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Posts Tagged ‘C.S. Lewis’

If you have not read anything on literary criticism, this little book, An Experiment in Criticism, by C.S. Lewis will open your mind to a whole new world — the world of the text and it well-read.

Rather than judging the quality of a books by their composition or content, Lewis suggests one should judge them by the nature or way in which they are read. For example, some people read books only once to gratify some curiosity or lust, only to abandon them forever afterwards. Contrarily, those who truly love their books will read them countless times and cherish them as favored possessions. In other words, bad readers read books seeking only to find a world they already are comfortable with and understand; a world they already have categories for and can explain. A world that “makes sense” in their system of thought. By reading books in such a way, these readers are not challenged by what they read. And in the end, book after book, they meet only themselves. For Lewis, this explains the vast hoard of trashy novels which follow the same basic principle. In these case, the reader is never brought to a higher level of knowledge. There is no additive transfer. Such readers only get out what they already knew. This all takes very little effort on the part of the reader.

On the other hand, good readers begin by getting themselves “out of the way.” Good readers will first surrender their own preconceived notions and biases. They open themselves up to receive “instructions” (as it were) from the text itself. In effect, they surrender to the text. And now the text can actually begin to work on the reader. This is an entirely different kind of reading and leads to an additive gain in knowledge on the part of the reader. Rather than meeting only themselves in a text (and learning only what they already knew and had categories for), good readers open themselves up to a whole new world. By “receiving” the text a reader actually meets ‘someone else’ (as it were) and thus grow in the process.

All of this is written in Lewis’ classic and beloved, easy style. Taking things ordinarily complex, he makes them simple.  I could not recommend this little gem more highly!

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That great mind, C.S. Lewis, had a few things to say about the pertinence of Natural Law toward a just society:

“It is often asserted that the world must return to Christian ethics in order to preserve civilization. Though I am myself a Christian, and even a dogmatic Christian untinged with Modernist reservations and committed to supernaturalism in its full rigour, I find myself quite unable to take my place beside the upholders of [this] view. It is far from my intention to deny that we find in Christian ethics a deepening, an internalization, a few changes of emphasis in the moral code. But only serious ignorance of Jewish and Pagan culture would lead anyone to the conclusion that it is a radically new thing.”

“This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all values are rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) “ideologies,” all consist of fragments from the Tao itself. Arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity.”

These quotations I found over at the Front Porch Republic: C.S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism (part one), and part two.

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