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REVIEW: The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Image result for the felowship the inklings book

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip Zaleski & Carol Zaleski

“….it is plain that Tolkien has unleashed a mythic awakening and Lewis a Christian awakening”

“….these clubs offered grand things: escape from domesticity, a base for intellectual exploration, an arena for clashing wits, an outlet for enthusiasms, a socially acceptable replacement for the thrills and dangers of war, and in the aftermath of World War I, a surviving remnant to mourn and honor the fallen”

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings is a book outside my usual wheelhouse, being concerned deeply with the intellectual interplay among the Inklings impacted their literary works and legacies and more fundamentally, the central role played in the former by Christianity and anthroposophy. I was drawn to this book primarily by virtue of being a radical J.R.R. Tolkien fan, but the center of gravity of The Fellowship is C.S. Lewis, the pivotal figure with whom the other Inklings related; even if Lewis was not always the dominant persona, he was frequently a catalyst or a foil for his fellow Inklings. While the Inklings could survive the untimely death of Charles Williams, whose intellectual brilliance and influence over other writers always surpassed his own literary fame, when C.S. Lewis passed from the scene, the Inklings as an active literary society did as well.

What were the Inklings?

This is a question the authors struggle to answer, despite haven woven four strong biographical essays into one. To call them merely an informal discussion club of Oxford and Cambridge scholars is to miss the mark and greatly underrate their influence. To call the Inklings a “movement” or a “school” – either for promoting Norse mythic or Christian revival – imparts a pedantic formality and air of proselytizing that simply never happened.  The Inklings were always particular about admitting new faces to their pub meetings and stubbornly refused to include women, even Dorothy Sayers , a gifted author whom many of the Inklings admired, respected and befriended. Some of the Inklings were not scholars either, not in the academic sense, being editors, lawyers, poets and religious bohemians of a literary bent.

Largely, the authors struggle because while the Inklings have written or admitted how much their meetings or particular members influenced their thinking, their writings or in Lewis’ case, his faith – there is very little record of the meetings themselves. Much of what happened has to be inferred beyond specific incidents like Hugo Dyson’s repeated taunting of J.R.R. Tolkien (“…not more fucking elves!”) or taken from extant correspondence of prolific letter writers like Lewis or diarists like his brother, Warnie (who despite his raging alcoholism, managed to become later in life, an impressive historian of the France of Louis XIV).

The Fellowship though leaves little doubt  that the meetings of the Inklings at the Eagle and Child (“the bird and baby”) or C.S. Lewis’ rooms at Magdalene College at Cambridge were a chief intellectual and social support for the Inklings and an escape from possible loneliness. While Tolkien enjoyed a busy family life with his wife Edith and four children, Lewis’ long endured (which is the correct word) for much of his life, a bizarrely dysfunctional relationship with a much older woman whom he never married, Mrs. Jane Moore, the mother of a close friend who had been killed serving on the Western Front. Other Inklings were bachelors or had unhappy, austere, marriages, making the cerebral debate and late night amusements of the Inklings a welcome refuge.

One of the aspects of the Inklings that comes across in the book – their fellowship of male camaraderie – is nearly extinct in the 21st century and has a distinctly antiquarian air. Such associations were once commonplace. Not merely in academic circles or exclusive clubs of the wealthy, but every small town and hamlet had its charitable societies, Masonic orders, veteran’s organizations, Knights of Columbus and humble bowling leagues that formed and strengthened male social networks among friends, neighbors and their larger community from the 18th century onward. By the time women began demanding entry (or abolition) in the early 70’s these groups were already well into dying off, victims of mass society and suburbanization.

As the Zaleskis convey in The Fellowship, for an informal club of sorts lacking the aesthetic pretensions of the Bloomsbury group, the range of Inkling scholarship, literary and religious influence remains to this day, staggering. Aside from the scholarly accomplishments of its members, other writers drawn into their orbit, at least for periods of time, included T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Dorothy Sayers, Saul Bellow, G.K. Chesterton, John Wain and Roy Campbell; and also several generations of fantasy authors were inspired by the tales of Narnia and Middle-Earth, including by his own admission, the immensely popular George R.R. Martin. The effect of Lewis’ Christian apologetics, especially The Screwtape Letters, may be equally large – and this was the largest source of friction for Tolkien, whose deeply pious, pre-Vatican II traditional Catholicism left him with scant patience for C.S. Lewis’ “amateur” theology and even less for his dear friend’s residual Ulster Protestant cultural prejudices.

In The Fellowship: the Literary Lives of the Inklings, Philip and Carol Zaleski have crafted a deeply researched and complex group biography of impressive depth and reach. Strongly recommended.

Eagle, tiger vs drone

Friday, February 24th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — tiger swats mechanical mosquito, also ontology and metaphor ]
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I recently reported on eagles in training to take down drones in Next up — the anti-eagle drone — here’s video to go with that report..

and here’s video of tigers similarly employed to pair with that eagle video, making a fine YouTube DoubleQuote:

**

Thoreau describes the (newfangled) train in Walden, using an animal metaphor:

When I meet the engine with its train of cars moving off with planetary motion … with its steam cloud like a banner streaming behind in gold and silver wreaths … as if this traveling demigod, this cloud-compeller, would ere long take the sunset sky for the livery of his train? when I hear the iron horse make the hills echo with his snort like thunder, shaking the earth with his feet, and breathing fire and smoke from his nostrils, (what kind of winged horse or fiery dragon they will put into the new Mythology I don’t know), it seems as if the earth had got a race now worthy to inhabit it.

We have nature, and we have nurture — but new tech hardly fits in either category. When a new tech arises, initially, it’s readily assimilated to an animal, ie a form of nature — as in my equation of drone and mosquito in the header to this post.

And drone? What kind of name is that? As near as I can judge, the mechanical usage derives from the same term used to describe a male bee.

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Okay, we might as well close with a quote from Thoreau’s friend Emerson, offering an intriguing ontology of means of transport, the natural and technological included — with an eagle this time on the receiving end of hunting..

Man moves in all modes, by legs of horses, by wings of winds, by steam, by gas of balloon, by electricity, and stands on tiptoe threatening to hunt the eagle in his own element.

DoubleQuotes 3, Ouroboros 1

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — nothing terribly new here, just catching up with the last week or so ]
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One quick pointer.. The most significant article I’ve seen this week is Zeynep Tufekci’s Does a Protest’s Size Matter? — which contains the line:

A large protest today is less like the March on Washington in 1963 and more like Rosa Parks’s refusal to move to the back of the bus. What used to be an endpoint is now an initial spark.

I think Zeynep’s right on this one — which, FWIW, makes double images like these a whole lot less relevant:


President Trump’s inauguration crowd was smaller than Obama’s, CBS

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Catching up on other examples of “form” in recent news..

I got this one from Zen, who’d posted it on FB.

This really is a pretty definitive illustration of the stress a president incurs in the world’s most terrifying, not to mention deeply contested, job.

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This one goes without saying.

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And here’s my ouroboros of the week:

As the Chinese proverb goaes:

A man needs face like a tree needs bark.

Would we do well to understand President Trump in terms of an honor-shame dynamic?

Dylan’s 1980 apocalyptic

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — delighted at his Nobel — with a quick note on antinomianism ]
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So Bob Dylan has at last won the Nobel Prize, which has been — forgive me — a slow train coming.

David Remnick of the New Yorker suggests we “Celebrate Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature the obvious way: by listening” — and among his suggested selections I found this apocalyptic jewel:

It contains quite a bit of low-key Daniel and Revelation. Dylan recalls being booed for suggesting that Russia would intervene in the Middle East just a few months before Russia invaded Afghanistan.

I read the Bible a lot, you know, it just happens I do, and .. so it says certain things in the Bible that I wasn’t really aware of until just recently.. anyway, in the Bible it tells you specific things. In the books iof Daniel and in the Book of Revelation which just might apply to these times here, and is says there are certain wars that are soon, about to happen, I can’t say exactly when, you know, but.. pretty soon anyway..

He goes on to mention two countries, which he identifies as Russia and China, and with regard to Russia, says:

So anyway, I was telling this story to these people. I shouldn’t have been telling it to them, I just got carried away. I mentioned to them “well you know, watch now, because Russia is going to come down and attack the Middle East. It says this in the Bible. .. These things in the Bible, they seem to uplift me and tell me the truth. I said “Russia’s gpoing to attack the Middle East” and they just booed. They couldn’t hear that, they didn’t believe it. And a month later, Russia moved their troops into Afghanistan it was, and that whole situation changed, you know. And I’m not saying this to tell you they were wrong and I was right or anything like that, but these things that it mentions in the Bible I pay mighty close attention to.

This is pretty much straightforward from a Hal Lindsey era Dispensationalist point of view, though the bit about Russia interfering in the Middle East fits Russia’s campaign in Syria today, thirty-seven years later, better than its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan did back then.

Dylan then follows up with a discussion of the Antichrist, mentions Jim Jones and Hitler along the way.. and closes with a rendition of his gospel song, Slow Train Coming.

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So just one technical note here on that apocalyptic aspect.

Antinomianism is the name given to a common feature of apocalyptic rhetoric — the doctrine that the law (to include the moral law) no longer applies — so that both theft from the rich and sexual anarchism are permitted to “the pure”. Norman Cohn documents this doctrine extensively in The Pursuit of the Millennium, see particularly his chapters VII and VIII on “An Élite of Amoral Supermen” — ie the 12th century “heresy of the Free Spirit“.

Listening to Dylan’s Slow Train with that in mind, these lyrics take on a new significance:

Man’s ego is inflated, his laws are outdated, they don’t apply no more
You can’t rely no more to be standin’ around waitin’

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To end on a lighter note..

Some critics of the Nobel award seem to feel that “song” is not a category that sits easily within the scope of “literature”. To put it bluntly:

If only he’d thrown away that damn guitar, written his stuff down, and read it out loud as poetry, we might have given Orpheus the prize sooner..

On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: ten

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a long, lazy Sunday post, packed with quirky interest and neat maps ]
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Ten? What’s so special about ten, hunh? Just because you have ten fingers, you suppose that makes ten special?

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One:

As simple as a map can get:

worry-line
Simon Kirby, The Worry Line

Two:

As complex as one can get:

most-complex-ny
Eric Jaffe, The World’s 15 Most Complex Subway Maps

And I mean complex, cognitively complex:

When it comes to information processing, an average person’s “cognitive threshold” is about 250 connections, or the equivalent of roughly eight bits of data, according to the researchers. New York’s system neared that limit, with 161 total connections, and the most complicated two-transfer trip a person could make on the subway exceeded it—clocking in at 8.1 bits. Maps for the Paris Metro (with 78 total connections), Tokyo Metro (56), and London Tube (48) clustered around six bits of information.

Three:

Naked:

naked-map
Nick van Mead, Can you identify the world cities from their ‘naked’ metro maps?

The Guardian wanted to know if you could recognize various cities if shown their metro maps without the stations markings.. and i could manage Chicago (above).

Four:

Coffee:

coffee-shop-mapo
Chris Ward, Coffee Stops

Sadly, the map is not the territory, or I could get my Java from South Ken while sitting at my desk just outside Sacramento.

The London Coffee Map, “Coffee Stops,” was designed by Chris Ward, who calls himself “the boss who works from coffee shops.” He recently published Out of Office: Work Where You Like and Achieve More, a best-selling guide to leading a successful working life outside an office building. Apparently, being properly caffeinated is one of his biggest tips. Now you can grab your joe at local London cafes with quaint names like Scooter and Electric Elephant.

Five:

Mug:

I could then quaff it from an appropriately poetical Map Mug:

50112-greater-shakespeare-map-mug-normal
Royal Shakespeare Company, Greater Shakespeare Map Mug

The map here representing affinities between characters in the Bard’s various plays:

greater-shakespeare-map-rsc

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Interlude:

— and we’re half way to ten, let’s imagine ourselves at Shakespeare and Co‘s bookstore and cafe in Paris

shakespeare-co

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Six:

Calvino

While we’re on a literary streak, here’s a thumbnail of one of artist Rod McLaren‘s illuminations of Italo Calvino‘s Invisible Cities:

italo-calvino-mapped
Rod McLaren, Invisible Cities Illustrated #2: Trude/Ersilia

The detail here is fantastic, as befits Calvino’s work:

The diagram, a network of curved lines connecting to every other node on a 6 x 5 grid, has two configurations: if the picture is hung one way up, it shows the “Ersilia configuration” (where the lines are like the threads strung between the buildings of Ersilia); if hung the other way up, it shows that of Trude (where the lines are like a complicated airline route map).

Ersilia (Trading Cities 4, p78):

In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationship of blood, of trade, or authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain. From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia’s refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing.

They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away.

Thus, when travelling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of the abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.

Trude (Continuous Cities 2, p128):

If on arriving at Trude I had not read the city’s name written in big letters, I would have thought I was landing at the same airport from which I had taken off. The suburbs they drove me through were no different from the others, with the same greenish and yellowish houses. Following the same signs we swung around the same flower beds in the same squares. The downtown streets displayed goods, packages,signs that had not changed at all. This was the first time I had come to Trude, but I already knew the hotel where I happened to be lodged; I had already heard andspoken my dialogues with the buyers and sellers of hardware; I had ended other days identically,looking through the same goblets at the same swaying navels.

Why come to Trude? I asked myself. And I already wanted to leave.

“You can resume your flight whenever you like,” they said to me, “but you will arrive at another Trude, absolutely the same, detail by detail. The world is covered by a sole Trude which does not begin and does not end. Only the name of the airport changes.”

All of which reminds me of nothing so much as Antonio Gaudi‘s model — made of hanging chains — catenaries —

inverted-model-barcelona

which when turned upside down provide the structure for his Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona:

sagrada-familia

Seven:

Ghost:

Meanwhile, back in London, we have maps of the ghost (ie abandoned) London tube stops:

ghost-stations
Dylan Maryk, Ghost Stations On The London Underground

Eight:

That’s one way to de-clutter the Tube map — show what ain’t there any more.

Here’s another —

declutteredtubemap
Matt Thomason, 150 years of The London Underground

Don’t ask me what it means — seeing as Hugh Grant gets a station, it’s either gentlemanly or ungentlemanly, I’m not sure which.

Nine:

Music:

I simply didn’t know you’d have to travel this far to get from Dylan to the Beatles:

london_music_genres_detail
Dorian Lynskey, in Tufte, Response to London Underground maps

I mean —

bob-dylan-john-lennon
Michelle Geslani, The Beatles and Bob Dylan met 50 years ago today

Ten:

I’ve kept this one for last because in some ways it’s the subtlest:

exhibition-in-borders-we-trust

It’s the work of architect Jug Cerovic., and on his page In Borders We Trust he offers this conceptual comment:

Borders are primarily a mental construct.

Just like a deity, they exist only insofar as People believe in them. Question is however how necessary our belief in their existence is and when exactly does that belief start harming us?

At which point do borders cease to be a convenient orientation marker, a helpful tool for the comprehension of the land we inhabit, a common identifier for the construction of a shared identity? At which point do borders become a dogmatic limitation to imagination, a terrifying prison for the body and mind, a symbol and support of hatred?

Borders do not possess an inherent bad or good character, on the contrary they are a malleable concept subject to appropriation and interpretation.

“In borders we trust” examines the perception, physical manifestation and enforcement of the couple formed by People and Borders focusing on three key areas of the contemporary migration routes:

  • Gibraltar
  • Serbia
  • Levant
  • For this purpose the peculiar relationship between Borders and People is illustrated with a sequence of three distinct maps:

  • Borders without People
  • Borders with People
  • People without Borders
  • This novel perspective of a seemingly familiar representation, with each component of the couple shown separately and juxtaposed to their combined illustration, questions the articulation and pertinence of our present predicament.

    Happily, this is an area that I’ve delved into at some length myself in my earlier post, No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream? — with specific reference to ISIS’ bulldozing of the border between Iraq and Syria, and the Basque country, Euskadi, saddling the French / Spanish border.

    Cerovic has achieved an eminently practical limited version of one of my own grandiose castle-in-air schemes — building a universal graphical mapping system. Cerovic’s version offers us a universal graphical underground / tube / metro mapping system, in the form of his book One Metro World — you still have a couple of weeks to support it on Kickstarter!

    map-app

    **

    Earlier in this series:

  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: preliminaries
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: two dazzlers
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: three
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: four
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: five
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: six
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: seven
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: eight
  • And hey, and we’re back at maps — where we started in

  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: nine

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