February 12, 2013 by Jason Hood
I’ve begun Alan Jacobs’s gem, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, and all I can say is that I should’ve sprung for a hardback. I hate giving out nuggets–you should go get the whole bar of gold, or the whole unprocessed chicken breast, etc.–but here are some nuggets.
(1) Lewis’s mother had a calendar with daily quotations from Shakespeare. On the day of her death were lines from King Lear: “Men must endure Their going hence, even as their coming hither: Ripeness is all.” The first six words were inscribed on CSS’s tomb by his brother 55 years later.
(2) Early in the book Jacobs describes the remarkable degree of misery Lewis was experiencing when he began writing the Chronicles. The reality of intense family suffering and the psychological, social, and financial cost borne by Lewis in that season of his life is radically removed (and therefore all the more important) from the common portrait of Lewis as a prof who takes long walks, enjoys beers with the gang at the pub, and writes letters.
(3) I particularly appreciate @ayjay’s sensitivity to Lewis’s approach to education, which “is not about providing information so much as cultivating “habits of the heart”–producing “men with chests,” as he puts it in his book The Abolition of Man, that is, people who not only think as they should but respond as they should, instinctively and emotionally, to the challenges and blessings the world offers to them.” Thus stories and imagination are not optional; they are in fact vital.
(4) We find an important note along the same lines in Lewis’s Preface to Paradise Lost, which was dedicated to his friend Charles Williams, who had lectured on Milton at Oxford: “It is a reasonable hope that of those who heard you in Oxford many will understand that when the old poets made some virtue their theme they were not teaching but adoring, and that what we take for the didactic is often the enchanted.”
(5) Alan Jacobs thinks the Narnia stories aren’t as good as the Harry Potter stories!2 Comments
December 11, 2012 by Jason Hood
Not much to say about this one yet as we are in the middle of it. But here are a few favorite quotes from the opening chapters. The first, simply because I wish I had half as much sass:
“I say,” put in Shasta in rather a shocked voice, “oughtn’t you to say ‘May he live forever’?”
“Why?” asked the Horse. “I’m a free Narnian. And why should I talk slaves’ talk and fools’ talk? I don’t want him to live forever, and I know that he’s not going to live forever whether I want him to or not.”
And this line–unfortunately entirely too applicable in our contemporary world, full of lunacy like this–sums up a major point in Lewis’s Abolition of Man in a nutshell:
Aravis immediately began [telling her story], sitting quite still and using a rather different tone and style from her usual one. For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.
April 24, 2012 by Jason Hood
Joseph Frank identifies something important about Dostoevsky and Christianity, which is neither full-on acceptance of the status quo nor the cold self-serving shrug:
If we place The Idiot in the perspective of Dostoevsky’s work as a whole, it may be considered his most courageous creation. Not, however, because he tackled the almost impossible creative task of presenting a “perfectly beautiful man” within the limits of a novel form he wished to respect.
It was courageous because, in doing so, he was putting his own highest Christian values to the same test as those to which he had been most opposed. The inspiration for his best novels, before and after The Idiot, had been provided by his polemical relation to the doctrines of Russian nihilism….[In Raskolnikov et al] Dostoevsky had dramatized the disastrous consequences of such nihilist ideas if taken to their ultimate ideas in human action. But this is exactly what he ends up by doing in The Idiot as well–except that the values in this instance are those that he himself cherished with a fervor made more ardent by his full awareness of their fragility.
With an integrity that cannot be too highly praised, Dostoevsky fearlessly submits his own most hallowed convictions to the same scrutiny that he had used for those of the nihilists. What would they mean for human life if taken seriously and literally, and lived out to their full extent as guides to conduct?
The moral extremism of his own eschatological ideal, incarnated by the prince, is portrayed as being equally incompatible with the normal demands of social existence as the egoistic extremism of his tormented and tortured nihilistic figures.
October 10, 2011 by Jason Hood
Larry Hurtado recently stirred up the biblio-blogosphere with what I thought were some rather uncontroversial comments on language competency for biblical studies.
It needs to be said that language competence is only one aspect of the cultural competence necessary for wrestling with biblical texts. You can memorize all the verbal paradigms you want, but one still needs training in (for instance) the functions of honor-shame, kinship and economic structures, conceptions of deity, rhetoric and literary conventions, etc.
Scholars and laity alike sometimes downplay the need to approach ancient texts through the gateway of ancient culture and ancient perspectives; sometimes such moves serve the interests of ideological concerns, certain kinds of theological interpretation, or literary approaches.
Meir Sternberg, who is no slouch when it comes to literary approaches, blows this notion away:
From the premise that we cannot become people of the past, it does not follow that we cannot approximate to this state by imagination and training–just as we learn the rules of any other cultural game–still less that we must not or do not make the effort.
Indeed the antihistorical argument never goes all the way, usually balking as early as the hurdle of language. Nobody, to the best of my knoweldge, has proposed that we each invent our own biblical Hebrew. But is the language any more or less of a historical datum to be reconstructed that the artistic conventions, the reality-model, the value system?
Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 10.
I owe this quote to V. Philips Long. (And as a bonus fun-fact for SAET’s paid subscribers, my wife’s aunt used to date Phil Long back in Chattanooga.)7 Comments
September 30, 2011 by Jason Hood
Let me float a thought. What if, for a whole year, I read nothing new? In other words, I would read nothing that I had not read previously. Just to clarify: I have not been reincarnated. So that shrinks the list a fair bit.
As I suggest this, what comes to mind for you? Strengths/weaknesses/dangers? Do you know of anyone who has tried this, and what their experience was like?
I would try to apply this to fiction and non-fiction. I probably have to exclude reading that is necessary for teaching and writing projects, although even there I think I could restrain myself a good bit.
I’ve only just begun to ponder what this would look like. But here are a few stream-of-consciousness thoughts on my motivations:
- Ironically, a desire to try something novel (not in the fiction sense!) probably plays a role
- the degree of enjoyment I get when I re-read texts, or finish good books left unfinished
- in part because of emphases on (say) classics and “what really matters” at SAET; in the end there aren’t that many “lasting” pieces. However I do appreciate the ability to swim in all kinds of literature; and I do think that there’s a certain kind of cultural, scholarly, and theological fluency that comes from the approach I often take, which tends toward the smash-and-grab.
- I’ve always been curious about the impact of social location on reading (for instance, Lewis’s Space Trilogy made more sense after my experience in British higher education)…if I read book ___ now, will I have the same response as when I first read it? Will I see new ideas, wrinkles, errors?
- On the same line of thought, I find myself recommending books I haven’t seen in a decade or more, and I want to know if I should still be recommending them!
- For fiction alone this should be highly enjoyable: Brothers K, Lord of the Rings, etc.
- For biblical studies it’s a help in several ways. There are many good books whose ideas won’t be fresh for me, but could be applied in fresh ways and weighed in light of what I’ve learned lately. Plus it would push me to retrench in the primary sources–never a bad idea. As Howard Marshall used to tell us when we first started doctoral work, “Make the primary sources your mistress.” It’s easy to lose that mistress if you are married to the latest and (allegedly) “greatest”. Finishing unfinished books could be helpful, and getting back into commentaries is a plus.
- Concerned friends sometimes question the number of books on my shelves, and rightly so…but rereading would at least help justify possession…
August 30, 2011 by Jason Hood
It’s an ode in three parts: epistolary, poetry, and a testimonial narrative.
If anyone thinks they’ve got reason to love their PC, well, I had more. I was of the nation of PCs, of the tribe of laptop; as to the web, an Explorer. As to operating systems, of the eighth generation of Windows (Vista, XP, or whatever was after Windows 7).
But I didn’t consider my PC-ness as righteousness, and I became a Mac user, that I may be found with an Apple, not having computer greatness of my own, but having my own macrighteousness. Still, even though I’m a Mac user, I don’t consider myself to have “made it”. I press on, working to reach that for which I purchased a Mac, forgetting my PC ways and striving to reach what lies ahead. (I bought my wife a Macbook.)
Aiming for Apple like William Tell
Went online and found it tax-free for sale
Now I’m ruling the web like Mac-iavelli
I’ve said goodbye to my PC and even my telly.
A testimonial narrative
No, seriously. I’m now so cool that I went outside and fall started. My habits of driving old Grand Marquise (or whatever the plural is of Grand Marquis) and taking very early lunch were once regarded by an unnamed friend as “old man” style. But because I have a Mac, they are now hip as can be. The local dealerships have sold out of Grand Marquis and even other similar cars, like Crown Vics. All the lunch joints are packed at 10:45.
And no one calls me “sir” around town anymore. No, they call me “Dude”. Thank you, Steve Jobs. Thank you for making me cool.3 Comments
November 17, 2010 by Gerald Hiestand
More from Milton…
Hell has not yet reached its consummation, even in the reprobate Satan. Satan goes on to note the horror of pending doom that looms below — of which he has already partaken, but only in part:
And in the lowest deep a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heaven (4.76-78)
Most horrifyingly, realized eschatology cuts both ways. Just as the Spirit is an earnest deposit against the day of our glorification, so too our innate depravity is an earnest deposit against the day of our depravation. Just as Heaven reaches down from above, such that we live even while we die, so too Hell reaches up from below, such that we die even while we live. We stand on the knife’s edge, poised between these two worlds. “Wretches that we are! Who will deliver us from this body of death? Thanks be God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”0 Comments
November 17, 2010 by Gerald Hiestand
Milton, in his Paradise Lost, offers us a vivid account of human depravity, vis a vis the depravity of Satan. Satan, upon his release from Hell, finds to his horror that Hell has become a part of him.
Now rolling boil in his tumultuous breast,
And like a devilish engine back recoils
Upon himself; Horror and doubt distract
His troubled thoughts, and from the bottom stir
The Hell within him; for within him Hell
He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell
One step no more than from himself can fly (4. 15-22)
In despair Satan cries,
Me miserable! Which way shall I fly
Infinite wrath and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell (4.73-75)
The great, damnable problem of sin is not wrongs committed, but even more fundamentally the Hell within. “We are by nature children of wrath,” the apostle reminds us. Fly whatever way we will, there is no escape; I myself am Hell. The most basic question of repentance is not whether we will repent of our sins, but rather will we repent of ourselves. It’s one thing to admit we’ve screwed up. It’s quite another to admit we are a screw-up.0 Comments
November 15, 2010 by Jason Hood
Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business is now 25 years old. I borrow here from the introduction (from Justin Taylor’s excerpt), then bring in John and James (P. D., that is) into the conversation.
Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.
Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.
Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.
Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture . . .
In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
I’m currently studying two of the best apocalyptic books I’ve ever read: the book of Revelation and P. D. James’s Children of Men.
Revelation is about a world where the powers hold out a plentitude of options for self-satisfaction and religious expression: false hope buttressed by economic success, power, and prestige.
James’s book is about the death of hope, yet her world is still saturated by “activity” designed to take focus off the disaster that has befallen the world (no more children are being born). Repeatedly we are told in Children of Men that British survivors care little about their fate, as long as they are safe from harm and safe from boredom. In other words, while there is a touch of Orwell in both books, they share more with Huxley. In these worlds humanity is flooded with entertainment-grade substance; we do not care to lift our heads above the din.
In both books, activity (religious, economic, entertainment, sexual, etc) serves to distract humans from truth. But both books offer a solution. It took me a few chapters before it dawned on me that the name “Theo Faron” had a meaning: “God of the lighthouse” in Greek, a name increasingly pertinent as the plot progresses.
Ironically, the churches in Rev 1-3 (and the two witnesses, who stand for the whole church in Rev 11) are “lampstands,” i.e., the light of the world in the world. This suggests that our primary response to Huxley’s nightmare is testimony, bearing witness to truth in a world where truth is not so much banned as “drowned in a sea of irrelevance.” Rather, as one of James’s characters puts it: “The world is not changed by the self-regarding, but by men and women prepared to make fools of themselves.”0 Comments