Wednesday, January 2, 2008

"The Doubleness of Things"

Ralph Wood has a fantastic (no pun intended) article over at First Things on Chesterton and Tolkien, the two perceived "anti-moderns" of the 20th-century English literary springtime. Although perhaps reactionary in some of their proposed remedies for the evils of modernity, the two men shared a deep love for the world as it is given to us. That is, for "the primacy of being."

Things as we receive them in the senses have a "doubleness"--an inner as well as an outer significance. The inner is not divorced from the outer, but rather the outer can communicate some of the inner meaning. When we start to create our own meaning for things, divorced from what they give our senses, we become detached or untethered from reality.

That's hefty stuff. Which is why reading Tolkien's and Chesterton's fiction, which teach us these truths in a more intuitive way, is a perfect path to healing the "great divorce" in our hearts between "Me-the-creator" and "God-the-Creator."

Here's a brief sample of Wood:

"[T]hey share the conviction that we human creatures are most like God in our positive creativity. “We make,” said Tolkien, “by the law in which we’re made.” Virtually every human act—from dressing in the morning to making vast literary epics and philosophical systems—is an act of creation. Unlike Coleridge and the Romantics, however, Tolkien and Chesterton never grant godlike status to artists and thinkers as having the power to invent their own self-enclosed universe. On the contrary, they share a deep Thomistic regard for the primacy of being: for things as they are perceived by the senses. Like Kant, they confess the difficulty of moving from the phenomenal to the noumenal realm of things-in-themselves. Yet, unlike him, they do not despair over the seemingly impassable gap between the inner and the outer, the mental and the natural; instead, they reveal that the world is not dreadfully dead (as we have believed since Descartes and Newton) but utterly alive and awaiting our free transformation of it. The universe that has been made dissonant also requires reenchantment, therefore, in order for us to participate in an otherness that is not finally cacophony but symphony, a complex interlocking of likenesses and differences that form an immensely complex but finally redemptive Whole. The doubleness of all things is cause for rejoicing, it follows, rather than lamentation."


RCD said...

Hi, I just stumbled upon your blog - I really like it! I am commenting on "the doubleness of things" but I didn't read it. I'm a mom to a 2 month old, so I don't have time right this second, but I will be back -- the title is intriguing!

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Rosemary said...

Ok, I read it - interesting! This reminds me of Gerard Manley Hopkins, his emphasis on the piedness of the world of nature and of man:

"Glory be to God for dappled things, for things of couple-colour as a brinded cow."

In praising the beauty of the pied, the freckled and the "couple-color" he highlights the doubleness you speak of. . . Hopkins thought all things have an "inscape" which they express to those whose senses are attuned to the beings of things. His poetry releases that "inscape" and shows it to his readers.

Hopkins style was indeed MODERN (I use caps b/c it was quite extraordinary for the 19th century) yet had its grounding in an ancient attentiveness towards creation.

Jacques said...

is that you rosemary? :-)

Erika Ahern said...

I love the comment on Hopkins. He certainly struck that chord we seek: How can we be both modern and still human (i.e., seeking the "inscape" of things)? It's hard not to feel as though I'm sounding all "metaphysical" or "New-Agey"--the inner meaning of things is so hard to define without losing sight of the outer reality. Ah! original sin! Fie!