Thoughts on C. S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image

Medieval Otaku

Here is yet another of the articles I promised as part of my Candlemas Resolutions.  I have only four days to review the theological work and the Japanese one; otherwise, I shall fail to keep my resolutions in the very first month I made them!  And I should send little e-mail to TWWK ere then too.  Vae!  Sunt multa facere, sed tempus fugit!  


At any rate, let me get on to C. S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image.  This work marks the last book of Lewis’s published while he still lived.  These two hundred and twenty-three pages refreshed my knowledge of Medieval Model of the universe.  Lewis both delineates the major features of the model and offers details which will please readers more versed in the Middle Ages.  By the way, medievals and yours truly have much in common, and I think that highlighting these similarities as…

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The universal and the particular

Res Studiorum et Ludorum

Aminatta Forma has an article in the Guardian complaining about the tendency to divy literature up among national/racial lines:

I used to be a journalist and I know the limitations of the short form. Journalism does not on the whole embrace the idea of complexity. So when newspapers started to describe me as an “African writer” I was not greatly surprised. Literature is about nuance and understanding the intricacies of life. Journalism prefers simplicity, even at the price of reductionism. The idea of a person with two parents, two nationalities and two cultures is apparently just too much for the readers of newspapers to absorb. Though I was irritated at the way my British heritage was airbrushed out of the picture, I tried not to let it bother me too much.

The academic world surprised me more. I read law at university, so I came with unformed opinions about how…

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Pirate Word of the Day – Belcher

Lady Blade Blog

From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues first published in 1859.

James Belcher wearing one. Pugilist, James Belcher

Belcher: a kind of handkerchief. See Billy.

Billy: a silk pocket handkerchief. See Wipe.

Wipe: a pocket handkerchief. Old cant.

(It could have been called a Belcher because you covered your mouth with it when you belched. That would at least make sense. And a Wipe is pretty self-evident. But why was it called a Billy?

Perhaps Billy was a specific person. I did find these specifics of a Belcher – close striped pattern, yellow silk, and intermixed with white and a little black; named from the pugilist, Jim Belcher. How perfect is that!)


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Urbanization and a cup of tea

This is an excellent article on tea in the Industrial Revolution. Very interesting!


tea2In the eighteenth century Britain experienced considerable demographic growth along with the birth of an industrial economy which brought to extensive social change.The British population doubled after 1721, from 7.1 to 14.2 million people and most of the growth occurred after 1750 and particularly after the 1780s.  This was due mainly to a fall in mortality, which was particularly marked during the first half of the century and affected all socioeconomic groups. However, this reduction does not appear to have occurred for economic reasons only, but also for the significant improvement in domestic hygiene, the introduction of smallpox inoculation or the rebuilding of housing in brick and tile. Between 1810 and 1820, average family size reached five or six children per family, the highest rate in any decade in modern British history and this continuous rise in the rates of growth made Britain the world’s first industrial nation.This is in…

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How a Quote by C. S. Lewis Illustrates a Problem with Dune’s Characters

The characters in Frank Herbert’s Dune have bothered me for quite some time.  You see, there’s an early comment in the work that few people become truly human.  So, the theme of what Herbert thinks that it means to be truly human intrigued me.  By page 350, the answer to the question “What is a true human being?” seems to be that a true human being is one who masters his passions and emotions through reason and will.  That’s not bad, especially considering that modern society has a tendency to place passion and emotion above reason, which leads to moderns making foolish decisions.  (As may be reasonably expected.)  Passions and emotions will more often than not tell one to do the wrong thing unless one has so educated them that they bolster the rational course of action.  Sometimes, one only accomplishes the rational thing because one’s will has the push of passions and emotion behind them (e.g. defending an innocent person from calumny even though it costs us esteem); but, this does not change the fact that passion and emotion are usually unreliable in differentiating between right and wrong.


However, Herbert’s characters almost seem hyper-rational.  I am reminded of Descartes’s image of man as a mind in a machine.  However, Dune‘s characters are focused on the body and the tangible for the most part.  Our heroes are preeminently concerned with survival–whether surviving the deserts of Arrakis, escaping Harkonnen attacks, or seeking to gain enough power to end the Harkonnen threat forever.  But, why do they want to survive?  What makes their lives so worth living?  Revenge?  Power?  In that case, what separates them from the villains in terms of motivations?  Doubtless, the Atreides have justice on their side because they have been assaulted by Harkonnens while they wished to live in peace.  But, what is the point of their justice?  To promote peace, I suppose; but that leads to the question of why peace is preferable to war among people motivated by the quest for power?

My gripe with Paul and Jessica might be summed up in these words of C. S. Lewis: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”  Neither Paul, Jessica, nor any of the good guys have friends!  All their associates are useful to them in some way except in the case of Jessica, her husband, and Paul.  And even among the three of them, we discern parts of their relationships which feel utilitarian!  They may be honorable, good, and reasonable people, but they appear the less human for all that–and the less good.  After all, bad people can only have relationships of utility!  What does it say about our heroes when they don’t have proper friendships with other people–friendships based on enjoying another’s personality and virtue?

Here is a picture of C. S. Lewis with some Inklings.

Here is a picture of C. S. Lewis with some Inklings.

Frank Herbert gets many things right about living as a true human being–but he misses too much in forsaking the heart for the sake of the head.  How much value does living have without love?