The ‘Spectrality Effect’ in Early Modernism
In ‘The Finding of the Absolute’, the last of May Sinclair's grimly witty Uncanny Stories (1924), a metaphysically-inclined cuckold named Mr Spalding suddenly dies and finds himself in heaven. There the true nature of the world is explained to him by two men, each in their different ways a representative figure of modernity: Paul Jeffreson, the dissolute Imagist poet who had run away with his wife Elizabeth, and the philosopher Immanuel Kant. On meeting Jeffreson again, Spalding at first thinks that he must be in hell. But, in spite of his drinking, drug-taking and philandering, Jeffreson has been saved by his love of beauty since it was this sole redeeming quality that made him, in his own words, such ‘a thundering good poet’. 1 Though he has been a thoroughly bad man, his dedication to his art has given him a purity of mind that places him among ‘the very finest spirits’ (‘FA’, 231). Beauty is integral to the Absolute, against which Spalding's earthly morality appears merely petty and provincial.
Nevertheless, Spalding has qualified for heaven because of his pursuit of truth, his passionate devotion to the task of constructing a system of metaphysics, a devotion that ultimately cost him his wife. From the standpoint of hisphilosophical account of the Absolute, the very existence of Elizabeth's adultery is a flaw in the nature of things and thus a blow to his moral sense. So, when Spalding discovers that he is now in a position to consult Kant directly about his spiritual crisis, he is delighted. Transported to Kant's study in Königsberg, Spalding – a convinced Kantian – is surprised to learn that the philosopher is in no doubt about the considerable advances in human understanding achieved by his successor Hegel. For Kant the moral law sub specie aeternitatis‘is not an end in itself’, but rather a vehicle for the realisation of the mind's true creativity, the exercise of the imagination's