Saturday, October 11, 2014

C. S. Lewis, Myth, and Postmodernism (Part 2)

This is part two of a paper I wrote in grad school on C. S. Lewis and Postmodernism. You can read part one here.
C. S. Lewis, Myth, and Postmodernism (Part 2)
     I heard another echo of Lewis in "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," where Derrida analyzed Levi-Strauss’s efforts to interpret the underlying structure of myths from outside of their interpretive structures, arguing that there is no absolute center. He points out that in spite of Levi-Strauss’s attempt to acknowledge his own perspective in order to step outside of it, he must ultimately fail in his attempt to be “objective” because no one can transcend one’s particular cultural place in time in order to study the structure of a particular cultural situation objectively (Derrida 278-287).

     In an essay titled “Meditation on a Toolshed,” first published in 1945, C. S. Lewis addresses the issue of perspective. Lewis describes being in a dark tool shed and observing a beam of sunlight coming through a crack at the top of the door. As he looked at the sunbeam he could see the dust particles floating in but everything else was dark because he was seeing the beam, not seeing things by the beam. He goes on to describe what happens when he changes his perspective and looks along the beam; he no longer sees the tool shed or the beam, but instead he sees the trees, clouds, and the sun over 90 million miles away. He concludes, "Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences" (Meditation 212). Lewis questions which way of looking is more valid, or true, leading the reader to the conclusion that neither looking at nor looking along are “intrinsically truer or better” than the other, instead “one must look both along and at everything” (Meditation 215).

     Lewis expands on this line of thinking in the essay mentioned in yesterday's post, “Myth Became Fact”. There he writes, “This is our dilemma – either to taste and not to know or to know and not to taste – or, more strictly, to lack one kind of knowledge because we are in an experience or to lack another kind because we are outside it (65). Here Lewis proposes myth as (at least) a partial solution: In the enjoyment of a great myth we come nearest to experiencing as a concrete what can otherwise only be understood as an abstraction(66).

     The issue of perspective came up again in “'Bulverism,' or the Foundation of 20th Century Thought." Lewis takes issue with the Freudians and the Marxists trying to position themselves as the correct interpretation of individual thought processes (“bundles of complexes" and "economic interests") while dismissing Christian arguments for belief as "ideologically tainted" (Bulverism 271-72). Lewis points out that Freudianism and Marxism are as much systems of thought as Christian theology: “The Freudian and the Marxian are in the same boat with all the rest of us, and cannot criticize us from outside. They have sawn off the branch they were sitting on. If, on the other hand, they say the taint need not invalidate their thinking, then neither need it invalidate ours. In which case they have saved their own branch, but also saved ours along with it" (Bulverism 272). Lewis’s analysis of the Freudians and Marxians points out, like Derrida, that all analysis is situated in a particular vantage point and there can be no purely objective analysis.

     In The Discarded Image, C. S. Lewis discusses the way our perspective affects the way we view history, through a discussion of the medieval world-view. In his conclusion, he states that while historical models may help us to get at what reality is, they are not exhaustive. Lewis writes, “No model is a catalogue of ultimate realities, and none is a mere fantasy. Each is a serious attempt to get all the phenomena known at a given period, and each succeeds in getting in a great many. But also, no less surely, each reflects the prevalent psychology of an age almost as much as it reflects the state of that age's knowledge” (222). He proceeds to say that our current Model may die a “violent death,” and a new Model will then be set up, but not without evidence:
"Here, as in the courts, the character of the evidence depends on the shape of the examination, and a good cross-examiner can do wonders. He will not elicit falsehoods from an honest witness. But in relation to the total truth in the witness’s mind, the structure of examination is like a stencil. It determines how much of the total truth will appear and what pattern it will suggest." (223)
Lewis exhibited the same skepticism towards those in charge of writing the history books that every good postmodernist would do today. In “Historicism” he reminds us that a historian claiming that “the important parts of the past survive" really means the parts that are relevant “to the particular inquiry he has chosen. Thus if he is an economic historian, economic facts are for him important: if a military historian, military facts" (108).

Works Cited
Derrida, Jacques. “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.” Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1978. 278-93.
Lewis, C. S. "Bulverism." God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Ed. by Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1970. 271-277.
---. The Discarded Image. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1964.
---. "Historicism." Christian Reflections. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1973. 100-113.
---. "Meditation in a Toolshed." God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Ed. by Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1970. 212-215.
---. “Myth Became Fact.” God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Ed. by Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1970. 63-67.

In response to the 31 Day blogging challenge, I will be posting every day in October. You can read previous posts HERE. Follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter to be notified of new posts. You can also Subscribe to get posts sent to you by email. (There is a simple form towards the top on the right where you can do this.)

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts and questions!

Index of Posts:
Day 1: 31 Days of C. S. Lewis (Introduction)
Day 2. C. S. Lewis on Longing (In "The Weight of Glory")
Day 3. C. S. Lewis on Sehnsucht (Longing and Desire in The Weight of Glory)
Day 4. C. S. Lewis Audio Recordings
Day 5: C. S. Lewis Online Resources
Day 6: C. S. Lewis: The Intolerable Compliment (The Problem of Pain)
Day 7: C. S. Lewis: What is "The Weight of Glory"?
Day 8: C. S. Lewis: The Great Divorce and The Weight of Glory
Day 9: C. S. Lewis: A Grief Observed
Day 10: C. S. Lewis, Myth, and Postmodernism
Day 11: C. S. Lewis, Myth, and Postmodernism (Part 2)
Day 12: C. S. Lewis and Postmodernism (Part 3 - Conclusion)

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