29 September 2013

On "Islands of Joy" and new writers

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. —Ecclesiastes 3:11

These hauntingly beautiful lands… somehow never satisfy… —C.S. Lewis, Letters I:970

The times has come, the walrus said, to talk of names and things. The name of this blog has officially changed to “Islands of Joy.”

I wanted something less personal, less private, more artistic, and more expressive of the vision of this blog than the obscure “Iambic Admonit.” I am also bringing on a few new writers and focusing the content a bit more. The name is inspired by C.S. Lewis, who is perhaps my greatest literary inspiration. His writing as simple and profound, imaginative and rational. He is the master of the perfect analogy, and a storyteller of consummate skill.

Throughout his entire life, Lewis has haunted by “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction… I call it Joy” (Surprised by Joy).

Islands of Joy” are moments of sehnsucht or sweet desire evoked by art, poetry, music, or nature. A line from Tennyson, a phrase by Wagner, a glimpse of Turner, or a sudden wind across a field of wheat—and the soul springs up, yearning for something more, but not sure what it wants. It wants to possess the beauty: to ingest it, devour it, assimilate it. It wants to become that beauty. It wants to make more beauty. And it wants to know Who made that beauty in the first place, then be united with Him.

This desire shot through C.S. Lewis's heart, a painful, glorious yearning, at the sounds of certain words, the sight of a distant landscape, or the strains of sublime music. He tried a wild variety of words for this experience throughout his life: It, Romanticism, heraldry of heaven, intense longing, sweet desire, enchantment, the Blue Flower, the dialectic of Desire, immortal longings, divine discontent, the authentic thrill, the heraldry of heaven, inaccessible longings, ice-sharp joys, unfulfilled desire, and Sehnsucht. He finally settled on “Joy,”

So a lot of the content on this blog is inspired by or related to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and the other Inklings. The primary writer, Sørina Higgins, is a Charles Williams scholar: please check out her other blog The Oddest Inkling, all about Williams. All the other writers enjoy the works of the Inklings, some as fans, some as scholars.

Here on Islands of Joy you will find book reviews, film reviews, articles on Inklings themes, and other Inklings-related posts. You will also find discussions of any arts that take our fancy at the moment. There is plenty of analysis of Doctor Who.

There is another Lewis connection, too. He lost his mother at age nine, and later wrote: “With my mother's death all settled happiness . . . disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.”

In those astonishing encounters with great art, we are lifted out of the gray, dull, or stormy sea of everyday experience, shot through with a dart of longing. Those moments are bright sparks in the darkness of sin, violence, depression, and drudgery. As Chaucer wrote: We blunder ever, and poren in the fire, / And, for all that, we fail of our desire. But the desire keeps taking hold of us, sharp as swords, sweet as sex, swiftly-passing as the wind. It is a kind of wanderlust, a yearning to travel to:
The land where I shall never be
The love that I shall never see.
Lewis Letters I:283, quoting Andrew Lang
There is a huge theme in European literature of longing for Western Islands: Atlantis, Avalon, Númenor, Valinor, Venus/Perelandra, Sarras.... I hope to write or edit a book on this topic one day.

But rare is the traveller who reaches one of these longed-for islands.

Because the whole point of the longing is that it cannot be satisfied in this life. It is a signpost to Heaven. All satisfactions here fail to satiate, because we really want God.

In the meanwhile, we alight momentarily on these islands of joy, stopping to gaze at a painting, read a poem, listen to a piece of music, or stare out at the horizon.


domandkat said...

Beautifully written, Sorina.

I get feelings similar to Lewis now and again, but usually in the business of life, and frankly the harsh transactions of life, the beauty and longing get crowded out. The transactional/performance-based life of work, where I mainly feel a commodity to be used up, and even in most church environments, where I rarely feel enjoyed for who I am but more often appreciated for being "useful".

I think I need to go take a walk.....


Sørina Higgins said...

Thank you for this comment, Dominic. Do take a walk on this gorgeous autumn day; perhaps some time out in nature will lift your spirits and give you a shock of "sehnsucht."

Scott Sloan said...

… and thank you!