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  #11  
Old 12-18-2017, 03:41 PM
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Michael Ferris Michael Ferris is offline
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Gregory,

I appreciate hearing your voice. I also agree with Susan's point.

As to impugning reason itself, again, I agree. But, in the words of the French polymath I mentioned above, 'reason must become more reasonable'. If that makes sense and is not irrationalism. I think it does, and isn't.

If you have read GKC on Blake, I'd be interested to hear your view of that book.

Regards,

M

Last edited by Michael Ferris; 12-18-2017 at 04:18 PM. Reason: superfluous comment
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  #12  
Old 12-18-2017, 04:59 PM
Gregory Dowling Gregory Dowling is offline
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Michael, I read it many many years ago, and I remember it was an uneven book. It has flashes of Chesterton's wit but he is not entirely in sympathy with Blake and the result is that he often seems to wander off the topic, into denunciations of certain kinds of mysticism and puritanism. His best criticism is to be found in his books on Dickens, Browning, Stevenson and his handbook on Victorian literature.

If you can find it, the best anthology of his non-fictional prose is by W. H. Auden, who also wrote an excellent introduction to it, one of the best appreciations of Chesterton that I know.
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  #13  
Old 12-19-2017, 01:16 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Coming late to the party. An assortment of gifted poets over the centuries have suffered from the attack of madness. Several wrote good poems subsequent to that attack - Kit Smart, John Clare, to name two. Others wrote forgettable verse thereafter: Hoelderlin wrote, as my supervisor noted, obscure poetry prior to the madhouse, and clear, inane poems after that. C20th American poets - the confessionals - had treatment available beyond confinement, and so are a special case. Who knows whether Blake was sane or not.
Chesterton's paradox is, in short, prima facie balderdash - lots of poets go mad, scientists are less notorious for it. There's nothing wrong with balderdash - well, actually there is. But it's a free country. We just shouldn't base our thinking around it. Maybe Chesterton needs thanking for having raised the issue. But I'm not convinced. As to Chesterton's contrast concerning who cares about the infinite, I'm not sure it warrants attention. Niels Bohr would be a good example of a physicist who in his line of work actually *thought* about the infinite, as most poets I would guess do not. But that list is not a short one; Chesterton is trading in cliche and stereotype, with religion a possible proximate cause. As T.S. Eliot put it: "Mr. Chesterton's brain swarms with ideas; I see no evidence that it thinks."

Cheers,
John
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Old 12-19-2017, 02:05 AM
Gregory Dowling Gregory Dowling is offline
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Eliot did revise his opinion on Chesterton in later years, and the two men exchanged some friendly correspondence. Here is the memorial note he wrote on Chesterton's death for Criterion:

Quote:
It is not for his attainment in pure letters that he should be celebrated here: though it may be said that if he did nothing to develop the sensibility of the language, he did nothing to obstruct it. What matters here is his lonely moral battle against his age, his courage, and his bold combination of genuine conservatism, genuine liberalism, and genuine radicalism.
Eliot said that he always enjoyed Chesterton's fiction.

As for the quotations from Orthodoxy, I think it fair to point out that Chesterton was not specifically attacking scientists. What he wrote, before the passage I quoted about Cowper, was:

Quote:
Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination. Artistic paternity is as wholesome as physical paternity. Moreover, it is worthy of remark that when a poet really was morbid it was commonly because he had some weak spot of rationality on his brain. Poe, for instance, really was morbid; not because he was poetical, but because he was specially analytical. Even chess was too poetical for him; he disliked chess because it was full of knights and castles, like a poem. He avowedly preferred the black discs of draughts, because they were more like the mere black dots on a diagram.
It is also worth pointing out that Chesterton was unlikely to have thought of Smart and Clare as great poets, since they were both little known during his lifetime. And, of course, the confessionals came much later.

Chesterton is a writer with a great many flaws, and I can easily understand why some might dislike him. However, I find I can put up with those flaws for his clarity, his insights and his wit. Probably the best assessment of him as a writer is to be found in the introduction I referred to above by W. H. Auden. You can find it in his Collected Prose, Volume VI, and also in Forewords and Afterwords.
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Old 12-19-2017, 02:21 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Hi Gregory,

I like your assessment here: "Chesterton is a writer with a great many flaws, and I can easily understand why some might dislike him. However, I find I can put up with those flaws for his clarity, his insights and his wit."
What bugged me here in Chesterton was specific: his claim that poets don't go mad and scientists do. I take your point about Smart, Clare and the confessionals, and there's no reason Chesterton would have known Hoelderlin or Nerval, but I suspect he was led to this position for much the reason Christopher Hitchens was led to the positions he would adopt - a taste for saying the opposite of received wisdom, for contrarianism, and a desire to push an agenda thereby. All well and good, one might say, but I find it dishonest. I am therefore glad you reminded me of Auden's liking for him - an honest writer. The late Eliot would have reason to reconcile with Chesterton beyond simple logic, to my mind. It seems to me that the phenomena factored not so much in Chesterton's paradox as the storyline he favored.
As to Chesterton's writing in general, I have no opinion and shouldn't have suggested I did, when I quoted the early Eliot. My starting point was a rather vehement objection to his specific paradox, and that's where I end up. But my progress is dialectical, thanks to your remarks: I'll retract any judgment of the writer as a whole, and bow to Eliot's change of heart and Auden's good opinion and your own.
Oh - as a once-serious chess player, I will happily agree that committed chess players are often weird. Maybe even weirder than poets.

Cheers,
John
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  #16  
Old 12-19-2017, 04:58 AM
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Michael Ferris Michael Ferris is offline
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Gregory, thank you kindly for your direction and advice. I have found the book on Amazon's used bookstore for $286. *sigh* I'm not sure Santa will be quite so munificent this year, so I may have to cobble together some version of my own.

John, I appreciate your comments. Blake figured in my mind, too. Though he is one of my favorite poets, I find slogging through his mythology a bit too thick for my machete. I do love the accounts of his life from visitors and friends, and his artwork. And, while I agree that GKC's brush was too broad, if we expand 'madness' to include the conclusions of their systems of thought, as I did, I think there is a kernel of truth to the observation, though I need to refine that thought.

I think Gregory is entirely right about GKC's wit. I thought the quote I began with sparkles with wit, and GKC seems able to toss such lines off like a prince tosses coins to beggars at his gate. It makes reading him very entertaining, even when I can't agree with what he says.
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Old 12-20-2017, 03:35 AM
Gregory Dowling Gregory Dowling is offline
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John, thanks for a thoughtful reply to my post. I appreciate your point but while it is true that sometimes Chesterton indulges too easily in his gift for witty paradoxes I don't think it is every true that he wrote just for the sake of being contrarian. He was deeply committed to a certain way of viewing things, which naturally had its roots in his religious convictions, but also in his social views. On his taste for paradox I think the best book is still Hugh Kenner's Paradox in Chesterton, which also has the great virtue of being very short.

Michael, sorry to hear that particular selection of Chesterton's prose is so pricey. You can of course get huge collections of his works for free on the web, but in that case you'll need to do your own selecting. If I get time I'll make a list of what I think are his best works and post it.
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Old 12-20-2017, 03:56 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Here's a nice essay on Kenner by Marjorie Perloff:
http://marjorieperloff.com/essays/kenner-modernism/
Thank you, Gregory, I like to hear from someone who knows Chesterton that I am mistaken and he is never contrarian for the sake of it. I am no fan of easy contrarianism, or of Christopher Hitchens for that matter. An intelligence abused.

John
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Old 12-31-2017, 05:02 PM
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Michael Ferris Michael Ferris is offline
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I (sort of) apologize for the bump, but I'm reading Leo Damrosch's Eternity's Sunrise on Blake, and I thought this too good not to share, and not to add to this thread:

... the artist Samuel Palmer, who knew [Blake] well, remembered him as 'one of the sanest, if not the most thoroughly sane man I have ever known.' And a Baptist minister replied, when asked if he thought Blake was cracked, 'Yes, but his is a crack that lets in the light.'

Fabulous!
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Old 12-31-2017, 07:31 PM
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Andrew Mandelbaum Andrew Mandelbaum is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Ferris View Post
I (sort of) apologize for the bump, but I'm reading Leo Damrosch's Eternity's Sunrise on Blake, and I thought this too good not to share, and not to add to this thread:

... the artist Samuel Palmer, who knew [Blake] well, remembered him as 'one of the sanest, if not the most thoroughly sane man I have ever known.' And a Baptist minister replied, when asked if he thought Blake was cracked, 'Yes, but his is a crack that lets in the light.'

Fabulous!
Nice, Michael.

I have always found things worth rummaging through in the Ethics of Elfland by GK. In my opinion he enters a room here with two doors and instead of passing through and onwards, he circles the room and goes back out the door he came in (orthodoxy) but I dig the room despite what seems a terrible lack of nerve on his part.
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