Archive for October, 2009

Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is growing on me after digesting it several times in the past few years.

Some sections of it are just OK but a few of the chapters are absolutely marvelous. I’m beginning to think the section titled “The Paradoxes of Christianity” is possibly the best thing I’ve EVER read anywhere.

This excerpt isn’t even close to the best stuff in there. It just happens to be what I’ve thinking about today.

I rolled on my tongue with a terrible joy, as did all young men of that time, the taunts which Swinburne hurled at the dreariness of the creed —

“Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean, the world has grown gray with Thy breath.”

But when I read the same poet’s accounts of paganism (as in “Atalanta”), I gathered that the world was, if possible, more gray before the Galilean breathed on it than afterwards. The poet maintained, indeed, in the abstract, that life itself was pitch dark. And yet, somehow, Christianity had darkened it. The very man who denounced Christianity for pessimism was himself a pessimist. I thought there must be something wrong. And it did for one wild moment cross my mind that, perhaps, those might not be the very best judges of the relation of religion to happiness who, by their own account, had neither one nor the other.

-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, The Paradoxes of Christianity

Rene Girard’s theory is brilliant… but without a bit of nudging, can be difficult to apply to your own life.

Here, Wilson takes a stab at it. Good stuff.

The bottom line? Be careful what kind of media you consume. If you can’t handle it, avoid stuff that makes you JEALOUS. I’m serious.

Describing the praise the Inklings sometimes gave each other, Glyer recounts Lewis’s comments on a lecture Charles Williams gave at Oxford. The topic was Comus, a masque (pageantry/play) written by Milton on the subject of chastity. I find this to be a marvelous image!

“On Monday, C.W. lectured nominally on Comus but really on Chastity. Simply as criticism it was superb – because here was a man who really started from the same point of view as Milton and really cared with every fibre of his being about ‘the sage and serious doctrine of virginity’ which it would never occur to the ordinary modern critic to take seriously. But it was more important still as a sermon.”

Lewis continues, describing the effect on the students: “It was a beautiful sight to se a whole room full of modern young men and women sitting in that absolute silence which can NOT be fakes, very puzzled, but spell-bound.”

“It was ‘borne in upon me’ that that beautiful carved room had probably not witnessed anything so mportant since some of the great medieval or Reformation lectures.”

“I have at last, if only for once, seen a university doing what it was founded to do: teaching Wisdom”

-The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, V.2, p.345

The modern critic never takes Christianity (or even theism) seriously. He is always baffled by how many of the greats of any discipline DID take it seriously. And still do.

Roger Green read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe before it was published and suggested several minor but notable changes:

“Being rather more in touch with contemporary children, Gree was able to suggest a number of small alterations and improvements, ranging from the deletion of “Crikey!’ as a common exclamation among the young to the omission of bird’s-nesing from among the Pevense children’s occupations – Lewis being unaware of the revolution against ‘egg-collectors’ achieved by Arthur Ransome”

-Green, Hooper, C.S. Lewis: A Biography (taken from Gyler’s The Company They Keep, p. 210)

Well now, how nasty of young Lucy to go raiding poor defenseless bird nests and carting away their defenseless young as trophies.

As someone once said, “You can’t swing a dead cat around here without hitting some animal rights activist!”.

Just kidding. Oh well.

A description of an argument the Inklings had with each other sheds light on their theology of salvation:

At another meeting, an argument arose about the proper interpretation of Matthew 7:14, which reads, “Because stait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

Lewis writes, “I had a pleasant evening on Thursday with Williams, Tolkien, and Wrenn, during which Wrenn almost seriously expressed a strong wish to burn Williams, or at least maintained tat conversation with Williams enabled him to understand how inquisitors had felt it right to burn people. Tolkien and I agreed afterwards that we just knew what he meant: that as some people at school, college punts, are eminently kickable, so Williams is eminently combustible” (Collected Letters 2:283)

The juxtaposition of moods is particularly interesting: in the context of a pleasant evening and agreeable conversation, which happened to e about the proper interpretation of a passage of scripture, the discussion gains such intensity that Williams is deemed “combustible” by a group of his dear friends.

Regarding the debatable passage, Lewis says that the group concluded, “Our Lord’s replies are never straight answers and never gratify curiosity, and that whatever this one meant its purpose was certainly not statistical”

-Diana Gyler, The Company They Keep, p.78

While the anecdote about burning Williams at the stake is amusing, their conclusion about the passage is really quite interesting to contemplate.

Many theologies really DO treat this verse statistically.

Narrow is the way and few who find it. “Few” could be reduced to an actual percentage, right?

Of course, if you’re a universalist, that number is 100%, which just goes to show how silly it is to try and pull universalism out of the Bible.

Calvinists would say this number is a mystery that was already set before the earth was created. Some of the Puritans probably thought it was around 5%? The more optimistic post-millenialists would say God has PLENTY of time to jack that “few” up to maybe even 70%. Those who study the “remnant” principal in the Old Testament are more likely to land on scarier numbers, like 10%.

If you’re an open theist, than that number is still up for grabs. It depends on you. If we work hard in our missionary efforts, God has granted us the opportunity of raising it a few points. Eeek.

The only thing I have to say is that “few” implies less, not more. So that would be under 50% at least, which doesn’t tell us much.

On the other hand, is “finding the narrow way” synonymous to eternal salvation? Calling on the name of Jesus is supposedly all you need and that seems easier to me than finding (and walking!) the narrow way. Perhaps the verse is really about discipleship.

Interesting though, despite having four strong opinions, none of them thought it’s purpose was statistical? Clever.

Tolkien had an idea that we don’t really make up new stories. We pull them as leaves off the great “tree of tales”.

This sounds like the idea that when the conductor drops the baton, he’s is pulling an already-running beat out of the invisible river and not making one up on the spot. Well, on one hand I think that’s baloney. I don’t believe in a Platonic metronome. However, he may have subconsciously had the beat running in his head for some time. Perhaps it is associated with a particular memory. It seems to come from somewhere deeper than he can put his finger on. But this is about writing on the large scale, not one element of music.

Here (on p.221), Gyler references an interesting image (that is apparently pretty well-known):

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

-Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action

She also points out that Sayer’s expressed a similar notion about poetry:

“Poets do not merely pas on the torch in a relay race; they toss the ball to one another, to and fro, across the centuries. Dante would have been different if Virgil had never been, but if Dante had never been we should know Virgil differently; across both their heads Ezekiel calls to Blake, Milton to Homer”

-Dorothy Sayers, Further Papers on Dante

Bach died in 1750. His musical output hugely impacted others. But we know him differently through the rediscovery of his work by Mendelssohn when he reintroduced Bach to the world with the 1829 performance of the St. Matthew Passion in Berlin. We know him differently again by hearing his works transcribed for guitar or contemporary marimba – instruments that didn’t even exist in his time. It’s a complicated web and it’s changing even now. We project things back on him. When Pablo Casals played Bach with 1000 gallons of romantic rubato poured on thick, would Johann himself have recognized his own notes? When we listen to a performance of Bach, the light is being passed through many lenses.

This is from the concluding paragraph of Gyler’s book on the Inklings:

I am persuaded that writers do not create text out of thin air in a fit of personal inspiration. I believe that the most common and natural expressions of creativity occur as part of an ongoing dialogue between writers, readers, texts, and contexts.

This truth is exemplified by the weekly meetings of the Inklings. It is manifest in their relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. And it is expressed in many of teir own statements about the creative process. As Williams reminds us, an emphasis on isolated individuals must give way to an interactive view of life, culture, and creativity. Explaining Williams’s view, Roma King summarizes, “The parts are so related that the slightest vibration in one is felt throughout the whole…”

-Diana Gyler, The Company They Keep, p.226

Gyler convincingly argues that artists are nearly always trying to distance themselves from being perceived as imitators of those who came before them. The solitary genius is held up as an ideal. She points to numerous criticisms of Rembrandt and even Mozart not being original enough. But of course this is silly. It points to something deeply rooted in our psyche.

In [Harold Bloom’s] discussion of the privileging of originality, he emphasizes that in each generation, “every major aesthetic consciousness seems peculiarly more gifted at denying obligation” According to Bloom, the study of influence can be reduced to the “study of the only guilt that matters to a poet, the guilt of indebtedness”. If each poet’s ultimate guilt is indebtedness, then each poet’s ultimate fear is that “no proper work remains for him to perform“. To be free of influence is to be free of “the chill of being darkened by a precursor’s shadow”. Although Bloom focusses is discussion on the anxiety that the artist feels in relation to her or his predecessors, the same anxiety is evident throughout comparative literary studies, even when the interaction of contemporaries is being discussed.

In the introduction to this book, I explain that most of the books and articles written about the Inklings, and even some of the statements made by the Inklings themselves, include emphatic denial of mutual influence. Why is there such a vigorous attempt to deny, or at least minimize, the possibility of influence? …much of it must be understood as a tendency to confuse influence with imitation.

-Diana Gyler, The Company They Keep, p.217

What is more depressing to the artist than “there is nothing new under the sun?”. There are all kinds of ways to deal with this. Schoenberg wrote 12-tone music to escape this stigma. In my opinion, that was jumping from the imaginary frying pan into the very real fire underneath. Vaughn Williams, Copeland, and Bartok openly plundered folk music and lifted it to great new heights. We are influenced by EVERYTHING in our past memory. The very language we use to describe our bold new original ideas is defined by the old stuff. (Barfield would have emphasized that). As artists, we need to get over this psychological hurdle, somehow!

Over the years, I’ve encountered folks who were uncomfortable with some of Lewis’s Narnian mythology because of it’s inclusion of overtly pagan mythological characters and deities as being on the GOOD guy’s side.

A grumpy faun doesn’t look that much different from some representations of the devil. Dionysus (Bacchus), the god of drunken orgies (among other things) is in there. So is Santa Clause.

The same could be said of the druid Merlin in That Hideous Strength, thought he does go out of his way to explain that a bit more.

Along those lines, is this interesting note about some of Tolkien’s original criticisms of Lewis’s fantasy:

In his article “J.R.R. Tolkien: Narnian Exile,” Joe R. Christopher suggests that Lewis responded to Tolkien’s criticism of the first two chapters of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by adding a section to the end of Prince Caspian. He argues that one of Tolkien’s major objections is that Lewis sanitizes or sentimentalizes mythical creatures, taming (and thereby misrepresenting) the nature of characters like the faun or satyr. Late in Prince Caspian, there is a wild romp of mythological characters, including Bacchus and Silenus. In the story, Susan observes, “I wouldn’t have felt very safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we’d met them without Aslan”. As these mythological creatures become part of this story, Lewis argues, their behavior is redeemed. Christopher explains, “That is, Lewis seems to reply to Tolkien, under Christ certain basic impulses can be controlled…under Christ, such things can be kept in bounds”. Christopher says of this passage, “It is difficult not to believe that this is a deliberate answer by Lewis to Tolkien”.

-Diana Gyler, The Company They Keep, p.113

Indeed.

Sometimes it’s nice to know you’re in good company.

It is of some interest that one of the most common changes in Lewis’s actual drafts is that words are crossed out multiple times as Lewis struggled to spell them correctly. Despite his blazing intellect and deservedly famous memory, he had a lot of trouble with spelling.

-Diana Gyler, The Company They Keep, p.132