01 June 2012

CSLIS Report #5

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 set of papers, which includes the one that I wrote with Becky Talbot.

I. Sharon Kotapish: “The Intertwining of Reason and Imagination: Casting Truth in an Imaginary World”
Keep two questions in mind: Did Lewis deliberately turn from the world of rational argument when he wrote Narnia? Or did he think story was the best way to communicate truth?

Ideas about why he wrote the Chronicles:
  • gave up interest in apologetics? A.N. Wilson, George Sayer: shaken by debate with Anscombe. No: he wrote apologetic essays, and revised Miracles.
  • Michael Ward: debate triggered a fanciful response to Anscombe's critique.
His own remarks:
  • the imaginative man gave rise to Narnia
  • fairy-tale ideal form for what he had to say
  • stories can get past inhibitions
  • children's story best art form for what he had to say
  • however, the Narnia books are “fairy-tales”
  • not just for children
  • began with seeing pictures in his head (faun with umbrella in snow, queen on a sledge)
  • the moral meaning arose from whatever spiritual roots he had established in his life

Story in general:
  • a true or fictitious narrative”
  • the story of Christ is a true myth
  • Alan Jacobs: story played an important role in CSL's conversion
  • William Barclay: few people can grasp purely abstract truth.
  • Stories say concisely what a long treatise conveys
Story in the Bible, esp. Jesus and Paul:
  • nonfiction stories about real people
  • Luci Shaw: doesn't teach theology systematically
  • also many fictional stories
  • Kenton Sparks: fiction is perfectly suited for conveying truth
  • Jesus was a master of parables
  • fiction was Jesus' preferred genre
  • Kenneth Bailey: Jesus is the major theologian of the New Testament; a metaphorical theologian.
  • Western discourse often begins with a concept, but Middle Eastern discourse often creates meaning by using a simile, metaphor, parable, etc. Both are critical to the task of theology. Both are found in Scripture.
  • What Jesus says metaphorically, Paul says conceptually.
  • Words and images are interdependent concepts. Reason and imagination are both necessary.

Reason and imagination in Lewis's fiction:
  • his nonfiction is rich with metaphor.
  • His imaginative writing is permeated with conceptual meaning.
  • Lewis is the top-selling author in the Czech Republic, one of the most atheistic countries in the world. Perhaps because he uses genres rarely used for apologetics: sci-fi, fairy-tale, etc.
  • By re-symbolizing and even re-mythologizing the gospel, he lets it be heard in an unexpected way.
Sharon ended by reading comparative passages from his “rational,” nonfiction works and from his “imaginative,” fictional works under thematic headings, to show how he presented the same ideological content in both ways. Nicely done.

II. Kimberly Moore-Jumonville: “C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and the Necessity of the Terrible Good”

CSL and CW both engage readers in the idea of becoming fully human beings, the idea of establishing self-hood. They help readers identify ways establishing identity can be avoided. Their characters confront the Terrible Good, which shocks them out of self-absorption. Self-forgetfulness sometimes is the only thing that starts us towards becoming what we are meant to be.

How can God terrorize His creatures?!

The terrors faced by fairy-tale characters require their re-understanding of the world, a change of expectations. They must stop insisting on the universe their way. Relinquish selfish programs for happiness.

Orual is alienated from her true being. She hates the human need for worship. She resists mystery: “Why must holy places be dark places?” She prefers the bright light of rationalism. She distorts reality, because she refuses to submit to the ground of being. Mystery is necessary. She rejects blood sacrifice, rejects the Terrible Good of Psyche's sacrifice, rejects the path to being reborn and becoming her true self. Psyche's palace is an image of the holy, which Orual hates. She is the prisoner of her own being. But truth haunts her through anxiety, which “takes the place of scorned poverty.” She rejects the gods' demand that she give up Psyche: her ultimate Terrible Good. If she gave herself up, she would receive herself back more fully. She wants love without sacrifice. Blood is a Western literary code for death-before-death, for sacrifice.

Lewis describes Orual's failure as a failure of imagination. God demands everything.

Psyche, on the other hand, accepts a wholeness of selfhood. She willingly surrenders to the demand for sacrifice. Vivid physical realities embody her mysticism. She is authentic. She exchanges death for life, sorrow for joy. But she has to accept mystery and give up her desire for tangible knowledge. Obedience is the condition for joy.

Descent into Hell recognizes the terror of goodness. “Our tremors measure the omnipotence.” Pauline's terrible good takes the form of her dopplegänger. She fears to face the goblin that her moral self may be—it turns out to be a Terrible Good itself. Pauline is open to spiritual realities. Her openness and humility open her to the work of the spirit.

{misunderstands the crucial encounter with the dopplegänger! yikes!}

Then a comparison of the two characters.

Lewis: There are only two kinds of people: Those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.”

III.... and then the paper I wrote with Rebecca Tirrell Talbot: Between Two Strange Hearts”: Spiritual Desolation in the Later Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Charles Williams

Here is our ABSTRACT: 
Spiritual desolation, while a perennial human experience, is expressed in historically-determined diction, influenced by poetic and religious predecessors. Gerard Manley Hopkins and Charles Williams, two Anglo/Catholic poets, are an interesting case study, especially as Hopkins helped shape Williams’ later prosody. Several varieties of desolation are evident in “My Own Heart” (Hopkins) and “The Prayers of the Pope” (Williams). Characterological melancholy is apparent in private letters and published works of both poets. “My Own Heart” shares the language and imagery of desolation with Dante’s forest of suicides and Hopkins’ contemplations on the first week of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. Doubt is a point of contrast: while never claiming freedom from sin’s shame, Hopkins embraces mystery as “incomprehensible certainty” even in the midst of Victorian skepticism, while Williams holds an existential “quality of disbelief” simultaneously with faith, a concept strengthened by his reading of Kierkegaard. Circumstance-driven depression is evident in both writers, with Hopkins confined by “wasted” work and a failing body, and Williams struggling with work-weariness and the general crisis leading up to World War II. Finally, Williams postulated a particular spiritual “schism” as a method of literary analysis. Reading “My Own Heart” through the lens of Williams’ theory reveals a cleft or cleaved self similar to the split kingdom in “Prayers of the Pope”; the latter is analogous to the “headless” state of Europe when England is cut off from the continental body. Yet neither writer excludes hope: Hopkins’ Ignatian and Dantean language gives “My Own Heart” a framework of hopeful surrender. Williams, too, offers hope, though in an occult vocabulary, when the tension of division resolves in a “promulgation of sacred union” productive of great verse.

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