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Ch 0b: Preface to TDI

For the Medieval Dinosaur in all of us.

Ch 0b: Preface to TDI

Postby Stanley Anderson » 24 Jan 2007, 16:44

The preface to The Discarded Image (TDI) has an interesting and very curious, almost self-referential aspect to it. The whole book itself can be seen as a sort of preface to enjoying Medieval literature. And Lewis makes this very point in the preface to this “Medieval Preface” – ie, that the purpose of such prefaces is NOT to lead the reader OUT of the literature they are diving into, but to help lead them INTO the work. Some people intentionally avoid reading introductions and prefaces in order to meet the text “fresh” without any preconceptions, and that may have value in certain cases. But Lewis here is arguing that this entire book, as a preface to Medieval literature is meant not only to help lead “in” to Medieval literature, but in fact may even help the avoid preconceptions that the reader may not even be aware of consciously.

It is interesting that Lewis gave somewhat the same description of “purpose” (in part at least) to his Narnian books, saying that they were his attempt to get “past watchful dragons” of religious pre-conceptions that make entering a church weary and wary for many people who see the stained glass windows and liturgy as stifling to worship rather than inviting. One could say that the Narnian books themselves are, like TDI is to Medieval literature, a sort of preface to Christianity that help lead one “in”.

It is typical of Lewis that even in something as potentially dry and boring as a preface, he can include a delightfully clear little illustration of looking at a map before a trip, rather than during the trip to make his point. This is the sort of thing that makes reading Lewis such a joy and enlightening experience – often the reader can’t help but say “of course”, even if he might still disagree with the point being made. That, coupled with the firm yet gentle grace with which Lewis makes his points gives his writing such a wide audience, I think.

I mentioned in the introduction one aspect of this study was to find examples of the things Lewis talks about in TDI in his other works, especially the Narnian books and the Space Trilogy. I’ve already mentioned an example in the second paragraph above. As a (very) side note, in connection with the map illustration above, I suddenly think of the magical map in VDT. In this case it serves an almost opposite purpose to the map illustration in the preface to TDI. In that illustration, Lewis talks about the usefulness of looking at the map before the journey rather than during the journey, but the “purpose” of the magical map in VDT is exclusively to look at it after the journey – or at most just a bit after each point of progress – since it only revealed its mapping as or after each place has been visited for real.

Another interesting contrast is that Lewis describes his TDI map as a “tolerable (though incomplete) outfit”, whereas the magical map is apparently as complete as the real thing, since the closer you look at it, the more detail you see, presumably even at microscopic levels. And this leads me to another idea that I wanted to bring up in connection with things Medieval, and though Lewis doesn’t mention it specifically (perforce, as will be seen) in TDI, in my opinion, it permeates both Medieval thought and Lewis’ writing in general. This idea is the modern mathematical concept (“oh no – here he goes”:-) of fractals. It can be a complex subject to get into, but in general, fractals are structures or designs that have complexity and structure at every level or resolution that you look at them (one can find many beautiful fractal images from the standard mathematical “Mandelbrot Set” on the internet with a Google search. Medieval architecture with its “arches within arches” and intricate cathedral structures are other “aesthetic” examples of this concept -- below is an example. And as we shall see later, even much medieval literature exhibits something of this quality)

Image

So, for instance, the magical map in Dawn Treader is an almost perfect example of a fractal – it has a map-like look from a normal viewing level. But unlike a normal map that loses its usefulness or structure at some point when trying to look at a small section, the magical map keeps showing structure and detail no matter how “far down” you go in magnification. As we shall see as we get further into TDI, this is akin to much of what appealed to the Medieval mindset.

One of the almost prophetic things about Lewis is that even though Chaos Theory and the concept of Fractals was not developed until the 1970’s he (along with Charles Williams) have pretty accurate descriptions of the ideas in their books. In Lewis we can see it almost explicitly stated in the description of the Malacandrian art that Ransom sees on the hammer and gong that Augray strikes near the island of Meldilorn in OSP. The idea is also very prominent in the description of the Great Dance at the end of Perelandra. Very akin to the Great Dance and its fractal quality is the “further up and further in” quality of the New Narnia in LB. And we see something of this idea in much of the landscape (both on the fixed land and the floating islands) of Perelandra, and even things like the LWW Wardrobe and the LB stable and the MN Wood-between-the-Worlds where worlds-within-worlds images abound.

Anyway, since the formal concept of fractals had not yet been developed when Lewis wrote TDI, it is not something we can point to very directly, but I am in awe of his apparent anticipation of the idea whether subconsciously or not. Even the idea of a preface within a preface as I have described above has a very fractal-like flavour, and I can’t help thinking Lewis was very aware of that flavour, even if he didn’t have a name for it (but wait until we get to chapter V before drawing that conclusion!) when he wrote the preface to TDI.

Just to add another connection to Lewis’ other works, this preface seems, in another sense, to accomplish the same kind of introduction that the preface to THS does – ie, in THS’s preface Lewis cautions the reader about what to expect from the book so that someone picking up the book who does not like fairy tales will not begin reading it under false pretenses. And in TDI preface he describes the sort of person the book is and is not written for and concludes “…I was writing for the other sort”.

And about the “sort” that he was not writing for – ie, the “travelers who carry their resolute Englishry with them all over the Continent” – I think we can see Lewis having a bit of fun with this type of “narrow-sighted” person in several characters in his books. I think Uncle Andrew, Weston on Malacandra, and several others (even sometimes the “good guys”) exhibit this characteristic in various degrees.

Finally, Lewis says at the beginning that the book is based on a series of lectures he gave at Oxford. What I wouldn’t have given to have been able to attend those lectures!

--Stanley
Last edited by Stanley Anderson on 29 May 2007, 22:16, edited 1 time in total.
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
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Postby Sven » 24 Jan 2007, 21:55

I haven't reread my copy of The Personal Heresy recently, but the Preface of TDI reminds me of that book. Like all proper debates, that one was to uncover truth, not win a victory for a certain viewpoint. My impression is that the Preface of TDI elegantly sums up the 'truth' Lewis and Tilyard came to in the end of that debate.
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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Postby Stanley Anderson » 24 Jan 2007, 23:05

Sven wrote:I haven't reread my copy of The Personal Heresy recently, but the Preface of TDI reminds me of that book. Like all proper debates, that one was to uncover truth, not win a victory for a certain viewpoint. My impression is that the Preface of TDI elegantly sums up the 'truth' Lewis and Tilyard came to in the end of that debate.


So how did you come about your copy of A Personal Heresy? It is apparently hard to find and expensive when you do (or maybe Karen has the secret cheap source?:-).

If its not too out of place (heck that's what this particular thread is sort of for in the first place:-), and not to difficult, can you summarize what that 'truth' was that they came to at the end of that debate (or is the TDI preface a good enough summary?:-). You've got me curious...

--Stanley
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
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Postby Sven » 24 Jan 2007, 23:51

I got it through ABE a few years ago, for a price I still shiver a bit to recall.

I don't think I can summarize the conclusion of The Personal Heresy, really. Even if I had the skills to translate the discussion into a less technical language (and I don't!), I think it would be disrespectful to the authors. I should say what I'm calling the 'truth' wasn't something they agreed on at the end, rather my perception was, as they presented arguments and responses in the alternating essays, they seemed to come close to agreement on the relationship between reader, the poetry, and the poet. The Preface to TDI seems to me to be an excellent, simplified presentation of what I took to be that 'close to agreement'.

The debate is a joy to read if for no other reason than to see disagreement done the way it should be done.

E. M. W. Tillyard wrote:It is a pleasure to have ended on a note of agreement. Yet Mr. Lewis is an admirable person to disagree with; and I incline to admire his arguments as much when they seem wrong as when the seem right. He is, indeed, the best kind of opponent, good to agree with when one can, and for an enemy as courteous as he is honest and uncompromising; the kind of opponent with whom I should gladly excange armour after a parley, even if I cannot move my tent to the ground where his own is pitched.
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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Postby Leslie » 25 Jan 2007, 03:09

Always glad when fractals can be brought into the conversation! You've hit on a very interesting notion about Lewis and fractals -- something that I'll keep in mind in all my Lewis reading, just to see how far it can be taken.

When I think of Lewis and maps, I picture him poring over topographical maps of English countryside for his walking holidays. He would have loved to have a magical map, I think (all hikers would!) that starts out with a panoramic view, and then lets you zoom in on details -- something like Google Earth, perhaps (what would he have thought of that, I wonder?)
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Postby girlfreddy » 25 Jan 2007, 03:43

Strange Leslie, but I was kind of wondering the same thing. I think Lewis would have been overjoyed, to a certain extent, but kind of unhappy in another. He would have loved what you can see, but I think he would also be somewhat disappointed that our imaginations seem to have little or no use these days. If we want to see the Taj Mahal, we can, but we don't have to travel. We miss out on the trip. And IMO, I think the trip was very important to Jack. I think it's one of the reasons he wrote, 'cause people could go on a trip with him.

Then again, I could just be whisling' Dixie! :wink:
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Postby Stanley Anderson » 25 Jan 2007, 19:10

Leslie wrote:Always glad when fractals can be brought into the conversation! You've hit on a very interesting notion about Lewis and fractals -- something that I'll keep in mind in all my Lewis reading, just to see how far it can be taken.


Just to give my favourite example (and the passage that started me thinking of the idea in the first place) concretely, here is the description he gives of Ransom looking at the gong and hammer when he and Augray reach the lake where Meldilorn lies:

...they found a gong and hammer hung on a pillar of stone. These objects were all richly decorated, and the gong and hammer were of a greenish blue metal which Ransom did not recognize. Augray struck the gong. An excitement was rising in Ransom's mind which almost prevented him from examining as coolly as he wished the ornamentation of the stone. It was partly pictorial, partly pure decoration. What chiefly struck him was a certain balance of packed and empty surfaces. Pure line drawings, as bare as the prehistoric pictures of reindeer on Earth, alternated with patches of design as close and intricate as Norse or Celtic jewellery; and then, as you looked at it, these empty and crowded areas turned out to be themselves arranged in larger designs. He was struck by the fact that the pictorial work was not confined to the emptier spaces; quite often large arabesques included as a subordinate detail intricate pictures. Elsewhere the opposite plan had been followed -- and this alteration, too, had a rhythmical or patterned element in it. He was just beginning to find out that the pictures, though stylized, were obviously intended to tell a story, when Augray interrupted him.


This is about as perfect an "aesthetic" description of fractals as one is likely to find anywhere, I think. There is a more intense and equally "accurate" aesthetic description of this fractal quality, as I mentioned earlier, in the Great Dance scene at the end of Perelandra -- it is almost literally a verbal description of looking at a variety of zoom levels of the beautiful images from the Mandelbrot set that one can find on the internet or books on fractals and Chaos Theory. But it is way too lengthy to type out here of course.


...something like Google Earth, perhaps (what would he have thought of that, I wonder?)


Loved it in one sense, I'm sure, but perhaps also a bit disappointed too, in the sense of how he describes the false pursuit of Joy where, when you actually cross the valley to get to that far hillside that seemed to call forth those pangs of Joy, you find when you get there that this isn't it and that something else deeper was creating the longing. That far hillside, when you reach it is very beautiful and worth standing on to be sure, but it is still missing something that was sought initially.

That's sort of what I feel when I look at Google maps -- I love looking around on it, but when I get to the highest resolution and see the rooftops or bushes (even the benches in the garden in our back yard are visible on it!), I'm excited, and I love it, and I want to search for more things, and it is simply wonderful...and yet...somehow it is a little disappointing. Not sure exactly why, but it's something to do with reaching the "end" and not being able to go further -- as though I want that "inifinite" quality that true mathematical fractals (or the universe itself, I guess) have.

By the way, we'll see more of these sorts of ideas further in TDI.

--Stanley
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
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Postby Stanley Anderson » 25 Jan 2007, 19:14

girlfreddy wrote:Strange Leslie, but I was kind of wondering the same thing. I think Lewis would have been overjoyed, to a certain extent, but kind of unhappy in another. He would have loved what you can see, but I think he would also be somewhat disappointed that our imaginations seem to have little or no use these days. If we want to see the Taj Mahal, we can, but we don't have to travel. We miss out on the trip. And IMO, I think the trip was very important to Jack. I think it's one of the reasons he wrote, 'cause people could go on a trip with him.

Then again, I could just be whisling' Dixie! :wink:


I didn't read your post before I replied to Leslie above. I think we are saying very similar things in parts of my post to her above.

--Stanley
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
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Postby Leslie » 25 Jan 2007, 23:30

I seem to be getting old and forgetful -- I've just remembered I had a conversation with our old friend J.S. a few years ago about fractal imagery in The Great Divorce. I'm thinking of the part where the narrator is asking George Macdonald why Sarah Smith, formerly of Golders Green, did not descend into hell to rescue her husband from damnation:
'But she didn't go down with him to Hell. She didn't even see him off by the bus.'

'Where would ye have had her go?'

'Why, where we all came from by that bus. The big gulf, beyond the edge of the cliff. Over there. You can't see it from here, but you must know the place I mean.'

My Teacher gave a curious smile. 'Look,' he said, and with the word he went down on his hands and knees. I did the same (how it hurt my knees!) and presently saw that he had plucked a blade of grass. Using its thin end as a pointer, he made me see, after I had looked very closely, a crack in the soil so small that I could not have identified it without this aid.

'I cannot be certain,' he said, 'that this is the crack ye came up through. But through a crack no bigger than that ye certainly came.'

'But--but,' I gasped with a feeling of bewilderment not unlike terror, 'I saw an infinite abyss. And cliffs towering up and up. And then this country on top of the cliffs.'

'Aye. But the voyage was not mere locomotion. That bus, and all you inside it, were increasing in size.

'Do you mean then that Hell--all that infinitely empty town--is down in some little crack like this?'

'Yes. All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World. Look at yon butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or have any taste.'


The conversation continues, but that's the gist of it as far as fractal-ness goes.

Then there is Lewis' speculation about the nature of time, and that perhaps eternity (for us, not for God) is not so much the absence of time as it is depth and breadth. I can't remember where it is, but he compares time to a line, and eternity to a three-dimensional solid. So eternity is, perhaps, not so much travelling along an endless line as it is delving deeply into the solid body. And that makes me think of Zeno's race paradox, where each fragment of time can be subdivided further, so that Achilles can never catch up to the tortoise to which he gave a generous headstart.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeno's_par ... e_tortoise

Well, I've wandered far from medieval thought, unless we can dig up a medieval reference to Zeno.
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Postby Stanley Anderson » 26 Jan 2007, 16:02

Leslie wrote:...that makes me think of Zeno's race paradox, where each fragment of time can be subdivided further, so that Achilles can never catch up to the tortoise to which he gave a generous headstart.


I suppose there might be an interesting analogy there with the Fall. What do you think? Eve's succumbing to the serpent's suggestion of trying to become like God was a sort of "breaking" of the continuity of God's creation so that she (and Adam with her of course) was, like Zeno's Achilles, always infinitely trying to "catch up" to God rather than simply being in his presence. Hmmm...kind of stretching a point I suppose, but interesting to think about -- and now I'm wondering how Christ's sacrifice and Resurrection would fit into the analogy. Perhaps it is the Calculus that resolves the infinite regress? (ok, ok, back off, Stan:-)

Well, I've wandered far from medieval thought, unless we can dig up a medieval reference to Zeno.


Well, the very page you linked to (or the sub-page of Zeno's paradox linked from that page at least) makes this comment: "Zeno's paradoxes were a major problem for ancient and medieval philosophers, who found most proposed solutions somewhat unsatisfactory". Also, as Lewis will talk about later in the book (chapter V -- the best of the lot!:-) the differences between the Classical "finite" view of the universe and the Romantic "seemingly infinite" view may come into play here a bit.

--Stanley
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
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Postby Stanley Anderson » 29 Jan 2007, 14:14

By the way, I can't believe I forgot to mention earlier a key exemple of the idea of fractals in Lewis (fractality? fractalness?, fractalicity?:-).

It is, according to Lewis in Surprised by Joy, one of his very first remembered instances of Joy, the miniature garden in the tin that his brother Warnie made. The whole idea of complexiity and structure at different levels and worlds within worlds perhaps began here, and we see a sort of re-creation of it throughout his works, some of which I mentioned above. And I'll mention, since it seems pretty directly related to the garden in the tin, the "tiny" world that Ransom walks through on the fixed land after healing from fighting the Unman on his way to meet Tor and Tinidril. There he wades through plants that are like a miniature forest with tiny animals running through it.

This all problably seems to be getting wide of the subject of TDI, but I think we will see quite a bit of the suggestion of this sort of imagery in the things Lewis writes about the Medieval cosmology and mindset.

--Stanley
(I just now went back to add a hypen to the word re-creation to distinguish it from recreation (ie play), but it strikes me that perhaps even the very idea of recreation as both play and re-creation are a sort of fractal quality of man's very nature? hmmm...)
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
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Postby sehoy » 31 Jan 2007, 17:10

I'm glad you are doing this. I will follow along from memory. May have to re-purchase the book, as penance. :blush:
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They're fractally everywhere!

Postby Stanley Anderson » 01 Feb 2007, 14:14

Just for a sort of exhaustive list (as they occur to me), I thought I would mention that another sort of fractal-inclining idea in LWW that pervades even time itself is the aspect of whole timelines in Narnia existing within seconds or minutes (or whatever) in our own as when Lucy first arrives back from Narnia and then later when all the children come back.

I suppose it would be very appropriate if this forum were in the old style thread view since that is an example of a very fractal-ish process.

--Stanley
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
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Postby Rosie Cotton » 03 Feb 2007, 20:23

Just sticking my nose in the classroom door -- may I listen in the back? I'm reading the book along with you, but am shy about adding comments. Beside, unfortunately, I'm a bit like the person in the preface:
...sensitive people may even come to regard scholarship as a baleful thing which is always taking you out of the literature itself.
I had to laugh when I read that, cause in school I just wanted to enjoy reading the books, and trying to analyse it and enjoy at the same time just didn't work.
... and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.
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Postby Stanley Anderson » 03 Feb 2007, 20:50

Rosie Cotton wrote:Just sticking my nose in the classroom door -- may I listen in the back? I'm reading the book along with you, but am shy about adding comments.


I'll just re-quote one of my comments in the Welcome thread: "And please, please, don’t think your comments have to reach some level of profundity to be postable here. Lighthearted or heavy, wild conjecture or deep contemplation, long-winded or short one-line title posts, or anything between and around -- any comments are always welcome."

--Stanley
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
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