restricted access November 29: Under God (Winter Saturday)

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[ ≤∏∏ ] n o v e m b e r 2 9 Under God (Winter Saturday) My restless spirit never could endure To brood so long upon one luxury, Unless it did, though fearfully, espy A hope beyond the shadow of a dream. —Keats One of C. S. Lewis’s colleagues said about Jack’s death, ‘‘Never was a man better prepared.’’ Since his conversion, of course, Lewis had believed in ‘‘the absolute reality of the supernatural world.’’ In this his intellect and imagination worked together; his arguments and his fantasy books are alike luminous with the assumption of a dimension, or dimensions, other than this one. Lewis thought that an inability to believe was ‘‘primarily a failure of the imagination.’’ By imagination Lewis did not mean indulgence in wishful thinking—sound exercise of the intellect should limit that—but rather imagination is what allows us to break out of the enclosed world we think we live in. The intellect cannot do that. For all his antimodernism, Lewis was, in a sense, prophetically postmodern. In The Abolition of Man he proposed ‘‘a new Natural Philosophy, continually conscious that the ‘natural object’ produced by analysis and abstraction is not reality but only a view.’’ He decried ‘‘the fatal serialism of the modern imagination—the image of infinite progression which so haunts our minds.’’ Lewis’s postmodern hints are surprising because his intellectual conservatism seems incompatible with anything characteristic of his century. u n d e r g o d ( w i n t e r s at u r d ay ) [ ≤∏π ] Lewis’s modern and postmodern nuances are best seen in what he did on November 29, 1954—a salient day in his life and career. His beloved Oxford had chosen not to promote him. The rather objective biographer, A. N. Wilson, explains Oxford’s action this way: ‘‘It was not his failure to be a good graduate supervisor which cost him an Oxford chair, it was Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters: the fact that he wrote them, and the far more damaging fact that millions of people . . . wanted to read them.’’ In his way o√ending the ‘‘prevailing orthodoxy’’ of Oxford, Lewis was ‘‘exiled, in some sense, for his refusal to toe the line.’’ Cambridge knew his value as a scholar and teacher, however, and had not felt the jealousy to which close association can give rise. This more conservative university became a congenial home for Lewis during the rest of his career, though he maintained his house in Oxford, staying in Cambridge only on weekdays during the teaching terms. His inaugural lecture in November 1954 is noteworthy for two reasons especially. One is that he presented himself as a ‘‘dinosaur . . . representing a vanished age, an absolute set of beliefs, a wholly outmoded way of looking at the world.’’ He was a rebel against the Modern World. But despite his intentions, his rebellion did not take the form, entirely, of premodernism. The key is that he presented himself. His inaugural presentation , instead of being a removed, traditional academic lecture, introduced the lecturer personally. That was pure Lewis. His literary criticism is so readable because it presents Lewis, with his peculiar enthusiasms and insights—in his inimitable language. Likewise his apologetics: they are interesting because they come to us on the voice of Lewis talking. Even his Narnia books are Lewis talking to children, and to the adults reading to them. The personal approach is characteristic of both modernism and postmodernism. Modernism discovered the Self, and postmodernism is all too aware that whatever is presented mixes with the person who presents it. The scientist watching and reporting makes the electron jump one way rather than another; the historian makes a History that is really part of himself or herself. Far from lamenting this state of a√airs, or even merely reporting it, the postmodern theorist makes capital of it, reinforcing his theories by sticking his bleary face against your nose. So Lewis, rebelling against the modern age while being very much part of its con- fidence in reason, becomes an instrument of that age’s destruction, himself becoming less and less a throwback to an earlier time than a popularizer of an age to come among the very people most interested, they would think, in resisting it. His conscious alternative, however, was not a postmodern one except in that it was a partial rejection of the modern. He did not foreground all n o v e m b e r 2...