Wednesday 28 November 2018

Writing It or just writing-About-It

The Big Problem with so much writing is that it is merely About and not he thing itself. And this applies especially in the kind of area that I write... about: Alienation and that stuff.

Because when someone writes About, they alienate. Even if they are writing about overcoming alienation, about future possibilities such as Final Participation - the writing in which this happens is just more of the usual stuff...

This is a great difficulty with a writer like ST Coleridge, or Rudolf Steiner or Owen Barfield when it comes to the development of consciousness and the overcoming of our alienation; they are writing-About the subject, and the prose itself causes that which its content aspires to overcome.

Just like this.

It is what is preferable about, say, William Arkle's aphorisms - they are themselves what they urge us to become.

Yet, they are also unclear, ambiguous, easy to misunderstand... But then again, what isn't?

William Arkle tried both approaches. In Geography of Consciousness he wrote About, in a science style, using analogies from Physics; in Letter from a Father he wrote directly the thing he wanted us to know.

Barfield attempted to do this in his fictions and Platonic dialogues, but I could not say that he was very successful; since they often read as dramatised essays; and when they don't it becomes difficult to recognise what they are trying to do.

Modernist writers often try to achieve the participation by making the reader 'work' to understand or simulating the stream of consciousness (which we are supposed to participate-in) - but generally they simple become incomprehensible unless 'decoded' by highly alienating methods. 

CS Lewis was at times successful in the Narnia books - successful at doing rather than just telling us about; and in this sense they are a greater achievement than any of his prose. At its best the Screwtape Letters attains something similar, in that we enter into and identify with - rather than simply leaning-about.

But we need metaphysics now, more than anything; and metaphysics needs to be participated not just known about. In the end each can only do it for himself; but it would be of great value if a text itself-exemplified the metaphysical thinking it advocated.


Tobias said...

"CS Lewis was at times successful in the Narnia books - successful at doing rather than just telling us about; and in this sense they are a greater achievement than any of his prose."

Yes - as a very young child - the great galloping rush of 'further up, and further in', and the end - worth quoting, as it almost exactly reflects your vision of what life everlasting could be.

'Then Aslan turned to them and said:

"You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be."

Lucy said, "We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often."

"No fear of that," said Aslan. "Have you not guessed?"

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly. "Your father and mother and all of you are - as you used to call it in the Shadowlands - dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.'

As a child, this sent me over the edge. I whooped with excitement, and cried.

The whole Narnia series should be read by every child, and re-read by every adult, probably every three years.


Peter said...

As a young reader, I enjoyed most of Narnia....but found the ending to be the conclusion of a horror story. The kids find out they have died in an accident contrived by Aslan himself and that they are forevermore his prisoners, unable to so much as feel unhappiness without his permission. Terrifying

Bruce Charlton said...

@Peter - Yes, I can see how that might work. The modern impulse (I mean post c 1750) to freedom and agency runs very deep compared with past human eras - and Christianity has (understandably, but mistakenly) tended to fight rearguard actions rather than taking into account its implications.

Chiu ChunLing said...

In writing classes, they say to "show not tell", but this is not meant literally.

Even if they were, even to show a thing is not the thing itself. It is showing the thing.

This is particularly true when the thing you're trying to show is...not crudely physical. This may be because it doesn't really exist (as in most movies), or it may be spiritual in nature.

As is the understanding of 'death'. From every perspective that matters, death is a matter of becoming less alive, not more. To speak of death as a necessity of entering Heaven is a conventionalized absurdity, what is necessary is to live.

But there are limits on how abundantly one can live in a decaying sack of inevitably putrifying meat.

And to live at all is to enjoy the company of God, by whatever name one knows Him.

To not enjoy the company of God is to not live. It is the true death, and have no fear, God keeps no prisoners of those who will not enjoy His presence by their own volition. The Last Battle gets it a bit wrong, one can always go out through the stable door.

Though it is quite correct that, after a certain point, there is nothing outside.

Still, feel free to try and make something of that yourself, if you are so displeased with God's Creation. Justice has no objection if you can really do it. Mercy protests that you will only be lost and damned, but mercy cares for your happiness, justice does not. So go ahead.