Monday 10 September 2012

Unsurprised by vitality


C.S Lewis's biography was entitled Surprised by Joy - and joy points us towards God (of course we can refuse to accompany it).

(It points to God because it points beyond this world: joy is a desire, the experience of which is beyond happiness but the satisfaction of which is impossible on earth and thus implies Heaven.) 


A golden thread of joyful experiences constitutes our true biography - yet about these inner delights we cannot communicate; or only seldom, and to few.

(I would guess there are many more people who have scorned Lewis's account of joys than have resonated with it.)

Certainly, modern culture has supplanted joy, in its usual manner: by subversion.


Joy, which comes upon us as a surprise and is private, has been supplanted by vitality, by energy, by actions on a public stage - witnessed, video-recorded, broadcast to the world. 

The modern idea of a joyful person is one who does a lot of cool stuff - the kind of stuff which plays well in the arena and sounds good in casual conversation with strangers... abseiling 2000 feet into an active volcano to provide clean water to orphaned African cripples, perhaps.

By contrast, Lewis's prime example was when his brother showed him a miniature garden made from mosses and constructed in a biscuit tin.


Vitality is elite: but joy is for anyone (although, sadly, not everyone.)

Even the wretched may experience joy.

And it may be that media exemplars of vital, high energy extreme-happiness have never experienced joy, not even once.



Matias F. said...

Fr. Seraphim Roses's vitalism is an important concept. Before reading his "Nihilism", I sensed but perhaps didn't really understand, how Nietzsche was part of PC.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MF - yes, I had forgotten about that. Fr Seraphim Rose's analysis was superb. I was an adeherent of 'vitalism' myself, at one point.

The general idea of 'vitalism' retains considerable influence (despite that it is indeed now an old response to loss of Christianity; which included Nietzsche from the radical side and Wilhelm Dilthey from the official side of Germanic academia - and Americans such as Whitman and Dewey or DH Lawrence in England.

Of course vitalism is incoherent and does not work as a philosophy of life - but in a sound-bite world where coherence does not matter and reality is whatever is in the media, then vitalism retains considerable influence.