Saturday, June 17, 2006

Walter Wangerin

When books work well, it isn't just that we memorise them and then, by our will and our personal wisdom, shape our lives to follow them. Rather, when books work for us, we begin to walk beside the mind that created the book. That mind may be so much wiser than ours, but we walk beside it until soon we are walking like that one.

The question becomes, Who is going to teach you both how to interpret the world around you, to see it in small, and to come to a true understanding of it, organising the context in which you live? A child enters the world and really doesn't make sense of it but lives in sort of a senselessness of existence. The kid first begins to know her little house and her parents, and they become the whole world to that child. You pull a child apart from that house and that well-ordered nicely-constructed, beloved family, and the kid is lost - literally lost. As the child gets older, it becomes the child's business to read the events and the details of the universe in such a way that she puts them together so that they make sense.

So the question becomes, Who are you going to allow to become your 'heaper into heaps' and your 'piler into piles [as the old Sanskrit meaning of the word 'poet' has it]? Who will shape the world that you enter into and dwell in? Are you going to allow football to do that, so all the world is seen in a contest? Are you going to allow simpleminded understandings - like the cartoons, newspapers or the government - do that for you? Or are you going to enter into the sweet complexity of minds, this living treasure of singers and writers who embrace more details with greater richness of beauty, deeper understanding of what is truly evil, what is good and what is the precession of human experience?

You want the minds of those who have created whole cultures of insight. The more complexly we see the world, the more capable we are of admitting many people into that world - people who are not like us. Books open our eyes to the complex truths that simple, mindless stories simply have no names for. So why not pick the best?

I don't mind the people who read romances, but that's formula fiction. It repeats the same world over and over again, and it's a profoundly limited world. And every one of the people who loves romantic fiction has a mind better than the world that it shapes. We call that escapism. Gerard Manley Hopkins offers his poetry as inscapism - to escape into things, truly, not escape from them.That's the influence of great books; they teach us how to see the world that is.

From chapter 19 of Indelible Ink - 22 international Christian writers discuss the books that shape their faith, published by CWR 2

Friday, June 16, 2006

Churchill and Galbraith

It’s been a long time since I last added anything to this blog – a situation that I suspect happens to many blogs after the initial enthusiasm – but I was struck by a quote from Winston Churchill when reading Os Guinness’s book, Prophetic Untimeliness, today. The wonderful use of language and irony is typical of Churchill.

In 1936, when the Stanley Baldwin government called for a review of the situation, Churchill commented acidly,
‘Anyone can see what the situation is: the Government simply cannot make up their mind, or they cannot get the Prime Minister to make up his mind. So they go on in a strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent.’

A few months ago we caught most of a one-off television biopic of Churchill (called The Gathering Storm) which covered those ‘wilderness years’ when he was abandoned by the Government and given little part to play in England’s future. Albert Finney did the cigar-chomping with great gusto and also expressed the immense hurt that Churchill felt at being ousted from the work he loved. It was also interesting to see the close relationship he had with his wife (played with great grace and stature by Vanessa Redgrave), something that’s seldom thought about in regard to Churchill.

It’s a very peculiar feeling that the older you get, the less old you actually feel inside. I guess there was a time when I felt older as a person, but now oldness seems a non-existent thing. Inside, I don’t sense myself as being any different to when I was a child. I’m the same person – in a different-sized and shaped body, and one that certainly isn’t as flexible as I’d like – and I find it hard to distinguish anything different about the way I was (as opposed to way the I perceived the world) to the way I am now.

I can remember certain events in my childhood, and remember a greater physical freedom at that time, but the person was still the same me. Somehow he hasn’t aged, anymore than, if it were possible to go backwards in time, I would become younger.

Just noticed a quote from J K Galbraith (it was in the NZ Listener):
If wrinkles must be written upon our brows, let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should never grow old.