Per Aspera Ad Astra: Conflicts and Challenges of Spirit in Sirius by Olaf Stapledon


A sky full of stars against a deep blue sky

The British science fiction writer Olaf Stapledon influenced many later authors, such as Arthur C. Clarke and Stanisław Lem. However, his work has not yet been subject to much critical attention. Iren Boyarkina (University of Rome Tor Vergata) presents a new contribution in our Postgraduate English journal that identifies a key unifying philosophy in one of his most important novels.

The theme of spirit, intended not in the strict ecclesiastic sense but in a much broader sense as love, creation and intelligence, is the main theme in fiction and non-fiction writing by British writer and philosopher William Olaf Stapledon. In Sirus the writer explores in depth many philosophical, religious and scientific aspects relative to spirit.

The idea that Sirius is a spirit is expressed in the book both literally and by means of parable. The whole life of Sirius, the internal conflicts and challenges that he is facing, can be viewed as the metaphor of any awakening spirit trying to overcome the imperfections and limitations of his physical body on the way to a higher plane of development and fully awake state. In the more narrow sense, Sirius might represent the metaphor of the human species that needs intervention of eugenics to be able to fully realize its potentiality. The spirit of Sirius is facing various challenges in love, creativity (music), scientific activities and personal relations; he is tormented by various internal conflicts.

The allegory of Sirius can be also viewed as the modern interpretation of the Plato’s allegory of Chariot. Like Charioteer, also Sirius is torn apart by the white horse, which pulls him to heaven, to the way of spirit, and the dark one, which makes him behave as a bloodthirsty and primitive animal when he slips into one of his wolf moods. In Stapledon’s modern version, the soul of Sirius becomes a battlefield of the eternal war between the awaken and somnolent states of spirit, between his highly spiritual cravings and wolf moods.

In Sirius Stapledon creates a multifunctional model, which allows to explore many problems of the modern society: how to improve the human species and the human spirit. If by means of eugenics, how can normal human beings coexist peacefully with those eugenetically modified in the same society? Analyzing various lifestyles, different cultures, levels of education and spiritual development, Stapledon clearly demonstrates that the modern society is still not able to live peacefully with creatures who are different.

This article is available to download free in issue 32 of our open access Postgraduate English journal, where you’ll also find a complete archive of research dating back to 2000.

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