Category Archives: The Inklings

Should You Perceive Meaning in Nature?


If humans can manipulate some aspect of nature—in other words, if humans find a way to perform godlike miracles with the building blocks of, say, biology—does that mean whatever’s manipulable has no meaning? And, implicitly, has no divine origin? Along those lines, I recently found a quotation from one of the Inklings, and I thought the idea was worth wrestling with.

In the 1970s, Owen Barfield—a close friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien— wrote: “Amid all the menacing signs that surround us in the middle of this twentieth century, perhaps the one which fills thoughtful people with the greatest sense of forboding is the growing sense of meaninglessness. It is this which underlies most of the other threats. How is it that the more able man becomes to manipulate the world to his advantage, the less he can perceive any meaning in it?”

Isolate the assumption in that question and convert it into a statement: “The more able man becomes to manipulate the world to his advantage, the less he can perceive any meaning in it.”

I’m inclined to agree, probably because I’ve read enough of Lewis to get an inevitable splash of Barfield, but how true is that statement, really? Is it true often enough, generally enough?

Probably, but then why?

Maybe the more “we” (some group within the human race) find nature manipulable, the more we assume its value is reducible. In other words, maybe humans once assumed nature was set by God in some inviolable way, and when we realized we could manipulate it, suddenly nature seemed violable, therefore less valuable, less absolute, less a reflection of divinity.

The more it can be manipulated, we assume (perhaps unconsciously), the less it must be a creation of a divine power, and if something has less value, it seems to mean less (the way value is applied and understood and designated is a lot to think about). If some divinity made nature, why would mere mortals be able to mess with it?

But along those lines, the ability to manipulate is not a simple either-or situation. It has matters of degree. Should our ability to manipulate nature (a big, abstract ability) be any more surprising than our ability to make a salad from wild vegetables? To make a shelter from trees and branches?

But then there’s that popular Internet meme: “The sciences can tell you how to clone a T-Rex. The humanities can tell you why that might not be a good idea.”

At any rate, I’m not sure Barfield was precisely correct in the above quotation. It could be that, on a popular level, certain assumptions about nature, science, and progress became “viral” before the Internet was part of our daily lives. (Late evangelical thinker Francis Schaeffer, decades before the Internet, once suggested that Americans get their opinions like they catch cold viruses—they’re not sure where they got those opinions, but they certainly got them.) So certain assumptions—and maybe inclinations of attitude—made Western people less likely to perceive meaning, but maybe not less able. Not less able, just less inclined.

Furthermore, whether from a metaphysical point of view or a naturalistic point of view, wouldn’t nature have to be meaningful?

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‘C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Myth of Progress’ — A Podcast Interview


Inklings fans, take note: A recent episode of The Art of Manliness podcast featured an interview with Joseph Loconte, author of A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, & Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18.

The interview with Loconte taught me new things about the way Tolkien and Lewis viewed life and literature. I also was challenged to think more about my deeply held, Western-world belief in the supposedly inevitable outcome called progress.

Speaking of Inklings, you might also be interested in reading Charles Williams’s take on dogmaand watching a short documentary on Owen Barfield.

 

A Look at Unfashionable Philosophy


“Wittgenstein and Barfield disagree on a number of important matters; Barfield wrote that Wittgenstein never attempted historical analysis, and was therefore missing the proper foundation for evaluating language. Curiously, though, they also seem to share some significant ground. Barfield’s understanding of metaphor seems to mirror some of the claims that Wittgenstein makes about ostensive definition, though Barfield would claim that a poet (or, to use Wittgenstein’s language, one who has been inducted into the game of poetry) is able to glean a deeper insight from poetry than Wittgenstein would be willing to allow.”

The Thick of Things

It can be well worth one’s time to read unfashionable philosophy, and doubly so when one is able to read it with a mindfulness of the thinkers that are being celebrated in the modern day. When one does this, questions about the provenance of ideas and human capacities that tend to be held just beneath the surface are able to shoot up into view. Good ideas, and good questions, can be found in many places, and reading those people who are not the toast of the modern academy is an excellent way to be reminded of that fact. This essay puts together two men, one fashionable and the other not, who lived in the same period and, for most of their lives, lived in the same country.

As far as I am aware, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Owen Barfield never met. Barfield knew of Wittgenstein, and mentioned him briefly in one of his essays, but I…

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C.S. Lewis Drank Three Pints of Beer in The Morning — A Letter From Tolkien


In a recent post, David Russell Mosley tries to understand why evangelicals love C.S. Lewis so much—when so much of C.S. Lewis was not evangelical.

After reading the following excerpt from a letter by J.R.R. Tolkien to his son Christopher Tolkien, I not only laughed out loud (for seven years I was a beer columnist for a weekly newspaper), I also found myself a bit amazed at Lewis’s physiological capabilities.

“Lewis is as energetic and jolly as ever, but getting too much publicity for his or any of our tastes. ‘Peterborough’, usually fairly reasonable, did him the doubtful honour of a peculiarly misrepresentative and asinine paragraph in the Daily Telegraph of Tuesday last. It began ‘Ascetic Lewis’–––!!! I ask you! He put away three pints in a very short session we had this morning, and said he was ‘going short for Lent’.”

Wow. Three pints in the morning, and that’s giving up some for Lent.

I wonder if that makes for a jolly day. I’d probably need a nap around lunchtime.

The Inklings and Celtic Mythology


Sorina Higgins writes, “What Tolkien—a Christian writer—did, then, was the opposite of the technique employed by the ninth-century monks who composed ‘The Voyage of St. Brendan’: he took a Christian story and moved it backwards in time, making it a pre-Christian (and thus pagan) story once again.”

Read Higgins’ entire post, beginning beneath the image below; follow the link entitled “The Inklings and Celtic Mythology:”

Oops. I haven’t posted on here in a while. I didn’t finish my series on the “Magnum Opus” Inspector Lewis episode. I haven’t continued my book summaries of CW’s …

Source: The Inklings and Celtic Mythology

 

Philosopher David McNaughton on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien


One of my buds at the university has this excellent website called What Is It Like To Be A Philosopher? It’s devoted to interviews with contemporary philosophers, and the conversational blend of biography and perspective is always fascinating, at least to people like me. I’ve previously posted an excerpt from the interview with Michael Ruse.

In the latest interview, David McNaughton, who like Ruse is a philosopher at Florida State, talks about his love of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Both of these Inklings, especially Lewis, make appearances throughout the interview. (McNaughton doesn’t name Tolkien, but he names The Lord of the Rings as a favorite three times.)

Happy Summertime!

The Late Pat Conroy on God & the Inklings


Margaret Evans, writer and editorial assistant to the late novelist Pat Conroy, within her column “That’s So Conroy:”

Did you know Pat had lately become enamored of fantasy fiction? He was fanatical about George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series, and compared Martin to Shakespeare. He had also discovered C.S. Lewis late in life, and was so enthusiastic about him – and his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien – that he ran the idea by me, about a year ago, of getting a group together to travel to an Inklings weekend in Black Mountain, NC. (How I wish we’d done it.)

You might not know that Pat was very interested in God. Though he didn’t go to church much, he still considered himself Catholic, and he wrestled mightily. During our chats about the Inklings, he once told me he wished he had a writers’ group like that of his own. “Wouldn’t it be great?” he said. “For those guys, the question of God was always on the table. Maybe you struggled with the idea of God. Maybe you rejected it altogether. But the question was always on the table. It mattered, and it mattered a lot. So many writers I know today don’t even address the question. They’re not even God-curious. I still think that’s the difference between a great writer and a merely good writer. Great writers – whether they’re believers or not – are God-haunted.”

Pat Conroy was God-haunted. Maybe you didn’t know….

While out walking in the Cypress Wetlands last week – thinking about Pat, and how he adored this season – a cardinal zoomed across my path at warp speed, eye level, so close to my face I felt the wind on my cheek and heard its whoosh. His feathers may even have brushed my sunglasses; I’m still not sure. It was all so swift and sudden, so frightening and wondrous, I was left shaking as I watched the red bird disappear into the rookery.

They say a cardinal encounter is a visitation from a loved one who has passed….