Art practice began as a quest for the sacred and continued with this focus until the Renaissance. This thesis begins by questioning this spiritual inheritance of the creative endeavour and exploring the possibility that our historical search for the sacred may still have relevance for today’s artists and writers. I postulate that creativity always was and still is used to bridge the gap between the known and the unknown, as it served to bridge the gap between heaven and earth in previous times.
My first chapter explores theories that conceive of heaven and earth as separate: the sacred and profane realms in opposition to each other. I cover religious traditions that conceive of the sacred as ‘wholly other,’ or existing in a realm that is separate by nature, by virtue of being unknown. My second chapter digs deeper into esoteric traditions and searches for themes of unity rather than separation – for streams of thought that assert continuity between the sacred and profane spheres. Here I introduce the idea of union – union between people, and between reader and writer. I look at sociological concepts that consider the sacred as a sum of human parts – as a product of the group, and I look at novels that have taken transcendence or union as a central theme.
In my third chapter I study the boundary lands between the sacred and profane and the role of the writer or artist at this juncture. I look at the Chinese origins of language – a language that was conceived as a bridge between these two domains. I also examine the politics of representation and the dangers of sitting at the gateway between heaven and earth – of helping to construct the cosmos from this precarious juncture point.
In my fourth chapter I consider how language bridges the gap between the concrete and the abstract – how it serves to help people live beyond reality and how artists have exploited this quality to re-present the world as we know it. I also look at the process of creativity and the role of transcendence in the actual act of creative production, introducing the idea of a literary shaman.
In my conclusion I consider how the exercise of imagining a heaven (as well as a hell) has given rise to innumerable ways of seeing ‘the world as it is’ – essentially a highly personalised construct of reality, full of the poetry, history and thought of the culture that created it. Here I also explain my theory of how the invention of worlds, including the creation of religious landscapes and belief systems, form a system of ‘transactions’ between the sacred and profane, the unknown and the known worlds. And I explain how this transactional process is highly relevant to anybody in the creative arts today who engages with mystery on a daily basis.