A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


The Rose - Science Versus Art
Monday, March 16, 2009

'She said that she would dance with me if I brought her red roses,' cried the young Student; 'but in all my garden there is no red rose.'

From her nest in the holm-oak tree the Nightingale heard him, and she looked out through the leaves, and wondered.

'No red rose in all my garden!' he cried, and his beautiful eyes filled with tears. 'Ah, on what little things does happiness depend! I have read all that the wise men have written, and all the secrets of philosophy are mine, yet for want of a red rose is my life made wretched.'

The Nightingale and the Rose
Oscar Wilde

'What a silly thing Love is,' said the Student as he walked away. 'It is not half as useful as Logic, for it does not prove anything, and it is always telling one of things that are not going to happen, and making one believe things that are not true. In fact, it is quite unpractical, and, as in this age to be practical is everything, I shall go back to Philosophy and study Metaphysics.'

So he returned to his room and pulled out a great dusty book, and began to read.

The Nightingale and the Rose
Oscar Wilde

The poor student in Oscar Wilde's story does manage to find a white rose with the help of the nightingale but to no avail as love does not triumph as the story finishes. The Nightingale and the Rose pits love versus philosphy and logic. In the end it would seem that philosophy and logic win.

In 1953 Texan born Charles L. Harness, a lawyer and patent attorney, wrote a famous science fiction novella, The Rose. It appeared first in Authentic Magazine in England but did not appear in book form until 1969 in the pocket book form I purchased in 1970. Both The Rose and Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human (1953) were books of my youth that influenced me because part of being young is to be aware that one is walking potential and the future appears to be a blank and open book. Both novels explored the next step in man's potential, an evolution where the body stopped changing and it all shifted to the expansion of our mind. More Than Human was an easier read. The Rose was more complicated because Harness shifted Wilde's conflict between love and logic and philosophy to one between the arts and science. But I understood enough to understand with much excitement that some day soon we would have big huge heads containing brains like those aliens in This Island Earth. In youth I had some potential but I was naive, too!

One of the supporting characters in The Rose says: "‘I repeat,’ said Bell, ‘we are watching the germination of another Renaissance. The signs are unmistakable, and should be of great interest to practising sociologists and policemen.’" Charles L. Harness stresses the power of the opposition: not the scientists themselves, but the National Security/Governmental apparatus that hires them. He does not see science as a problem. The problem lies in that science is set up against the liberalism and individualism of art. Even though we must all be aware that you need some sort of education to appreciate art.

The message was lost to me in 1970. The Rose amazed me but I was left with little understanding as to why I had liked it. The nightingale is an ugly psychiatrist and ballerina and the student (no less ugly) represents art while being married to a scientist who is a beauty of perfection. The student and the ballerina manage to end (sort of) like a couple of ducklings turned swans.

Harness died in 2005 and I can only wonder what he would make of the new enemy of the arts as the world's economy declines and funding for the arts withers away. It was only some weeks ago that a member of my family said, "A liberal arts education is a waste of time now." Perhaps I shall place my copy of The Rose on a bedside table and see if that mind will change. After all youth is there and potential is at its fullest.

The red rose on the cover of my pocketbook is a Hybrid Tea. I do not have any red Hybrid Tea Roses in my garden. What you see here is the English Rose, Rosa 'L.D. Braithwaite'.


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