Saturday, June 07, 2008

C S Lewis on seeing the world through other men's eyes

I'm grateful for Christianity at the Movies' e-letter for alerting me to the following quote, in which C S Lewis basically follows through on Paul's comments about being a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks (my rough paraphrase), and shows that the arts can help us understand (but not necessarily agree with) the mind that doesn't have a Christian worldview.
In his book, An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis writes, "We therefore delight to enter into other men's beliefs ... even though we think them untrue. And into their passions, though we think them depraved ... And also into their imaginations, though they lack all realism of content."

[Lewis is writing mostly in the context of reading books and poetry, but his thoughts on criticism apply just as well to film—or any art form, for that matter. He continues:] "This must not be understood as if I were making the literature of power once more into a department which existed to gratify our rational curiosity about other people's psychology. It is not a question of knowing (in that sense) at all. It is connaĆ®tre not savoir; it is erleben; we become these other selves. Not only nor chiefly in order to see what they are like but in order to see what they see, to occupy, for a while, their seat in the great theatre, to use their spectacles and be made free of whatever insights, joys, terrors, wonders, or merriment those spectacles reveal ...

"This, so far as I can see, is the specific value or good of literature considered as Logos; it admits us to experiences other than our own. ... Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors." [Or, I might add, movie directors.] "We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less of a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through the eyes of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. ... In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do."

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