A Day with Lewis

Winter Break continues, though the end is near.  A few more days of relaxation before I hit the books again in the classroom, or at least direct and teach my students as THEY hit the books.  After a fair bit of sickness last week, I’m starting to feel like my old self again.  Today, after starting the day with  devotional reading, a small breakfast, and grading some papers, I plunged headlong into a reading binge of C.S. Lewis.  For a Christmas present, I received the C.S. Lewis Signature Classics Audio Collection, and had a wonderful time listening to Joss Ackland’s reading of The Screwtape Letters.  I have nearly completed George Sayer’s biography on Lewis, which, although a more intimate account of the man, remains a second to me in favor of Alan Jacobs’ The Narnian.  I am in the middle of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, having just finished up the crew’s adventures with the Dufflepuds.  Finally, I came across a wonderful article by David Downing, “C.S. Lewis Among the Postmodernists” which endeavours to show how this “medieval dinosaur” remains relevant to textual analysis today.  Oh, and throw in a few ideas gleaned from Lewis’s Abolition of Man, and I think that’s it.

This last mention seems almost an appendix to the others, but offers me the most pragmatic and proactive ideas for my teaching career.  I was enamoured of deconstruction and postmodernism as an undergraduate, seeing my understanding of it as the pinnacle of my literary studies.  However, as an English teacher, I can not find a set of theories more destructive to a young student’s imagination and sense of purpose and wonder in life.  Not in the sense of “oh the poor little dears shouldn’t know that, it’ll break their hearts…”  I fully intend to follow my curriculum and show them the origins of this philosophy when we begin modernism, and indeed, perhaps the initial need for this philosophy to develop as a more distinct analytical tool.  However, it would dishonest of me to present these current theories as the be all end all of their cultural reality.  I would reckon even some theorists would argue this point.  The crux of my argument is that postmodernism and its social implications seeks not to build up, but reduce and tear down.  We are reduced by class, gender, race, and politics by postmodernism insurmountable divides.  What might have been necessary as a logical exercise in the 60s is absolute poison to a current generation of young men and women that did not have the luxury of toying with these ideas as possibilities in their youth, but rather are living with the consequences of those ideas in the here and now:  What is right, what is wrong?  Who can say?  (And yet we expect them to obey laws and see everyone as equal.  Huh?)  As teachers, especially those of the liberal arts, our duty is to build up our students as critically thinking individuals, to restore the connections postmodernism has broken down.  We live in a world now where we are all “connected” in some way- politically, socially, morally, or technologically.  The fragmented, alienated track of postmodernism just doesn’t work anymore.  Our students sit at their desks wondering, legitimately, “Is this actually worth anything?  Does it mean something, or nothing at all?”  If a postmodern mindset continues, then its continuous reduction of things gives the answer in the negative.  However, Lewis’s admonition in The Abolition of Man provides a guide against this tendency:

“You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things forever.  The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it.  It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque.  How if you saw through the garden, too?  It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles.  If you see through everything, then everything is transparent.  But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world.  To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”

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