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Introduction

A study of a book by GK Chesterton.

Re: re: Introduction

Postby Tuirgin » 13 Jan 2006, 19:44

Gabriel Syme wrote:but could you please give me a hint of what he was saying?


Chesterton can be marvelous, and he can also be marvelously confusing depending on how much, I like to imagine, self-gratification he's getting out of his tricksy, paradoxical, word-play.

Basically I read it as this: People who go to the trouble to read a book should take the time to read the title. The title is often a key to interpretation -- a one-line (or 20 line if you're Victorian) poem of the entire work. People may create some grand, unified theory of interpretation which is utterly destroyed if they factor in the title of the work.

In this particular case, some folks interpreted "Sunday" as being God, which would make God out to be something like a Hindu god which is a balance of opposites, and rather a puppet master. The problem with this interp is that it ignores the fact that the subtitle of the book is "A Nightmare". Given that this book is a fictional *nightmare* one would be hard pressed to think that Chesterton both thought of Sunday as God and thought that this was a good thing. Instead, he continues, the book is an account of "wild doubt and despair," though even that is punctured by a faint glimmer of hope "which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion".

Ok... summary:
  • Sunday ≠ God; or even if Sunday = God, it is the "god" of a nightmare, i.e. the pessimists's nightmare.
  • The book is an account of doubt and despair punctured by hope which is found in a double meaning
  • This should be relatively apparent as the book's full title is The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare

Does that help at all?
To read only children's books, treasure / Only childish thoughts, throw / Grown-up things away / And rise from deep sorrows.
-- Osip Mandelshtam, 1908
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re: Introduction

Postby Sven » 13 Jan 2006, 20:54

Excellent analysis, Tuirgin!
Rat! he found breath to whisper, shaking. Are you afraid?
Afraid? murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
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Re: re: Introduction

Postby Tuirgin » 13 Jan 2006, 21:21

Sven wrote:Excellent analysis, Tuirgin!


It's amazing what focus one can have when one is trying to avoid focusing on one's work. ;)
To read only children's books, treasure / Only childish thoughts, throw / Grown-up things away / And rise from deep sorrows.
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Re: re: Introduction

Postby Gabriel Syme » 26 Jan 2006, 17:54

Tuirgin wrote:
Gabriel Syme wrote:but could you please give me a hint of what he was saying?


Chesterton can be marvelous, and he can also be marvelously confusing depending on how much, I like to imagine, self-gratification he's getting out of his tricksy, paradoxical, word-play.

Basically I read it as this: People who go to the trouble to read a book should take the time to read the title. The title is often a key to interpretation -- a one-line (or 20 line if you're Victorian) poem of the entire work. People may create some grand, unified theory of interpretation which is utterly destroyed if they factor in the title of the work.

In this particular case, some folks interpreted "Sunday" as being God, which would make God out to be something like a Hindu god which is a balance of opposites, and rather a puppet master. The problem with this interp is that it ignores the fact that the subtitle of the book is "A Nightmare". Given that this book is a fictional *nightmare* one would be hard pressed to think that Chesterton both thought of Sunday as God and thought that this was a good thing. Instead, he continues, the book is an account of "wild doubt and despair," though even that is punctured by a faint glimmer of hope "which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion".

Ok... summary:
  • Sunday ≠ God; or even if Sunday = God, it is the "god" of a nightmare, i.e. the pessimists's nightmare.
  • The book is an account of doubt and despair punctured by hope which is found in a double meaning
  • This should be relatively apparent as the book's full title is The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare
Does that help at all?


Hi Tuirgin, (and everyone else)
sorry for taking so long... be sure you didn't hurt my reader's pride with your post ;)

However, I'm afraid it did not shake me from the conclusion I had previously reached.
I'll try to explain my idea quickly (unfortunately I have not much free time these days... :/ ):

:read:
1 - as for the image of Sunday (God??) as "puppet master", I think we've been influenced by that crazy cover too much and forgotten that throughout the tale all characters make their decisions and act according to their own free will. Or at least, this impression was very strong on me while I was reading the book.

2 - I still can't make anything out of that "nightmare" thing. I don't really mind being called a "pessimist", but I'm sure that we all experience fear, doubt and at times even despair in our lives and in our "relationship" (not sure that's the right word, but anyway...) with God. Don't we?

3 - Last but not least, to (maybe) take a step back towards the text and away from us readers, what can we make out of Sunday's answer to Gabriel in the final pages, when asked "Have you ever suffered?" he asks in return, "Can you drink of the cup I drank of?" (I'm quoting by heart, so please forget possible minor inaccuracies here).
I don't think I'll ever be able to see that cup as different from Jesus'. Does anybody have a different interpretation to give about that?

God bless you all,
Gabriel
In our school, on a wall, there is a big writing, saying «I care». It is the untranslatable motto of the best among young Americans. It means: «I AM interested in it; it is dear to me». That's the exact opposite of the fascist motto, «I don't care». (Lorenzo Milani, priest. Lettera ai giudici; 1965)
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re: Introduction

Postby Sarah N. » 27 Jan 2006, 02:01

Here is what Chesterton himself wrote about The Man Who Was Thursday in his Autobiography. I appoligize in advance for the long quote (the part in italics (mine) I added as a background to what he was saying, and it can be skipped easily.)


G. K. Chesterton wrote:When I look back on these things, and indeed on my life generally,
the thing that strikes me most is my extraordinary luck.
I have already pleaded for the merits of the Moral Tale;
but it is against all the proper principles that even any such
measure of good fortune should have come to the Idle Apprentice.
In the case of my association with Hodder Williams, it was
against all reason that so unbusinesslike a person should have
so businesslike a friend. In the case of the choice of a trade,
it was outrageously unjust that a man should succeed in becoming
a journalist merely by failing to become an artist. I say a trade
and not a profession; for the only thing I can say for myself,
in connection with both trades, is that I was never pompous about them.
If I have had a profession, at least I have never been a professor.
But in another sense there was about these first stages an element
of luck, and even of accident. I mean that my mind remained
very much abstracted and almost stunned; and these opportunities
were merely things that happened to me, almost like calamities.
To say that I was not ambitious makes it sound far too like a virtue,
when it really was a not very disgraceful defect; it was that curious
blindness of youth which we can observe in others and yet never explain
in ourselves. But, above all, I mention it here also because it
was connected with the continuity of that unresolved riddle
of the mind, which I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter.
The essential reason was that my eyes were turned inwards rather
than outwards; giving my moral personality, I should imagine,
a very unattractive squint. I was still oppressed with
the metaphysical nightmare of negations about mind and matter,
with the morbid imagery of evil, with the burden of my own mysterious
brain and body; but by this time I was in revolt against them;
and trying to construct a healthier conception of cosmic life,
even if it were one that should err on the side of health.

I even called myself an optimist, because I was so horribly
near to being a pessimist. It is the only excuse I can offer.
All this part of the process was afterwards thrown up in the very formless
form of a piece of fiction called The Man Who Was Thursday. The title
attracted some attention at the time; and there were many journalistic
jokes about it. Some, referring to my supposed festive views,
affected to mistake it for "The Man Who Was Thirsty." Others naturally
supposed that Man Thursday was the black brother of Man Friday.
Others again, with more penetration, treated it as a mere title out
of topsy-turveydom; as if it had been "The Woman Who Was Half-past Eight,"
or "The Cow Who Was Tomorrow Evening." But what interests me
about it was this; that hardly anybody who looked at the title ever
seems to have looked at the sub-title; which was "A Nightmare,"
and the answer to a good many critical questions.

I pause upon the point here, because it is of some importance
to the understanding of that time. I have often been asked what I
mean by the monstrous pantomime ogre who was called Sunday in
that story; and some have suggested, and in one sense not untruly,
that he was meant for a blasphemous version of the Creator.
But the point is that the whole story is a nightmare of things,
not as they are, but as they seemed to the young half-pessimist
of the '90s; and the ogre who appears brutal but is also cryptically
benevolent is not so much God, in the sense of religion
or irreligion, but rather Nature as it appears to the pantheist,
whose pantheism is struggling out of pessimism. So far as the story
had any sense in it, it was meant to begin with the picture
of the world at its worst and to work towards the suggestion
that the picture was not so black as it was already painted.
I explained that the whole thing was thrown out in the nihilism of
the '90s in the dedicatory lines which I wrote to my friend Bentley,
who had been through the same period and problems; asking rhetorically:
"Who shall understand but you?" In reply to which a book-reviewer
very sensibly remarked that if nobody understood the book except
Mr. Bentley, it seemed unreasonable to ask other people to read it.

But I speak of it here because, though it came at the beginning
of the story, it was destined to take on another meaning before
the end of it. Without that distant sequel, the memory may appear
as meaningless as the book; but for the moment I can only leave on
record here the two facts to which I managed somehow and in some sense
to testify. First, I was trying vaguely to found a new optimism,
not on the maximum but the minimum of good. I did not so much
mind the pessimist who complained that there was so little good.
But I was furious, even to slaying, with the pessimist who asked
what was the good of good. And second, even in the earliest
days and even for the worst reasons, I already knew too much
to pretend to get rid of evil. I introduced at the end one figure
who really does, with a full understanding, deny and defy the good.
Long afterwards Father Ronald Knox told me, in his whimsical manner,
that he was sure that the rest of the book would be used to prove
that I was a Pantheist and a Pagan, and that the Higher Critics
of the future would easily show that the episode of the Accuser
was an interpolation by priests.

This was not the case; in fact it was quite the other way.
At this time I should have been quite as annoyed as anybody
else for miles round, if I had found a priest interfering
with my affairs or interpolating things in my manuscript.
I put that statement into that story, testifying to the extreme evil
(which is merely the unpardonable sin of not wishing to be pardoned),
not because I had learned it from any of the million priests
whom I had never met, but because I had learned it from myself.
I was already quite certain that I could if I chose cut myself
off from the whole life of the universe. My wife, when asked
who converted her to Catholicism, always answers, "the devil".

But all that was so long afterwards, that it has no relation
to the groping and guesswork philosophy of the story in question.
I would much rather quote a tribute from a totally different type of man,
who was nevertheless one of the very few men who, for some reason
or other, have ever made head or tail of this unfortunate romance
of my youth. He was a distinguished psychoanalyst, of the most modern
and scientific sort. He was not a priest; far from it; we might say,
like the Frenchman asked if he had lunched on the boat, "au contraire".
He did not believe in the Devil; God forbid, if there was any God
to forbid. But he was a very keen and eager student of his own subject;
and he made my hair stand on end by saying that he had found my
very juvenile story useful as a corrective among his morbid patients;
especially the process by which each of the diabolical anarchs
turns out to be a good citizen in disguise. "I know a number
of men who nearly went mad," he said quite gravely, "but were saved
because they had really understood The Man Who Was Thursday."
He must have been rather generously exaggerative; he may have been
mad himself, of course; but then so was I. But I confess it flatters
me to think that, in this my period of lunacy, I may have been
a little useful to other lunatics.


Hope this helps,

Sarah
Live in the world as if only God and your soul were in it; then your heart will never be made captive by any earthly thing. ~ St. John of the Cross

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Re: re: Introduction

Postby lee_merrill » 29 Jan 2006, 19:04

This is very good! and confirms some of what I had thought and understood, and contradicts some other thoughts and ideas I had had.

I will now have to revise my thoughts about TMWWT being an exposition of Orthodoxy! Rather, it seems that TMWWT has seeds in it that produced the bloom of the other book...

Blessings,
Lee
"As Macdonald said, 'No one loves because he sees reason, but because he loves.'" (C.S. Lewis)
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re: Introduction

Postby Gabriel Syme » 29 Jan 2006, 22:46

Oyessindeed!!!
:shocked:
It was great to have the possibility of reading that. Not at all easy, but really interesting.
HUGE thanks Sarah for posting it!
I don't think you need to apologize for that... ;)

God bless you all,
Gabriel
In our school, on a wall, there is a big writing, saying «I care». It is the untranslatable motto of the best among young Americans. It means: «I AM interested in it; it is dear to me». That's the exact opposite of the fascist motto, «I don't care». (Lorenzo Milani, priest. Lettera ai giudici; 1965)
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Postby Cymru » 21 Feb 2007, 22:39

I just spotted a book in a Barnes and Noble over the weekend called "The book that changed my life." Each chapter is a different author/statesman who talks about the book that changed their life. I was both delighted and surprised to see that Anne Perry wrote about Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday. Her chapter was so rife with specific Chestertonian language that I suspect she has read much more of him than just this title. She just couldn't say enough good about it. Since my supervisor at work is a huge Perry fan (she got me into her books) I was telling her about it and she immediately said of TMWWT, "I have to read that now!"
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Postby john » 06 Apr 2007, 09:35

Is this study still happening?
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Ask TBSJ, Dr. Z

Postby Kanakaberaka » 06 Apr 2007, 19:09

john wrote:Is this study still happening?


I've tried to get Johnnie to finish this study since last year, Doc. He only has half a chapter left to finish. I know that he's been quite busy since then, but I'm sure he has enough time to wrap things up. Would you want me to ask him about it again, Dr. Z?
so it goes...
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Postby The Bigsleep J » 07 Apr 2007, 12:01

john wrote:Is this study still happening?


In a sense, yes, and in a sense, no: I've just posted the final entry.
Insert supposedly witty but random absurd comment here and add water
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Postby john » 03 Jul 2007, 00:16

Okee dokee! It's been long enough since the final post that I am now locking and archiving this forum. Thanks to everybody who participated!
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