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The New Yorker article on Lewis

The man. The myth.

Re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby rusmeister » 30 Apr 2010, 13:37

If Gopnik (check out the meaning of THAT name in Russian!) couldn't get Chesterton right, what makes you think he could get Lewis right?
"The British are embarassed by Lewis" - a more unreasonably expansive generalization that screams drama queen to me would require a lot of effort to imagine.
His main goal seems to be to say that these men - true giants of faith and intellect - were no better than anyone else (while true in a sense, the effect is to say that they are of greater value than, say, Phil Pullman).

I left his building after the first few paragraphs.
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Re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby larry gilman » 30 Apr 2010, 13:52

Ah, you saw Gopnik's article on Chesterton too? What I noticed is that he wrote essentially the same article about both men. Gopnik's bottom line in both cases: Both CSL and GKC were twisty little jerkoffs who have been amplified into Great Men by the selective memory of their tiny-brained Christian fans. Whatever good there is in either author's writings -- Gopnik particularly admits it in GKC's fiction, which personally I find almost unreadable, outside of the Father Brown stories -- exists despite their stupid religion. If they would have dumped the stupid religion they would have written much better books. Plus, their religion was funny and dumb and stupid. (You get the idea . . .)

What kills me is that the New Yorker, in which a thousand actually good authors would love to publish and many actually do, gives a bully pulpit to Gopnik's mean-spirited, repetitious inaccuracies. Where the hell are their fact-checkers?

The editors are basically just suckers for the myth-buster pose. They understand nothing about the more complex Christianity represented by writers like GKC and CSL but love to see tomatoes thrown at it anyway. I love good secularism (think George Orwell, Walter Kaufmann, many others) but this is just lazy crapola.

Regards,

Larry
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Re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby rusmeister » 30 Apr 2010, 17:47

I claim responsibility for first putting this article onto wikipedia - my knowledge of the Russian term met irritation at Gopnik's middle-brow Chesterton article - I've spent that last several years studying GKC and haven't got to the bottom of him - and claims of anti-semitism really ARE based on surface readings looking for that sort of thing.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gopnik
Since then, a number of people have contributed to and clarified a lot.

It's like watching a man criticising Einstein's work or Dr Johnson's dictionary - the really arrogant thing is his placing himself above and judging two men that were a heckuva lot more humble than he.
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Re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby larry gilman » 30 Apr 2010, 19:57

Yes, Gopnik's shallow charge against GKC of anti-Semitism -- Jew-hating, to use the less polite term -- is irksome. GKC held views on Jewishness that were unquestionably somewhat weird by contemporary standards, but that doesn't make him a Jew-hater. In his context, he was no such thing, and as soon as large-scale, real-world Jew-hating raised its ugly head in Germany he knew it for the enemy and named it as such. Chesterton also, embarrassingly for his latter-day admirers, used the word ":censored:" and could easily be portrayed as a rank racist by selective quotation sauced with historical amnesia, but in Chesterton's formative Victorian/Edwardian British context ":censored:" was not the hate-charged signifier that it has always been in American language: its connotations were frivolous and condescending rather than white-supremacist.

[In editing this piece, I note in Preview that the word ":censored:" is automatically replaced by the string "[censored]." Fascinating! Repulsively, Orwellianly fascinating! As if mere syllables had a magic power and must be banned lest innocent souls be polluted . . . Let me make it clear then that I am talking about the "N word," what in American speech is the two-syllable hate-word for "black person."]

Not to absolve GKC entirely: he was truly brutal in his bitterness toward the Suffragettes, and clung to stubborn oddball rhetoric about Jews and non-whites that is now pretty embarrassing to see in print, though it does not make him a "racist" or anti-Semite. He was, taken all in all, a very great essayist and a decent, gentle chap, and my head lights up like a Christmas tree when I read good Chesterton -- as I've been doing since my preteens, over 35 years.

He was right-on about Eugenics at a time when all progressive, right-thinking folks were wrong about it, but got worse and worse about Evolution after a promising start: I have blogged on this in detail:

http://www.theotherjournal.com/pages/blog-detail.php?category=227&ID=680 (part 1)

http://www.theotherjournal.com/pages/blog-detail.php?category=227&ID=683 (part 2)
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Re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby rusmeister » 01 May 2010, 11:10

larry gilman wrote:Yes, Gopnik's shallow charge against GKC of anti-Semitism -- Jew-hating, to use the less polite term -- is irksome. GKC held views on Jewishness that were unquestionably somewhat weird by contemporary standards, but that doesn't make him a Jew-hater. In his context, he was no such thing, and as soon as large-scale, real-world Jew-hating raised its ugly head in Germany he knew it for the enemy and named it as such. Chesterton also, embarrassingly for his latter-day admirers, used the word ":censored:" and could easily be portrayed as a rank racist by selective quotation sauced with historical amnesia, but in Chesterton's formative Victorian/Edwardian British context ":censored:" was not the hate-charged signifier that it has always been in American language: its connotations were frivolous and condescending rather than white-supremacist.

[In editing this piece, I note in Preview that the word ":censored:" is automatically replaced by the string "[censored]." Fascinating! Repulsively, Orwellianly fascinating! As if mere syllables had a magic power and must be banned lest innocent souls be polluted . . . Let me make it clear then that I am talking about the "N word," what in American speech is the two-syllable hate-word for "black person."]

Not to absolve GKC entirely: he was truly brutal in his bitterness toward the Suffragettes, and clung to stubborn oddball rhetoric about Jews and non-whites that is now pretty embarrassing to see in print, though it does not make him a "racist" or anti-Semite. He was, taken all in all, a very great essayist and a decent, gentle chap, and my head lights up like a Christmas tree when I read good Chesterton -- as I've been doing since my preteens, over 35 years.

He was right-on about Eugenics at a time when all progressive, right-thinking folks were wrong about it, but got worse and worse about Evolution after a promising start: I have blogged on this in detail:

http://www.theotherjournal.com/pages/blog-detail.php?category=227&ID=680 (part 1)

http://www.theotherjournal.com/pages/blog-detail.php?category=227&ID=683 (part 2)

Thanks, Larry, and yes, I've also noticed the same things.
I would say that "bitterness" is not an accurate word to apply to GKC regarding the suffragettes. In general, there was very little that he was actually bitter about. Besides, I sympathize with him 100% because I think he is right on that issue (hope that doesn't embarrass you :) ).

Plus, we live in an era much more similar to the Roman Empire and much less defined by nation-state physical geography and corresponding ethnic homogeneity that had been normal for many centuries, for the simple explanation of easy global travel and relocation. It's harder for us to understand the mindset of people who lived before this globalization - if you have been brought up in it, you will take it for granted - and many automatically judge those who were not brought up in it without thinking about it; assuming and applying the standards of the changed situation we live in today. Gopnik is one such example of a million. GKC was taking a different set of assumptions for granted, and these included not only ethnicity, but the philosophy that had gone along (or was even traditional) with the ethnicity.
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Re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby larry gilman » 03 May 2010, 15:40

Well, Chesterton simply opposed suffrage: he thought that women should not have the vote. He made the claim (debatable) that voting was “unfeminine” (p. 224, What’s Wrong with the World, 1920 Dodd Mead edition) -- made it before and after suffrage was actually achieved, made it eloquently and at length and from a variety of angles and in many books and essays. And to that claim he adjoined the independent and additional assertion that allowing women to vote and run for office was akin to forcing women to vote and run for office -- could be construed as imposing political involvement on women, which would in turn be tantamount to “destroying womanhood” by giving women “unwomanly powers” (same citation) -- i.e., forcing them into the violence and scrum of politics. A more classic form of imprisoning women atop a pedestal could hardly be found. (The higher a pedestal is, the more effective a prison it is.) “I respect you! I adore you! You are far too fine to sully yourself with all this grubby real-world power stuff -- whether you want to or not! Only high atop that pedestal will all your feminine qualities remain safe!”

Despite his never-failing eloquence, all this was profoundly silly even if one were to grant GKC's sweeping essentialist claims about the nature of men and women. Extending the franchise to women did not place one whit of obligation on any individual woman to dump her infant on the floor and rush off to a voting booth or run for high office. And many or most women don’t, fact, bother to do these things. That’s up to them. Before suffrage, it wasn’t up to them. (Though they always could dump the infant on floor, and sometimes did.) That’s the nub. Whatever one thinks of “femininity” (where I disagree with Chesterton) or the limits of voting itself as a form of democratic expression (where I agree with him, as on a thousand other things), to argue that giving women a right would be to impose on them an obligation was illogical and false to fact. But it was the crux of his argument.

The anti-suffragists like GKC wanted to maintain a concrete, legal, sweeping prohibition on women’s direct involvement in politics, a prohibition that some women, whether a majority or not (Chesterton claimed not), thought unjust. The anti-suffragists wanted to prevent certain women from doing something those women wanted to do and that all men could do: the pro-suffragists, on the other hand, wanted to allow those women to do what they wanted to do -- and at the same time never forced any other woman to do or not do that thing. GKC tap-danced very hard and he was always good to watch but in elementary justice there was only one way to go, and I am glad we went it. Voting is a form of power: if there dwells somewhere today a woman who thinks that the exercise of that power is demeaning to her sex, she is as free to not exercise it as she would have been in 1850.

Universal franchise: a panacea for society’s ills? Not even close. But then, no single act of elementary justice is.

PS. The claim of GKC's "bitterness" against Suffragettes I would have to support by quotation, and I clearly have not yet done so. I could, but I admit that so far this is just a bald assertion. But I have to go do some paying work . . .
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Re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby rusmeister » 03 May 2010, 18:49

larry gilman wrote:Well, Chesterton simply opposed suffrage: he thought that women should not have the vote. He made the claim (debatable) that voting was “unfeminine” (p. 224, What’s Wrong with the World, 1920 Dodd Mead edition) -- made it before and after suffrage was actually achieved, made it eloquently and at length and from a variety of angles and in many books and essays. And to that claim he adjoined the independent and additional assertion that allowing women to vote and run for office was akin to forcing women to vote and run for office -- could be construed as imposing political involvement on women, which would in turn be tantamount to “destroying womanhood” by giving women “unwomanly powers” (same citation) -- i.e., forcing them into the violence and scrum of politics. A more classic form of imprisoning women atop a pedestal could hardly be found. (The higher a pedestal is, the more effective a prison it is.) “I respect you! I adore you! You are far too fine to sully yourself with all this grubby real-world power stuff -- whether you want to or not! Only high atop that pedestal will all your feminine qualities remain safe!”

Despite his never-failing eloquence, all this was profoundly silly even if one were to grant GKC's sweeping essentialist claims about the nature of men and women. Extending the franchise to women did not place one whit of obligation on any individual woman to dump her infant on the floor and rush off to a voting booth or run for high office. And many or most women don’t, fact, bother to do these things. That’s up to them. Before suffrage, it wasn’t up to them. (Though they always could dump the infant on floor, and sometimes did.) That’s the nub. Whatever one thinks of “femininity” (where I disagree with Chesterton) or the limits of voting itself as a form of democratic expression (where I agree with him, as on a thousand other things), to argue that giving women a right would be to impose on them an obligation was illogical and false to fact. But it was the crux of his argument.

The anti-suffragists like GKC wanted to maintain a concrete, legal, sweeping prohibition on women’s direct involvement in politics, a prohibition that some women, whether a majority or not (Chesterton claimed not), thought unjust. The anti-suffragists wanted to prevent certain women from doing something those women wanted to do and that all men could do: the pro-suffragists, on the other hand, wanted to allow those women to do what they wanted to do -- and at the same time never forced any other woman to do or not do that thing. GKC tap-danced very hard and he was always good to watch but in elementary justice there was only one way to go, and I am glad we went it. Voting is a form of power: if there dwells somewhere today a woman who thinks that the exercise of that power is demeaning to her sex, she is as free to not exercise it as she would have been in 1850.

Universal franchise: a panacea for society’s ills? Not even close. But then, no single act of elementary justice is.

PS. The claim of GKC's "bitterness" against Suffragettes I would have to support by quotation, and I clearly have not yet done so. I could, but I admit that so far this is just a bald assertion. But I have to go do some paying work . . .

Hi Larry,
By now I by now am a fairly advanced Chestertonian; I've read roughly half of his books, and a significant percentage of his essays and other stuff and am still working through his massive bibliography. I know Chesterton said things you say he said (although you seem to misconstrue some of them); the issue is not there; it's in understanding what he's saying - a similar problem to the one that hyper-sensitive pluralists have in understanding how he viewed Jews and other races.
To boil it down into extreme short, he came to a solid conclusion (as opposed to a mere feeling), broadly speaking, that the vote does not actually represent power. This is where reading his bio (the Maisie ward one, not one of the cheesy critical ones in the Gopnik spirit) would help, and knowing of his relationship with Belloc, and Belloc's experience as an MP which GKC shared vicariously as experience which infused WWWW. If it is true that the vote does not represent power - and I believe it to be true - then it follows that it is not something that women would even want. They only seek it because they believe it represents real power. Thus, you seem to have gone off on a tangent of understanding that fails to grasp what GKC means, because, like Gopnik fans here, you are interpreting what a person of another era said in terms of today's understandings - some of which are false.
(Edit) I suppose we would have to distinguish between types of power; the power of a people to make local decisions that do not affect state power, such as local traffic laws or even of the state to kill a man being one thing, and power in terms of deciding who really determines the policies of a state being another. He didn't deny the former, but definitely affirmed that the appearance of democracy in terms of the latter to be a sham. (I'm just trying to keep it simple.)

Next, one of his main points was that women in the workplace was something that would benefit only a minority of women, who could actually engage in "self-realization", blah blah blah, and would double the workforce, halve the wages, and force the majority of woman, who are ultimately in the lower class, to go and work for McDonald's. that the real beneficiary is not women as a class, but a small group of capitalist business owners, as a much more elite class. The average working class mother DOESN'T feel she has a choice about working. It is only someone from a more insulated class that could imagine otherwise.

It is critical to be aware that in Chesterton's time (and we are talking prior to 1910 here, it really WAS only a tiny minority who cared about and struggled for rights that they imagined represented power they were being denied access to.

I wonder if you understood his point in WWWW in pt 3, ch 8 VIII "The Brand of the Fleur-de-Lis"? http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/boo ... wrong.html

Voting is no longer a form of power in our society. it is in times and places, especially on small scales and when big money isn't involved. But when it is, we are not allowed, as Chesterton says, to vote for what we choose, but only for which we choose. Certainly Chesterton believed so, and so do I. Ergo, on this one point you have deeply misunderstood him, like others have on other issues. It seems Chesterton needs a lot of defending from ideas founded on modern assumptions that don't or can't understand any others.
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