In writing The Great Divorce, Lewis had clear inspiration from writers such as Dante, Augustine, Milton, and even George MacDonald. These writers had influence not only on the dream vision structure and the eternal imagery of Lewis’ book, but also on Lewis’ theology. From Milton’s assertion of free will to Augustine’s insistence on predestination, and Dante’s exploration of both, Lewis’ theology is derivative, but also explorative, of the theologies of these greats. My aim will be to explore Lewis’ beliefs in relation to those of his influences, providing relevant socio-historical context and analysis. Continue reading
Today in class, the hypothetical question of utter lawlessness came up. I thought this was really interesting, mostly just because I love the potential of what-if questions. They are so open for interpretation that it seems to me that the process of answering one (or at least the opportunities for embellishment envolved) is almost like fiction writing (my major).
Anyways, I wanted to post about what I think might happen. (Side note: Like Dr. Seaman said, this is completely hypothetical. Also, I should mention that there really is nothing to suggest that I am right or wrong in my imaginary/hypothetical answer) I think that if there was no human law at all, and if people were truly autonomous in the sense that there is a total lack of legislation, enforcement, and judgment, then a government of sorts would arise naturally. I suppose I’m suggesting a sort of Darwinian hierarchy where those with the most ambition, intimidation, manipulative skills (cunning), physical strength, intelligence, etc. would establish control. To connect this post to the Theory Toolbox, I guess these traits are what the TT authors might include in “power.” This established authority would either wipe out or suppress the rest of the population. If they wiped out the rest, then the standard of intelligence, strength, etc. would increase greatly, and this process would recur, causing a sort of elitist society. But if they suppressed the rest, then the established authority would either abuse their control and oppress/use the rest of the population out of self interest, or they would act benevolently, considering the interests of the subordinate. I think that, being human, and having established their authority through the exercising of their own power, most would choose to act out of self interest. Some may profess that they wish to be more compassionate, but even those I think would be pressured and tempted to act through self interest eventually. After the established authority began to acknowledge their power in this way, the subordinate would be faced with another choice: to use their numbers to revolt or to accept the new status quo.
You see where this is going. Eventually we would end up with compromises like the different governments we have today. When typing this, I realized my “prediction” was basically a really really vague synopsis of human history. But, if anything, I see that as a suggestion that I’m on the right track.
A topic that came up as we were discussing “Posts” and The Theory Toolbox was how an aspect postmodernism is its concern with the reflectivity of art and media (i.e. Seinfeld being a sitcom about sitcoms, Warhol’s work being art about art, etc.) This topic was really interesting to me. It is something I have actually thought a lot about before. If modernist artists tries to convey truth and reality through their art, what if there were a way to convey the nature of art through art. I think this is my personal favorite aspect of postmodernism (though I do realize that’s not all there is to postmodernism.) However, I feel like taking art to that level can be dangerous in the sense that it risks losing some creativity and a sense of real purpose. I think that with a topic so delicate, it is easy to sort of fake it, to simply mock art through a sloppy imitation and state that what you have done is create something of your own, a piece that comments on art in general. I think that if this is done, the creation is merely a joke and should not be taken seriously. That being said, I think the risk is something very much worthwhile, and I am thankful that past artists have been willing to take it and delve into the realm of reflectivity. All art should not be simply an artist’s attempt at revealing truth and reality (though I think that this is a wonderful purpose for art, and it is in fact my favorite). It offers another view and another side of art when an artist takes this reflective approach. I simply have to trust in the integrity and the honest intention of the artist, that he or she desires to create something that reveals the nature of art, and not an imitation or talentless product, a joke. Though, I can definitely appreciate a good joke if it is done well and with good intentions. For example, if someone wanted to put together a talentless pile of nothing and call it art simply for the sake of trolling art snobs, I would love it!
In class on Wednesday, the distinction between history and historiography was brought up. This was a really interesting part of our discussion for me personally, mostly because my idea of “history” has always been the written out chapters in textbooks, the stories told by others, and the memorization of dates, names, and events. The topic of historiography versus history made me think about history as more of an abstract idea, a concept of the past and it’s purpose. This realization led to me thinking of historiography, the ‘writing down of history,’ or the choosing of what is important and noteworthy, as our way of applying history to our lives. Lately in class, we have been discussing how the media (television shows, magazines, etc.) are designed to give us what we want to see, read, and hear. Well, I think this is largely what every social and cultural construct is designed to do. This is what literature can do, and this is what history seems to be able to do as well. The difference is that written works from the past can be revisited, and we can determine from them what must have been important or new at a given time. It is argued that these works cannot capture history fully, because they were written by biased individuals who had opinions about what was important, and because these individuals cannot have possibly included everything in their work. I agree, I think that this history cannot in fact be written down, because it is abstract. We cannot make something abstract become concrete, simply because not all nouns represent something physical. How could a person paint a picture of love? They could paint their idea of love in the form of two people embracing, or of a mother holding her child. But at the end of the day neither of these things epitomize love. This is why historiography, and what we generally think of when we hear ‘history,’ is an art of its own, and it should be appreciated as such. When a work of art is critiqued, the critic may say ‘I think that the artist should have incorporated this’ or ‘I think that the piece lacks that,’ in an effort to improve or expand a work, to help it become more complete. This is how written accounts of history should be viewed and discussed, not with cynicism or even with mere doubt, but with concern for the validity and verisimilitude of it.
According to someone, the past is when we thrived, when we were still going strong. ‘In the 50s, America was America.’ We were united, a single cast of a great show, and then we were canceled. Sometime between Vietnam and now, we as a nation were taken off the air, and something that is apparently, again according to someone, not as good replaced us. We’re a mess now. Apparently. Rumors of a comeback circulate and people talk about how awesome we were “back then.”
What’s wrong with moving on? How do we grow if we stay where we are? I think we’d all like to gripe and complain about how our situation is the worst of all situations. It gives us the comfort of thinking we’re stronger than people in other places, in other times, simply because we keep going. But that’s not how it is. We struggled in the good old days, and we struggle now. Its called being alive. We weren’t canceled, we moved on. We were never a show. We were people, and we are people now.
I have to say, I was a bit offended by today’s class. From the “oh look I’m a prideful hard-working Christian” comment in an effort to epitomize American culture (more like a highly stereotypical view of the ideology of a southern middle class Christian) to the “old church-goers wouldn’t be expected to appreciate art” comment to the “studying the Old and New Testaments would not really be beneficial or relevant unless you planned to be a priest, rabbi, or other Christian leader,” and others, I felt like a large subcategory of today’s discussion was simply belittling Christianity. (Side note: I think studying the Bible is highly relevant regardless of whether the student believes the words he or she is reading, because it will enlighten the student to something that a large portion of his or her peers and fellow Americans DO believe in, and will give the student a better ground for relating and coexisting with them.)
I want to express fully my belief that being offended is NOT necessarily a bad thing! In fact, if I am offended by someone’s statement, it means that what he or she said is important because it discusses an issue that either divides or unites people, and that significance is a good thing to talk about! It also means that people are willing and able to express their beliefs, ideas, opinions, and even prejudices freely, and I think all of that is great. There is nothing positive about keeping those things to one’s self!
That being said, I find it highly hypocritical that people see nothing offensive about belittling Christianity, but find it incredibly so to say something negative about the general culture, ideology or morality of a different, perhaps less established religion or group, and I will not mention any example because that is not relevant to my purpose, nor do I think myself qualified.
Let me be clear, I do not condone or agree with offending ANYONE for the sake of offending them, and I do not think that that is (primarily) what happened today. I think that the majority of what was said was relevant, significant, and thought out. However, I do think that we should challenge what is considered appropriate and what is not. I think generally in our culture, people find no offense in making negative or judgmental statements about groups such as white people, straight people, men, Christians, etc, because these groups have not undergone, at least not as clearly or recently, as much suffering or struggle as other groups have. But I challenge this convention. I do empathize with people who have suffered and struggled in the past, and I fear that people will read this and think me ignorant of these struggles. I am not; I am aware of the strife that different groups have encountered in the past and even in the present. I simply do not think that this is a sound basis for deeming groups that have been less fortunate more recently immune to criticism while more fortunate (as of late) groups are not. In order to truly have a free exchange of ideas and to arrive at truth and real equality for people, we cannot shy away from offense in some cases and not others. In fact, for this reason I believe that we should take much less concern for offending someone, and much more concern with questioning and challenging each other and our ideas.
So Tuesday’s class was a huge check up for me. I left class thinking ‘all that served to do for me was tell me that I will never succeed in life,’ but after the fact I realized that I really needed to hear the cold facts. I think its easy to take for granted when you are surrounded by people that are in the same boat, so to speak, that the path you are taking will open doors for you and will ensure some security for you after graduation. Also, its easy to assume that a certain GPA or passion will guarantee acceptance to grad school. But the statistics were a wake up call for me on Tuesday. What Carol Ann Davis had to say about checking your motives was the best thing for me to hear as far as career advice lately. I know “follow your heart” is a huge cliche, but the way she worded it allowed me to actually think again about what it means to do so. (probably has something to do with her being a poet..) She said that “if something matters enough to you, then you eventually decide that you don’t care if you make any money doing it.” This is something I’ve always said I didn’t care about, but I can’t pretend that I haven’t felt anxiety about it. As a creative writing major, I easily get fantastical or romanticized ideas about publication in my twenties or grad school and a journalism or teaching job, but the reality of it is that I need to prepare myself for a pretty sucky job and a lot of hard work. Because if I truly care about art and what I can offer to the world through writing, and I do, then I will do so with joy and patience.
The Theory Toolbox notes that “wherever we see a ‘fact,’ an interpretation has been there first” (Nealon and Giroux, 36). It also asserts that “after all, there’s no point in being ‘unique’ unless people know it!” (Nealon and Giroux, 43).
To say what I want to say, I invented Bob. You can picture Bob however you want; picture him as the Monopoly guy or Bob the Builder if you want. He’s not a real person.
When reading Chapter 4 of The Theory Toolbox, “Subjectivity,” Bob came across the sentence: “After all, there’s no point in being ‘unique’ unless people know it!” (Nealon and Giroux, 43). At this, Bob turned to his friend Fred (also fictional, picture him as Abraham Lincoln or Ghandi, whatever) and said, “hey Fred, read this. This is so untrue. I think there’s a lot to be said for my being unique, regardless of whether anyone knows how unique I am!” In response, Fred said, “Bob, why did you tell me that?” to which Bob replied, “I suppose I told you that because I want you to know that I disagree with The Theory Toolbox, my view is different.” And Fred replied, “well then The Theory Toolbox will thank you very much for proving it’s point.”
Bob’s view is in fact different from that of The Theory Toolbox; Bob believes that one’s uniqueness is valuable regardless of its recognition. However, Bob does not embody his belief, and really no one does. Uniqueness for the sake of uniqueness is an unreachable ideal. In fact, insofar as Bob is at all concerned with being unique, he can never be unique.
C S Lewis, in a radio talk titled “Beyond Personality,” put it by saying “Even in literature or art, no man who cares about originality will ever be original. It’s the man who’s only thinking about doing a good job or telling the truth who becomes really original, but doesn’t notice it. Even in social life, you never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking what sort of impression you make. That principle runs all through life from the topto the bottom. Give up yourself and you will find your real self.” I think the distinction between forced subjection and willing submission was largely overlooked both in The Theory Toolbox and in today’s discussion.
(Now meet Billy and Carl, also fictional.) Consider a boy, Billy, who is generally very enthusiastic about trying new things. When his family goes on vacation one year, he gets the opportunity to ride on an airplane. When it is time to board the plane, his father says to him, “Billy, get on the plane!” Well, the fact is that Billy has never been on a plane and is more than eager to follow his father’s instruction. Does that mean that he is a subject to his father’s authority? Perhaps. But there is a huge difference between Billy and his brother Carl, who has always loathed the idea of riding in an airplane and has to be dragged aboard by his father. You see, Billy has submitted himself willingly to an authority greater than his self, and in so doing, has become more fully himself. He has expanded upon and deepened his understanding of what it means to be Billy. Carl, on the other hand, will be sulking the entire time of the plane ride, wishing he were not there and thinking about what he could be doing elsewhere. He will neither expand upon his self nor gain a better understanding of what it means to be Carl. He will in fact lose an opportunity to better define his self.
This is a very basic and imperfect example. But you see the point. Authority exists; we can acknowledge it or not. The Theory Toolbox, and todays discussion sort of wrote off acknowledgement as irrelevant, stating that the bottom line, so to speak, is that authority creates, willingly or forcibly, subjection, and therefore, the self is doomed to be always subject to cultural and social authority. That may be, but I think it’s a rotten way of perceiving it, and that the real point has been missed. Acknowledgement and will is everything. Our attitude and our choices are what determine and uncover our selves.
The text I have selected for research is “The Great Divorce,” by C. S. Lewis, published in 1946. The novel’s title is a reference to “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” by William Blake, and the story is a sort of response to Blake’s. Though, in Lewis’s preface, he notes that he has not written of their divorce “because I think myself a fit antagonist for so great a genius, nor even because I feel at all sure that I know what he meant.” The story includes Milton and Dante-esque themes in it’s epic-ness. I can’t be completely sure where “The Great Divorce” falls in terms of the canon. First of all, its relatively new, being only 65 years old. Secondly, being a theological work, its subject matter does not lend it well to a direct comparison to canonical literary works. However, I have heard it recommended by many experienced readers of theological and Christian works to more novice readers of the like, and therefore it may exist in what can be thought of as a sub-canon of theological or Christian works, but I wouldn’t deem it strictly canonical, or canonical in terms of the entire spectrum of literature.
I chose this work firstly because C. S. Lewis is one of my all time favorite writers, and has played a major role in introducing me into the intellectual side of my personal Christian faith. Secondly, I chose this work because of the story itself. I love the fact that it is written in response to Blake, who is a writer that absolutely fascinates and quite frankly baffles me. I love the idea of a character being guided through a taste of eternity by someone who inhabits it (in this case, the narrator is guided through a purgatory-esque part of Heaven by George MacDonald after wandering alone through a purgatory-esque part of Hell and boarding a bus that takes him there.) I think that doing research on this novel will offer me a much better understanding of Lewis’s sources and influences in writing this novel, such as Milton, Dante, and George MacDonald. I also hope to gain a better understanding of Lewis’s concept of Earth as all along being either, “if chosen instead of Heaven, . . . only a region in Hell” or “if put second to Heaven, . . . a part of Heaven itself.” As a rule, I find that as soon as I think I understand what a great writer means, I discover that there is more to understand still. Also, I would like to explore reading the novel from different perspectives. I think it would be interesting to read the novel from a socio-historical point of view or with a focus on its criticism of certain schools of thought (in the novel, Aristotle’s works are depicted as being the kind of books which are sold in the “grey town,” or the region of Hell that the character finds himself in.) But I anticipate myself settling on a theological analysis both because it is what most interests me, and because I think it is what the text lends itself to most.
The MLA International Bibliography Database returned 26 items when “The Great Divorce” was searched. Between MLA and other Databases, I do not anticipate any problems finding ten sources for my project.
I just wanted to post about something really cool I noticed in class yesterday when we were discussing Saussurian linguistics. The idea is that words themselves are arbitrary. “In other words, there is no ‘correct’ or natural name for the thing that English designates as a tree, and trees dont mean or signify the same thing in all cultures either” (Nealon and Giroux, 25). Words are completely man-made and their meaning social constructs. Though I had never discussed Saussure before, this idea rung a bell and I was trying to think of where I had heard something like this before. After class I realized that what I was thinking of was the book of Genesis, the first book of the ‘Pentateuch,’ accredited to Moses in the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the book, God creates the animals and brings them to Adam to be named. “Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19). This suggests that Saussure’s ideas precede him, depending on one’s beliefs, either to Moses or to the creation of the world. I think this is really cool because it contributes to the idea that words are the one true thing over which humans really have control. It suggests that our power lies in our words, in our choice of words, and in the care and creativity that we put into our language. But, “although words don’t have simple or singular meanings, it doesn’t follow that they mean anything you want them to mean” (Nealon and Giroux, 24). Nature was created, or if you prefer, existed, before man named it’s components, and therefore there is inherent meaning in the word, or sign, that denotes a tree. But the sign itself, the word, the literal sound, is completely subject to the creativity of human kind, and that I find really inspiring. Words and what we choose to do with them are up to us!