach artistic theories and skills, but until the artist is infused with the Spirit (as at the Christian Pentecost), the vision will have no power.

• Man is solidly theistic when it comes to books; he never assumes that the combination of paper and ink, of words and ideas in his hands is a mere accident. He always attributes it to a maker (p. 113).

• It is hard to trace the creative act because even in doing so, we are being creative. It is like trying to follow the movement of your own eyes in a mirror; you cannot (p. 115).

• The likeness between human creativity and God's breaks down — or must be adjusted — when we realize that the response to God's creation comes only from His creatures. It is as if a book were written to be read by its own characters (p. 128).

• Sayers is famous for her defense of her characters' free will, especially that of her detective Lord Peter Wimsey. She defends his right to do as he wishes, apart from her authorial authority (p. 131). Characters cannot be manipulated outside of their natures, or the fidelity to the Idea is corrupted and the entire work is weakened. Sayers gives several convincing examples of this, such as when Mr Micawber gets a very uncharacteristic ending in Dickens' David Copperfield. Most people would agree that something does not ring true there; this is an example of an author dominating his characters to the detriment of their free will and, ultimately, to the work as a whole.

• "The artist must not attempt to force response by direct contact with any response of his own; for spirit cannot speak to spirit without intermediary" (p. 155). In this passage Sayers talks about how the artist must always be in control of himself while creating art. I could not agree more. I think half of art is controlling one's expression of it.

• "The glory of the sonhood is manifest in the perfection of the flesh" (p. 168).

• Artistic Gnosticism, like theological Gnosticism, kills the work. All heresies have disastrous consequences, whether they are spiritual or artistic (p. 169).

• Sayers addresses the question of whether or not the commonalities between Christian doctrine regarding the creative God and human art is a coincidence. She also acknowledges the argument that perhaps Christian doctrine has been formulated from observation of human creativity. But if one advances that point, one must acknowledge that there is nothing alien or strange in the concept of the Trinity, as it is validated by human observation and experience (p. 182).

• Life is the art of the common man. In Sayers' more eloquent words, "Also, he [the common man] supposes that the artist exercises complete mastery over his material. But the average man does not feel himself to be a complete master of life (which is his material)" (p. 185).

• I especially appreciated and am mulling over what Sayers says next about the dangers of thinking of life as a series of problems which need solutions. She posits the idea that instead of seeing traumatic/painful things as problems, to which there exists somewhere a solution, a more realistic approach is to take what exists and make something new of it. It must be transformed by creative power. When someone says, "I can make nothing of my problems," he is speaking more truly than he knows. It is a mark of the creative artist to not think in terms of problems and solutions, but rather to take life as material for the act of creating.

I am still pondering the significance of this view, so different from what we imbibe from our culture. Sayers says, "The desire to solve a living problem by a definitive and sterile conclusion is natural enough; it is part of the material will to death" (p. 208).

Overall, I found this to be a very well-written, thought-provoking read that will influence my view of the creative process. It has also given me something to ponder in the idea of life in general as creative rather than mathematically "problem and solution." It is an intelligent and eminently readable book, whether or not you agree with its premise. I will certainly revisit it. ( )
8 vote atimco | Sep 13, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dorothy L. Sayersprimary authorall editionscalculated
L'Engle, MadeleineIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In gloriam maiorem sancti Athanasii qui opificis aeterni divinitatem contra mundum vindicavit item Ecclesiarum Britannicarum per duces suos contra mundum operum humanorum sancitatem hodie asserentium
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This book is not an apology for Christianity, nor is it an expression of personal religious belief.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060670770, Paperback)

Best known for her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, Dorothy Sayers was also a playwright, essayist, and a translator of Dante. C.S. Lewis said that he liked her "for the extraordinary zest and edge of her conversation--as I like a high wind." The reader gets a fair taste of that wind in this book, her study of the human (and divine) creative process. Beginning with some stingingly humorous words for the education process (which has produced, she says, "a generation of mental slatterns") she then explores the Trinitarian nature of creativity. Here she identifies the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity--God, Son, Holy Spirit--with three elements of creation. First, the Idea: "passionless, timeless, beholding the whole work complete at once, the end in the beginning"; then the Creative Energy: "begotten of that idea, working in time from the beginning to end," manifesting the Idea in matter; and finally the Creative Power: "the meaning of the work and its response in the lively soul"--in essence, what she calls "the indwelling Spirit."

In a plain, matter-of-fact style that readers will recognize from her mysteries, she reflects on the question of free will and miracle, evil, and, ultimately, "the worth of the work." It is especially here, I think, in this final chapter that the book remains both timeless and profoundly timely. The artist stands for the true worker, she writes, who, while requiring payment for his work, as an artist "retains so much of the image of God that he is in love with his creation for its own sake." So too, ultimately, should it be for all human work: "That the eyes of all workers should behold the integrity of the work is the sole means to make that work good in itself and so good for mankind. This is only another way of saying that the work must be measured by the standard of eternity." --Doug Thorpe

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:53 -0400)

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Dorothy L. Sayers illuminates the doctrine of the Trinity by relating it to the process of writing fiction, a process about which she could speak with complete authority. She illustrates her thesis with many examples drawn from her own books.

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