01 June 2012

CSLIS Report #4

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 second plenary session. 

David Downing: "Journey to Joy: C.S. Lewis's Pilgrim's Regress"

This is the 80th anniversary of Lewis's writing of The Pilgrim's Regress.

Comparison to Augustine's and Paul's spiritual journeys. Recap of the crucial conversation with Tolkien {and Dyson!} about how “The Dying God” myth was not an argument against Christianity, but an argument for Christianity. He wrote The Pilgrim's Regress in two weeks (!) in August of 1932.
Our best havings are wantings”--Lewis to Arthur Greeves—a motif for Lewis' whole life.

  • Lewis's first book of fiction
  • first Christian book
  • first book published under his own name
  • first book written in 2 weeks that is still in print 80 years later

Lewis added the notes/commentary later: there are 300 allusions in a 200-page book! Arthur Greeves asked him to cut them down. Helpful resource:

1915: he wrote a poem called “My Western Garden,” an evocation of this island paradise
1920: poem called “Joy” about the desire—before he is a Christian
Pilgrim's Regress was a culmination of a long spiritual process
1930: as a theist, 50-page MS about journey from atheism to theism: you don't have to choose between syllogisms and psychosis.
Then wanted to recast his journey as The Aeneid.

Differences between Bunyan & Lewis:
  • Christian has to leave to escape destruction (negative motivation); John leaves to seek islands (positive motivation)
  • Christian is a grown man; John is a young boy
    [Geography of Bunyan's pilgrimage is based on real geography between Bedford and London]
Lewis saw some flaws in Bunyan: too narrow-minded about salvation, and makes mistakes in the allegory, and does too much exposition. These are also the most common critiques of Regress.

After the insanity and death of Mrs. Moore's brother, Lewis wrote Greeves: “Stay on the main road; do not go off on the byways!” Most of the byways to the North are excessive rationality; most of the byways to the South are sensual?

It's rather shocking that he was writing allegory in the '30s, since it was so out of fashion, considered inauthentic. Over-determined meanings. His intellect and imagination reinforced one another: writing Allegory of Love and an allegory; later writing Preface to Paradise Lost and his own paradisical story. “...all good allegory exists not to hide but to reveal”--Preface to PR; “The function of allegory is not to hide but to reveal”--The Allegory of Love; “in so far as the things unseen are manifested by things seen, one might call the whole material universe all allegory”--Letter, Dec 10, 1956

Experiences of “joy” or “sweet desire”:
  • the “idea of autumn” in stories of Beatrix Potter
  • northernness” in Norse myth
  • the enormous bliss of Eden” in Warnie's toy garden {or in the memory of it?}--Arcadia, Hesperides, Eden...

Characters and who they may satirize:
  • the Steward of Puritania
  • Mr. Enlightenment (Herbert Spencer {?})
  • Mr. Halfways & his son Gus (William Morris & Clive Bell?)--the Romantics can only get us halfway to the island; but they can get us halfway!
  • The Clevers (Edith Sitwell as Victoriana? D.H. Lawrence as Mr. Phally?)--decadent aestheticism, erotic mysticism/religion of sex.
  • The Spirit of the Age / Sigismund Enlightenment (Freud); religion as wish-fulfillment; sweet desire as projection of repressed lust; unconscious complexes as the true self
  • Reason as a virgin knight – couldn't sex [and all other wants] be a sublimation of sweet desire, rather than the other way around? Giving a person sex when he has sehnsucht is like taking a thirsty man and giving him a mutton chop.
  • The Grand Canyon = the Sin of Adam (Pelagianism?)
  • Mr. Sensible (Michel de Montaigne? Emerson?) - the dilettante, the epicure
  • Three Pale Men: Mr. Neo-Angular (T.S. Eliot), Mr. Neo-Classical (T.E. Hulme), Mr. Humanist (Irving Babbitt)
  • Three violent men: Marxomanni and the Red Dwarfs (Stalin); Swastici and the Black Dwarfs (Hitler); Mussolimini (Mussolini)
  • Mr. Wisdom (The English Hegelians: Bradley, Green, Bosanquet)
  • The Hermit, History
History presents an outline of “progressive revelation”: the Tao, numinous experiences, good dreams, sehnsucht, the Hebrew Scriptures, then finally the Incarnation.
John dives into the canyon, meets Mother Kirk, dies and is reborn, then has to cover the same terrain again with his new spiritual perspective. There and back again, like Bilbo. Both of his parents were dead, as were Lewis's by the time he came back to faith.

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