Sunday, 29 May 2011

The poison of literalism - the necessity of 'fantasy'


One big reason why traditional thought seems impossible to so many modern people is the 'literalism' of our discourse - its fragmented, specialized and over-precise nature.

So that when we try to discuss fundamental matters that can only be comprehended in mythic poetry; what actually comes out is professional, bureaucratic, procedural prose.

(This applies particularly strikingly to modern 'poetry' - which is professional, political, partial, prosaic; never mythic.)


Many people have noticed this, of course - including the Inklings - but I got it from a post-Jungian psychologist called James Hillman (whose work I would *not* recommend in general. Flashes of light amidst oceans of confusion and willfulness).

So modern Christianity tends to be very prosy, very legalistic - somehow it cannot connect all its aspects - all its transcendent qualities - simultaneously.

Instead of being able to comprehend multiple poetic and mythic meanings from a single word, sentence or passage - we are reduced to picking it apart and sequentially describing its ethics, its philosophy, its historical meaning etc. Each of which, taken alone, rings false - and is dull, unengaging, indeed aversive.


We see this dissecting to death, this vivisection of reality, when people analyze and describe poetry - but it applies more fundamentally to theology.


Of course, the wholeness of thought is not altogether dead: it lives on in childhood, in dreams, in visionary glimpses, and in fantasy.

But wholeness does not live (or only exceptionally and dwindlingly) in 'real life', or in public discourse - at any rate it is dying.


It used to be possible for The Law to be regarded as beautiful - C.S. Lewis in his book on the Psalms points at the way some ancient Jews loved and hymned their Law - it was seen as virtuous, but also and at the same time true and beautiful.


But now it seems that Laws are merely rules.

Modern humans are dying of starvation, because the food of their souls has been broken down into its chemical constituents.

We hunger for meaning and purpose and a relation with life - for life to be myth and poetry; but we are given merely dry, professional, rational prose.


A decade ago, when I was a kind of pagan, I wrote about recovered animism:

I would regard this diagnosis as accurate but the prescription as partial and hazardous.


What we hunger for, at root, is a recovery of the 'animistic' world view in a context of Christian reality.

Animism that is not psychotic, not self-gratifying, not a seeking after power or diversion; but instead a continual awareness of our relation to everything.

But this is not animism repetitively checked and constrained by Christian rationality; so much as animism contained-within the greater frame of Christian Truth - so that we connect with the reality of life spontaneously.


At present, for many or most people, this can be had only in private - in 'fantasy' (in Truth-full fantasy) - but if so, if public discourse is deficient, then fantasy is of primary importance.

For modern people, fantasy may be the secret thread running through self-perceived earthly existence, absorbing into itself all that our souls recognize as real.

And from this mythic inner perspective, we discover that the trivial morass of literalistic modern culture - formal education, jobs, media, laws and rules, politics, bureaucratic committees and procedures... all of this nightmare of crushing but meaningless literalism dissolves in retrospect into a cloudy illusion.