31 May 2012

CSLIS Report #2

I'm at Taylor University in Indiana for the 8th Biennial Frances White Ewbank Colloquium on C.S. Lewis and Friends. Here is my report on the first talk.

DISTINGUO! A talk by Alan Jacobs

Forking paths:
1941 CSL published Screwtape Letters and Jorge Luis Borges published The Garden of Forking Paths. In Borges' book, a novel is hypothesized in which all possible outcomes occur simultaneously: forking paths, all followed.

The choice between the ethical and the aesthetic is not the choice between good and evil; it is the choice of whether or not to choose in terms of good and evil.” Alasdair MacIntyre on Kierkegaard's Either-Or.

Sarte: choice is inevitable. Choice has implications beyond itself.

Existentialism is a powerful form of humanism: Sarte, “I am responsibly for myself and for all men.... In fashioning myself, I fashion man.” When we chose one fork, we influence others as well as ourselves. Choice is a huge moral burden.

Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations. As young people, all the paths are before us. We can only choose a few. We have a limited amount of time within which to make a limited number of choices. When we make one choice, we have given up ALL the others.

Two themes: all the paths are always present? or all the other paths disappear when you choose one? Multiplicity, or an either/or?

The idea of the multiverse got its start as an imaginative idea in Borges' novel!?!

Neal Stephenson, Anathem.

The Multiverse Hypothesis
  • extends the empire of choice
  • reduces the “opportunity cost” of choice
  • reduces the significance of any single choice
  • leaves unanswered the question of reality—multiform? unitary?—after death

Distinguo” means “I distinguish.” It means to stop and clarify terms.

Darwin: those who make many species are “splitters”; those who make few are “lumpers.” Lewis thought we had too many lumpers. He wanted to push his readers towards necessary choices.

{what about the fallacy of a false binary? Aren't there more choices than Lewis allows?}

Why is this drive towards choice such a strong theme in his work? There is no third way: we are always helping each other towards either Heaven or Hell. This is dramatized in That Hideous Strength. Example: Mark going by car to Belbury; Jane going to St. Anne's by train. Does Merlin represent a curious in-between place? “Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse” (Dimble in THS). “We all have our different languages; but we all really mean the same thing” (Busby in THS). Feverstone realizes that there are, indeed, two sides between which one must choose. Everyone is coming to the point of decision where you won't get to be neutral anymore. Not only do you have to choose sides, but you have to choose why you are choosing sides! For power? or for virtue?

In LOTR, there is a theme of fighting for the right without hope. Galadriel: We are fighting the long defeat.

Mark Studdock faces a “cross”; a crossroads. A moment of decision.

{Grace Ironwood says that they are a “company.” Influence of CW? This is one year after “The Founding of the Company.” Notice also the language of “obedience.”}

Jane, having had her “religious experience,” cannot be made to go back and take the other path from the crossroads.

The distinguo is necessary in a uni-verse:
    • limits our powers of choice
    • raises the “opportunity cost” of choice
    • raises the significance of self-defining choice
    • asserts everlasting teleological directionality

The Great Divorce: it's an absolute either-or.
EITHER: getting further apart (as in the Gray Town of The Great Divorce)
OR: further up and further in—to the Real Narnia

In a strange way, Lewis is at one with the Existentialist: we must make the ultimate choice.

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