The Difficulty of Arrival: Reflections on the Function of Art

  • Michael Grant


In this reading, a chapter from Theorrhoea and After, which like the preceding selection is a condensed version of themes worked through in Newton’s Sleep, Tallis again takes up the question of the uselessness of art. To argue that art is useless, that it fulfils no function in the kingdom of means, is not to diminish its value, but to show where its value truly lies. It has to do with the final purpose of living and not with the means to survival or comfort. Tallis puts this dramatically by saying that the idea that art is useless would cause less upset if it were also appreciated that consciousness itself is useless. It too has nothing to do with ensuring our survival, and there is no evidence that conscious beings survive better than unconscious creatures like the amoeba. As self-conscious, explicit animals, we find ourselves burdened with the task of making sense of our lives, and completing our sense of things. To exemplify his point, Tallis gives a description of the way he finds it impossible to feel that he has ever actually arrived when he goes on holiday. The sense he has of how the holiday should be never seems to coincide with the experiences that make it into the actuality that it is. He argues that we are condemned to journey towards ideas of experience that no experience could ever realise. And yet in art, and especially in music, for Tallis the paradigm case of art, this gap is overcome. The experience of great music and the idea of music expressed in that experience are one.


Human Consciousness Condensed Version Involuntary Memory Outward Journey Greenish Tinge 
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  1. 3.
    Mary Midgely, Beast and Man: the Roots of Human Nature (London: Methuen, 1980), p. 150.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Raymond Tallis 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Grant
    • 1
  1. 1.Rutherford CollegeThe University of KentCanterburyUK

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