Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Why do you read? (paca)

First, I should say that I have been a prolific blogger over the last few days, so scroll down to see what's new.

Now, the topic of this blog entry. What do you read for? On Sunday, I wanted to get out of my office some, but it was raining, so I couldn't work outside. I ended up carrying my work with me, reading, while I walked in circles inside the library. This worked fairly well for some time, as I quite regularly read while walking around campus. But then trouble struck. I passed the M section in English lit. I have been meaning to read some of A.A. Milne's adult fiction and plays for some time. (There is a very nice bio of Milne that I skimmed once. Essentially, Milne was a very successful playwright and mystery author before Winnie the Pooh. Many of his works were filled with whimsy and light fun with significant overtones. Then he wrote Winnie the Pooh for children. From that point on, anything Milne wrote for adults was reviewed by the critics as childish and superficial. Milne hadn't changed. The reviewers just couldn't see past Pooh.)

Anyway, I selected a couple books to read later, then I made the mistake. "Well, the M section is close to the L section..." Pivot. Ahhh, 5 shelves of C.S. Lewis. Goodbye work. I ended up reading a chapter from Kath Filmer's The Fiction of C.S. Lewis, 1993. The chapter was "Masking the Misogynist in Narnia and Glome." I chose that chapter because Glome is the land of Lewis' best and last book Till We Have Faces. I won't go through the whole chapter. The point of the chapter is that Lewis was and remained a misogynist through-out his life, as revealed by his fiction. The reason that Filmer spends so much time on Till We Have Faces is because it is the book that most, including myself, hold up as more nuanced on the nature of being female than most of his earlier books, including the Narnia books. Till We Have Faces revolves around a wise and good, though flawed, warrior queen, while most earlier roles for women were nurses, mothers, wives, etc. with not too much more to be said about them.

My problem with the chapter was not so much her interpretations of the characters of the stories. Sure, I disagreed at times, but that's just something to debate. What bugged me was that Filmer kept going back to what this was supposed to reveal about Lewis, the man. The story wasn't of much interest to her, it seemed, but only divining Lewis' attitudes and how they were hidden and revealed in this writing. Later, in the concluding chapter, she approvingly quotes Rosalind Miles' The Rites of Man (haven't read it), which apparently includes the insight that "the male sense of self is located in his penis. And the self is gratified through masturbation long before the young male is introduced to sexual intercourse with a female." I will not jump on this topic. The key is that Filmer tries to construct portrait of Lewis' fiction that revolves around his life - his mother dying from cancer when he was young, his relationship with his wife who also passed away from cancer after a short marriage, etc. His fiction is supposed to be revealed and understood by going through a psychoanalysis of the author. The whole time I am thinking "who cares?" You are missing what the book is about and what the female character of Orual is about.

Till We Have Faces is about a human being who has great virtues - wisdom, intelligence, courage, strength - and also great flaws, the most prominent of which is jealous, possessive attachment. She lives a full life with these strengths and weaknesses and then at the end is confronted with God, in the form of the divine Cupid in this novel. What happens then? What happens when flawed, sinning humans, even one with all the worldly wisdom of Orual, meet the Divine? This is what the book is about. It isn't about Lewis, the man. And I don't read Till We Have Faces in order to meet this old English professor named C.S. Lewis. I read the book for the book, and I am not sure Filmer is adding much to my like or dislike of the book by trying to find the hidden author behind it all and determine his moral worth.

1 comment:

Dr. Lisa said...

Till we have faces is one of my favorite books! Thanks for reminding me of it.