02 June 2012

CSLIS Report #8

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 fourth set of papers. 

I. Jessica Dooley: “Whimsy and Wisdom: Fairyland as a Window to Reality in the Fiction of Chesterton and MacDonald”

Similarities between the fairylands of these two authors.
  • Fairyland shares the laws of the moral universe.
  • The moral laws are fixed, but the characters are not static.
  • In MacDonald, fairyland represents physical reality, moral peril, real consequences.
  • Chesterton's is usually a practical environment. Often represents what the characters fear to be the nature of reality, rather than what it really is. Always dangerous.
  • The character on the adventure needs a guide: Wisdom. Embodied as a person to assist the visitor in making the right choices. The Wise Woman; Father Brown.
  • The source of sin is within the human heart. The pursuit of sin leads to madness and death. The pursuit of wisdom leads to a clear perception of reality and to self-knowledge.
  • Chesterton brings his readers into the action. MacDonald shows us the characters outside of ourselves. The characters interact with fairies; the reader interacts with the fairytale.
  • Chesterton presents his characters in moral process.

II. J. Cameron Moore: “'Take away the supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural:' The Secularizing Visions of G.K. Chesterton's Villains”

A theologically loaded statement. Does not subscribe to a Thomist idea of pure nature. Instead, believes the supernatural under-girds reality. The universe is bursting at the seams with the divine. His heroes are often caught up in bursts of illumination.

His villains, on the other hand, sink into denial, perversion, in their search for power. Always ends in suppression of free will. Creates cultural spaces inimical to human flourishing, leads to their own degradation to a sub-human state. Rejection of the divine is an embrace of the demonic.

Guardini, kind of a European Wendell Berry, The End of the Modern World, 1950: power is at the root of radical redefinitions of man, natural, and culture. Power is too strong for the goods towards which it was supposedly directed. We do not have power over power. But power justifies itself as a necessity. Culture has become non-cultural under the grip of power, marked primarily by danger.

Society presents a serious threat in Chesterton's fiction. Culture itself proves dangerous. Fighting against “civilized” orders that are themselves threats. Dystopic fiction?

Power always entails a responsible agent, so who wields the power? There is always a responsible party for the abuses of power in Chesterton's fiction, as parents of the perverted order. Villains who are clearly responsible for their perversions of power.

Non-human definitions of man and non-natural definitions of nature are part of that perverse use of power. Visions of “progress,” denial of created limits—denial of the supernatural, because of a denial of the create order. Leads to distortion and to unnatural suppression of human freedom and dignity.

This reading provides a vision that cuts through the rhetoric of power, and reminds us that we must reclaim an understanding of the world as a gift of grace, not as a limitless field for technological advancement and distorted applications power. There is a love of limitation and boundary. Chesterton is the poet of the industrial city: it is enchanted and enchanting. We live in a wilderness of power; Chesterton reads it as fantastic, investing it with the mythic and the faerie. Grace lives in the very heart of nature.

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