George Bernard Shaw: Better than I Thought

In a prior article, I jested that I placed George Bernard Shaw and George Orwell on a personal Index Librorum Prohibitorum.  In the case of the latter, I had forgotten that I had read his Animal Farm and found it a great work against Communism.  But, I said to myself that I should never read Shaw.  Recently, my brother made the astounding comment that G. K. Chesterton and Shaw were friends!  At which point, my stance against George Bernard Shaw struck me as ungenerous and ignorant.  Chesterton’s writings about Shaw never gave the impression that they were friends.  Whether this is due to Chesterton’s style or my lack of perception, I do not know.

Shaw on left, Chesterton on Right, and a very uncomfortable looking Hillaire Belloc in the middle.

Shaw on left, Chesterton on Right, and a very uncomfortable looking Hillaire Belloc in the middle.

Avidly reading the first two acts of the play Man and Superman induces me to eat crow about my statements to the effect that Shaw ought never be read.  Most bloggers find it an incredibly bitter experience to admit to writing foolishly or out of ignorance, but it is my duty to admit that I did just that.  Hopefully, this article might stand as a reparation to this great playwright.

bernard-shaw-622x390-1383392485

The play is deliciously seasoned with comedic banter, frank social commentary, and a surprisingly Chestertonian use of paradox.  So, you might say that these two writers’ relationship was a fortuitous one.  (Upon Chesterton’s death, Shaw declared that Chesterton was a man of colossal genius.)  A surprisingly shocking paradox was when Jack Tanner referred to the devil as the father of morality!  In context, morality has become nothing more than social propriety in modern England.  It prevents a family from showing compassion for one of their daughters who has become pregnant until she makes it manifest that she has been at least secretly married.  Also, it is fashionable for the bourgeois to claim that they are progressive thinkers, but remain tied to old morays–a classic example of hypocrisy.

766405-R3L8T8D-500-12

And the characters are delineated with remarkable care–sometimes taking two pages of description, which makes me doubt whether the play was intended to be performed on stage.  Jack Tanner, the anarchist, is perhaps the most interesting of the characters.  He is certainly the most droll due to his frankness.  He notes how certain women try to get a man in their clutches in order to fulfill their vital role.  (Vital, as in pertaining the the values of life, i.e. childbearing.)  These women care nothing about the higher aspirations of their husbands and drive them away from aesthetic endeavors so that they might pursue economic ones for the benefit of their family.  This is especially important because Tanner wishes to drive Octavius, a poet, away from marrying a certain young lady, noting that there are few struggles as fierce as that between the Vital woman and the Artistic man–or something along those lines.  He provides much food for thought.

So, there you have it: my recommendation to read George Bernard Shaw–something I never thought I should do in my life!

A Little Change

I decided to change my reading list to just a list of the books I have finished of late.  I’m trying to tackle too many books, and who knows how much time they shall take to complete?  So, you can now see the works which I have finished and–at least at the moment–have some intention of writing about in the near future.  Feel free to look at it here.

If I could read like this character--or my partner on this blog, who can take in two lines in a glance while reading a novel--the gross profusion of reading material would be no problem.

If I could read like this character–or my partner on this blog, who can take in two lines in a glance while reading a novel–the gross profusion of reading material would be no problem.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery: More than the Author of the Little Prince

Since my partner has started posting again, I feel like it’s time to breath life into this blog again.  A while back, the distinct pleasure of reading Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s A Flight to Arras fell to my lot.  I stumbled upon this work in the WWII section of my local library, its yellow spine sticking out like a sore thumb.  Since I loved The Little Prince but had never heard of any other works by this author, I avidly snatched it from the shelf.  (Not that it was in danger of being snatched away by someone else.)  It proved to be a great and fast-paced read.  Certain philosophical sections of the work tended to drag, but Saint-Exupéry’s use of his reconnaissance flight to frame the story created an atmosphere of suspense throughout the work, which kept the reader moving at a swift pace even in its densest places.

Saint-exupery-avion

At any rate, the story begins with the fact that Saint-Ex. (I shall use this abbreviation from now on–it’s from the book) has been given a reconnaissance mission from which he is not likely to survive.  He simply responds “Yes, sir” and prepares for the mission, as all his fellow pilots do and as he has done dozens of times before.  Saint-Ex. even refuses his Major’s offer to decline the mission.

This was the last kind of plane Saint.-Ex flew during the war.

This was the last kind of plane Saint.-Ex flew during the war.

This event sparks a meditation on the futility of the French Army’s resistance to the Blitzkrieg.  Much of the philosophical digressions of the work attempt to find the reason behind this seeming futility.  In regard to this particular mission, Saint-Ex. must avoid three levels of fighter coverage around Arras–an almost impossible feat–and have his navigator photograph enemy positions, which will likely not be the same tomorrow and the photographs of which the General Staff is unlikely to receive in the confusion of the French retreat anyway.  How to draw reason out of this insanity of the French Army merely “playing war” and making useless sacrifices of men, material, towns, and villages?

Saint-Ex. has some wonderful passages describing the lethality of fighters.

Saint-Ex. has some wonderful passages describing the lethality of fighters.

For Saint-Ex., reason is incapable of solving this dilemma.  He even refers to temptation as when intellectual arguments try to overcome the spirit.  (I love how he wrote, “I know as much about temptation as a Church Father.”)  He resolves the dilemma of the intellect seeing nothing but futility by showing how faith and simply living overcome all these doubts and give a super-rational motivation for carrying on a futile conflict.  The effect is so beautiful and compelling in the work that one almost shouts “Vive la France!” by the end of it.

9953822135_82474a1691_o

I say, “Vive la France!” because no other author combines French thought from medieval to modern into such cohesive beauty as Saint-Ex.  He’s a stout Catholic, but he takes principles from French Existentialism and the Lost Generation writers and brings forth light in these schools of thought, where authors like Camus and Sartre could only see darkness.  Narrative is unique because it can show meaning in a way that academic articles cannot come close, and Saint-Ex. combines narrative and philosophy in an inimitable combination.  This work could easily bear and third or fourth reading, and I hope to reacquaint myself with it in the future.  What a shame that this author died in 1944 at the age of 44!

resize_image