The Opening of the Eyes

By Olaf Stapledon

1954

This Book
might have been dedicated by
OLAF STAPLEDON
to a small number of people whom
he loved very much.
It is now offered gratefully to
YOU,
friends known and unknown, who felt his
loss and shared
the sorrow of his death in
September 1950,
It is offered also to
YOU,
to whom his last words speak
in your own language.

                    A. Z. S.

PREFACE

Olaf Stapledon was the most disturbing friend of mine whom I have ever had the hardihood to disagree with. I challenge anyone, however firmly rooted his convictions, to read this book and feel no need for further self-examination.

His life was devoted to the search for truth. This is a statement which it should be possible to make of any genuine philosopher. But in our day the term philosophy has been unduly narrowed. Stapledon wanted the whole truth; and at whatever point his own integrity and generosity of mind, or the trend of contemporary thought, suggested the need for an extension of the search, he felt compelled to take up the challenge. His greatest books, Last and First Men and Star Maker, are cosmic works. And they are histories of the future: Stapledon took up his pen where other historians think their task is done and lay it down. To him, most venturesome of all explorers, one species of mankind, one little earth, even one universe was not enough—he wrote of many.

I have called these two books histories because, to me, they speak with all the authority of one who has read the documents and given us the fruits of true research. Stapledon himself, perhaps more wisely, called them myths. In factual form they tell the story of a quest and of its goal—the spirit's search for a sure path through the problem of good and evil to the throne of God.

Last and First Menwas published in 1930, and Star Maker in 1937. The first of these was followed by several novels, in which the same theme was approached by different routes. For Stapledon was above all things a moral philosopher: his earliest work was A Modern Theory of Ethics. But from the books themselves and from my talks with him during the period of their conception, I did not gather that he himself regarded the solutions offered in them as anything but tentative and intellectual approaches to the truth. The moments of spiritual insight which he certainly was given seem to have dictated little more than a blind acceptance of the dark-bright Being whom he envisages in Star Maker.

Hence the value of the present work, an intimate and personal record of the later stages of a spiritual Odyssey. Here every doubt and difficulty (and there were many on that uncharted path) are encountered time and again, only to be overcome, and at last illumination is achieved, the eyes are opened.

There is no need for me to analyse the contents of these 'confessions'. I will only point out how perfectly they illustrate the two qualities of Stapledon's character which I have already mentioned, his generosity—I might have said capacity for love—and his integrity, to which I should have added courage. He was never content, in his pilgrimage, to follow a beaten track if he suspected that it was a by-pass round an ugly truth—everything, good and evil, had to be explored. I am reminded of a young airman friend of mine, killed in the recent war, whose motto was, 'When two courses present themselves, choose the more difficult.' Stapledon did this.

And he had no use for any doctrine of personal salvation, nor did he ever ally himself to that esoteric aristocracy who seem content to let the weaker brethren rot on the ground. He was not to be satisfied till every man and woman, every living thing, was brought within the ambit of his comprehension and his love. I venture to say, though he would smile at me and point to certain pages in this book, that he was a better Christian than he knew.

The book speaks for itself, and I have nothing further to record but a few external facts connected with its conception and its approach to completion. A year or so before his sudden and untimely death, my friend lunched with me in London and before the first course was over we were deep in discussion, as our custom was. But on this occasion I found myself even further out of my depth than usual, whereas Stapledon spoke with a confidence and a sense of achievement I had not previously observed in him. And very soon he told me all. He had reached the goal of his thinking; he had come to terms with reality; and comprehension had been added to acceptance. There was a note of serenity in his bearing which it is a pleasure to remember, now that he is gone.

Unfortunately the record of these struggles and their end was not destined to receive its final touches from the author's hand. Nevertheless I have come to the conclusion that little is lost. The manuscript was prepared for press by Mrs. Stapledon herself, and in answer to my questions concerning the amount of editing it called for, she replied as follows:

My task was chiefly to write out the last pages of the book, from a very fine and rather complicated pencil copy, deciding which were the experimental phrases or words and which the final. Also to go over the whole manuscript a good many times, inserting pencil notes that my husband had added in the margin, and in a few cases taking the liberty of discarding a word or a repetition of a phrase, just as I would have done if he had been there to ask my opinion. And he often did make small alterations at my suggestion, because he relied on my judgement in some things—not all.' And she proceeds to give reasons for her belief that the book, as it stands, is not quite complete. Several short sections had yet to be added at the end, and no indication whatever of their contents was forthcoming.

In conclusion I wish to thank Mrs. Stapledon and the publishers for the opportunity they have given me of paying this brief tribute to a great thinker and a good friend.

E. V. RIEU

April,1953

Acknowledgement

1. The Shock of Vision

2. Protest for Intellectual Integrity

3. The Need to pass through Fire

4. The Vision is of the Actual World, Transfigured

5. Salutation of the Dark-Bright

6. Protest in the Heart

7. Prayer is Answered

8. A Friend who Passed through Fire

9. More of the Friend

10. Dialogue with the Friend

11. After Vision, Dark Night

12. Light strives against Darkness, in vain

13. Yearning for the Lost Light

14. Darkness is Absolute

15. Hell

16. A Choice is made

17. Further Choices and their Effects

18. Vision is Restored

19. The Mind calls for Clear Statement

20. The Heart demands Examples

21. In All Worlds the Way is Identical

22. Beyond the Way

23. Clinging to Love

24. The Inner Voice and the Church

25. The Pleading of the Church

26. Yearning for Communion, vainly

27. Causes of the Soul's Exclusion

28. Christ as Fact and Christ as Symbol

29. On the Threshold of the Church

30. Prayer for a Second Coming

31. Love is not God

32. The Heavens declare—Nothing

33. The Many Worlds and Beings

34. Men are Animals

35. The Voice within is the Voice of Humanity

36. Evolution and the Way

37. The Religion of Progress

38. The Urgency of Revolution

39. Man is the Measure

40. Vision persists

41. Rejection of the Comrades

42. Cosmical Terror

43. Loathing and Attraction

44. Illumination

45. Rebuke and Heart-searching

46. Desertion of the World

47. Exposure of Spiritual Lust

48. Incursions from the Unknown

49. Individuality and the Whole

50. Protest for Mundane Happiness

51. Fatal Involvement

52. World Tragedy

53. The Act of Will

54. Freedom and Necessity

.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

For fear of making omissions I shall not name any of the friends who read and discussed the early sections of this book with Olaf while he was writing it, but I must acknowledge with gratitude the final reading and comment on the whole by our good friend Professor L. C. Martin.

To Mrs. Ruth Backhouse (Ruth Tallis) who twenty-three years ago had made the typescript of Last and First Men, and who not only typed the present work but spent hours with me poring over the difficult places in the manuscript, I owe more than I can say for the courage her kindness gave me.

Lastly I would thank Dr. E. V. Rieu for his long interest in the evolving of the book, for his patient help and advice as to its publication, and especially for the sensitive appreciation of it, and of its author, which is expressed in his Preface.

A.Z.S.

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