Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mind of the Maker Book Discussion: Writer, Work and Reader

Last week, I got in over my analogical head in the chapter on the Trinity. I think that was because there were a few things in the chapter I only partly understood.  And then when I read Cindy's post I KNEW I was over-thinking.  I will try her "sit and sip tea" approach.   Though I fear I'm too much like Mary Bennett and won't be able to help slipping in some sententious asides.   I can picture Miss Sayers saying to me, "My dear, I beg you will not try quite so hard.  I fear you will strain something." ;-).   

We are on chapter 4:   The Energy Revealed in Creation
Here is Cindy's post and linky where you can find other contributions to the discussion.

As an English literature major I liked this chapter because it seemed to point out so many of the pitfalls you can fall into with "literary analysis".   For one thing, you can psychoanalyze the author through his book, as if he unconsciously poured out his whole self into his work for wiser people to pick apart.   For another, you can think it's all about context and that unless you know who Shakespeare REALLY is and if he was or wasn't Bacon, you can't really understand his work properly.    You can also think that only me, the reader, matters, and that the work is only there so I can twist it into some weird significance that the author never could possibly have perceived (remember that letter that the college literature class wrote to Flannery O'Connor?)

I can see the analogies to various heresies.  Indeed, many heresies quite remind me of some of the literary analysis pitfalls of the last century or so.  Chesterton said something about how heretics take a great truth and run with it.   All the literary-analysis pitfalls seem to come from taking one good common sense thing and running with it into the opponent's end zone, more or less.  

And I suppose, thinking about it, that the Trinity is a balance and if you over-emphasize one part of God's workings, you are in danger of minimizing other parts.  I am constantly finding correctives in the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church.   Chesterton says something about that, too.  Orthodoxy is like a chariot almost overbalancing in one direction, then another, but always balancing back onto the path.   I know I would find it much simpler if I could just go whole hog in some direction, but Jesus seems to require us to follow Him, not some simple mandate taken to its logical extreme. 

Getting back to the writer and his work....  Sayers talks about how a dramatist has to do more than a novelist as far as making her characters living rather than just props.  She said that a novelist could just make one character "real" and make the others basically foils or plot points.  Meanwhile, a dramatist (a good one, I suppose) has to put himself into the minds of several characters, the set designer, the director, etc.

 I wonder if that is true.  Oscar Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest seems like one of the best modern plays I've read, and it doesn't depend on having realistic rounded characters.   It's more like, they are clever and witty and make you laugh.  It works that way.  Similarly with George Bernard Shaw.  Maybe comedies are different.     In fact, I am fairly sure they must be. 

Sayers also talks about HOW a writer puts himself into his characters.   With Othello, perhaps Shakespeare thought "how would I act and feel if I were wild with jealousy?"   But I suppose that having the character different from oneself lets one preserve the artistic detachment.  You don't overwhelm your character, any more than God micromanages the behavior of His human creation.   You let your character act as he, the character, would.   I just finished reading Wind in the Willows to my almost 10 year old -- what fun!  Mr Toad is nothing like Kenneth Grahame, I am supposing, but Toad is most definitely a Grahame creation.  And yet you see aspects of him in people you know, too.  How awesome!   I certainly wouldn't want to raise a son like Toad, or perhaps even have him for a brother-in-law or uncle, but the world is enriched by his fictitious personality!   Makes me think -- if I love Toad, can't I try to love my sometimes annoying neighbor or relative?   If Flannery O'Connor loved some of her unattractive protagonists,  like Tarwater,  can't I imagine that God might be ruefully affectionate towards some of His less appealing human creations, and even might really, really love ME in spite of my laughable or gruesomely disappointing moments?  


  1. This is full of gems, Willa! I think my favorite is at the very end: "...if I love Toad, can't I try to love my sometimes annoying neighbor or relative?"

    I also love your point here: "I know I would find it much simpler if I could just go whole hog in some direction, but Jesus seems to require us to follow Him, not some simple mandate taken to its logical extreme."

    Some of what you discussed about heresy really being taking ideas to an extreme reminded me of Russell Kirk's Roots of American Order, when Kirk discussed Aristotle's Golden Mean. He saw some disadvantages, but then again following Moderation as an absolute rule is different from following Jesus, so therein may the problem lay, I suppose...

  2. I have been down for the count all week with something very like the flu but I am so happy I had a chance to read your post. I find myself wondering how some authors capture something like jealousy and they do it while making us all shake our heads in agreement and yet not being cliche either. Does that make sense? I think we all recognize true humanity when we see it and yet for most of us to write about it would be to make it silly.

    Also I very much relate to your wild carriage ride. I think I am constantly veering this way and that in my life and thoughts. I find I get something right just to turn around and over-emphasize it.

    I continue to be happy you are participating.


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