Thursday, 15 September 2011

Modernity and the blurring of approved concepts: poetry, books, creativity


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One important way in which modernity subverts The Good is by blurring approved concepts until they become inclusive of the anti-Good: until approval embraces that which is hostile to The Good.

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It used to be said that Good books were good, but it was recognized that not all books were Good.

Some books were bad, and it was often better not to read bad books, or to read them cautiously.

Now, however, the mainstream view is that books as such are good, and buying and reading books is something to be encouraged – the implicit idea is that reading books can do you nothing-but-good.

So (in the UK) we have a national 'book day', with no discrimination between Good and bad books.

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A more specific literary example is poetry. In the days when then there was real poetry, there was always discrimination between Good and bad poetry – between beautiful, moral and true poetry which had an edifying effect; and on the other hand ugly, immoral and/ or dishonest poetry which had (if any effect) a degrading effect.

Now, when there are (by past standards) no real poets and no real poetry in the public realm; poetry has become promoted as good-in-itself: so, of course, we have a national 'poetry day' now, and public display of – err – ‘award winning’ words printed in short lines (which is what gets called poetry nowadays).

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And the same applies to human attributes. Creativity used to be regarded as Good when it was divinely inspired, but evil when it was demonically inspired.

But now creativity is always regarded positively; no matter what its motivation, honesty or consequences.

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This trend began with the romantic movement, more than 200 years ago; and was dissected by Thomas Mann in an interesting (but, I find, almost unreadable) novel called Doktor Faustus in which a German composer deliberately infects himself with syphilis in order to attain a demonic frenzy to inspire and energize his composition – in effect to boost his creativity and originality.

The novel is an allegory of Nazism – and the pact with the devil which gave Germany a decade of tremendous creative energy and optimism – the price of which was the near-complete destruction, distortion and emasculation of German culture (by a further demonic reaction-against the whole German spirit; which had supported many of the great achievements of modernity).

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The allegory is applicable to the West in general, especially since the mid-1960s, when we sold what remained of our souls in return for that demonic frenzy of hedonic nihilism (systematic promotion of the anti-Good) that is contemporary ‘culture’.

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C.S Lewis foresaw this in Screwtape Proposes a Toast – he foresaw that words like ‘democracy’ and ‘education’ would be expanded to be used as a battering-ram against The Good in general and Christianity in particular.

The process has gone so far by now that coherent reasoning is impossible when the concepts involved – such as ‘immigration’, ‘racism’, ‘social justice’, ‘poverty’, ‘torture’, ‘tolerance’, ‘freedom’, 'art', 'selfishness' and so on – have all been tendentiously expanded to disregard discriminations between the Good and the anti-Good.

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What to do? - Where to turn?

In a world where you cannot talk honestly with any person in your environment; with whom can we communicate?

One place to meet Good minds is books – specifically Good books: which mostly means Old books...

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A skill we need is to read Old books on their own terms.

The bad news is that there such are a lot of Old books. 

The good news is that we do not need many of them: that is a lesson of the Middle Ages. A mere few dozen various texts (some in translation, others incomplete or extracted or summarized) salvaged from the wreck of Greece and Rome, the Scriptures, and writings of the early Christian fathers sufficed to support a much higher level of intellectual discourse than we have now.

And that is all we need. 

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