“Pilgrim’s Problem,” by C.S. Lewis

By now I should be entering on the supreme stage
Of the whole walk, reserved for the late afternoon.
The heat was to be over now; the anxious mountains,
The airless valleys and the sun-baked rocks, behind me.

Now, or soon now, if all is well, come the majestic
Rivers of foamless charity that glide beneath
Forests of contemplation. In the grassy clearings
Humility with liquid eyes and damp, cool nose
Should come, half-tame, to eat bread from my hermit hand.
If storms arose, then in my tower of fortitude–
It ought to have been in sight by this–I would take refuge;
But I expected rather a pale mackerel sky,
Feather-like, perhaps shaking from a lower cloud
Light drops of silver temperance, and clovery earth
Sending up mists of chastity, a country smell,
Till earnest stars blaze out in the established sky
Rigid with justice; the streams audible; my rest secure.

I can see nothing like all this. Was the map wrong?
Maps can be wrong. But the experienced walker knows
That the other explanation is more often true.

Luxuria: The Temptation of Lilith

John’a poem from C.S. Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress

When Lilith means to draw me
Within her secret bower,
She does not overawe me
With beauty’s pomp and power,

Nor, with angelic grace
Of courtesy, and the pace
Of gliding ships, comes veiled at evening hour.

Eager, unmasked, she lingers
Heart-sick and hunger sore
With hot, dry, jewelled fingers
Stretched out, beside her door,

Offering with gnawing haste Her cup, whereof who taste, (She promises no better) thirst far more.

What moves me, then, to drink it?
—Her spells, which all around
So change the land, we think it
A great waste where a sound
Of wind like tales twice told
Blusters, and cloud is rolled Always above yet no rain falls to ground.

Across drab iteration
Of bare hills, line on line,
The long road’s sinuation
Leads on. The witch’s wine,
Though promising nothing, seems
In that land of no streams,
To promise best—the unrelished anodyne.

Reading Lewis on “The Model”, Ch. I

First it is necessary to note what Lewis is doing in this book. I think he is fundamentally wanting to illustrate the general psychological difference between ancient and medieval people and ourselves, in order to make us aware of our own “mental temper.” I think he holds that each age, very roughly speaking, has a sort of aesthetic that saturates its epistemic and moral intuitions. This is a claim about generalities; and as such, it will be suspect to the modern scientific mind. Morton Bloomfield objects, for instance, that “built into a book of this sort is the hazard of trying to find the mediaeval and Renaissance world-image,” and quips that Lewis has “a tendency to oversimplify and to overcategorize.” But, even this rejection of general views may be an aspect of the modern psychology. We’d prefer to stick to knowing “the facts,” the things that are falsifiable. Claims about general psychologies are not falsifiable, and therefore taboo. Frankly, I think this taboo is partly arrogance about the sorts of things “we [moderns] know”, and partly a lack of imagination about the assumptions that drive our intuitions.

(In case you missed it, I’m suggesting the reason that the notion of a “general mind” seems uncouth is because we fail to notice our “general mind.” The danger with bracketing off generalities as “unknowable” is the sort of absurd causal reductionism that is only possible to specialists [e.g. “A new study shows…”]. When dealing with persons, for every ten variables you think you’ve eliminated, there are ten more you’ve failed to imagine. Imagination is a key ability for generalizing. Generalists–at their best–skillfully balance relations of causal factors.)

At any rate, this is how Lewis sums up at the end of the book:

Pg. 222: 

“We can no longer dismiss the change of Models as a simple progress from error to truth. No Model is a catalogue of ultimate realities, and none is a mere fantasy. Each is a serious attempt to get in all the phenomena known at a given period, and each succeeds in getting in a great many. But also, no less surely, each reflects the prevalent psychology of an age almost as much as it reflects the state of that age’s knowledge. Hardly any battery of new facts could have persuaded a Greek that the universe had an attribute so repugnant to him as infinity; hardly any such battery could persuade a modern that it is hierarchical.

“It is not impossible that our own Model will die a violent death, ruthlessly smashed by an unprovoked assault of new facts–unprovoked as the nova of 1572. But I think it is more likely to change when, and because, far-reaching changes in the mental temper of our descendants demand that it should. The new Model will not be set up without evidence, but the evidence will turn up when the inner need for it becomes sufficiently great. It will be true evidence. But nature gives most of her evidence to the questions we ask her. Here, as in the courts, the character of the evidence depends on the shape of the examination, and a good-cross examiner can do wonders.”

So, to begin the series of posts. Excerpts from Chapter I of The Discarded Image:

Pg. 10: 

“At his most characteristic, medieval man was not a dreamer nor a wanderer. He was an organiser, a codifier, a builder of systems. He wanted ‘a place for everything and everything in the right place’. Distinction, definition, tabulation were his delight. Though full of turbulent activities, he was equally full of the impulse to formalise them. War was (in intention) formalised by the art of heraldry and the rules of chivalry; sexual passion (in intention), by an elaborate code of love. . . . There was nothing which medieval people liked better, or did better, than sorting out and tidying up. Of all our modern inventions I suspect that they would most have admired the card index.

“This impulse is equally at work in what seem to us their silliest pedantries and in their most sublime achievements. In the latter we see the tranquil, indefatigable, exultant energy of passionately systematic minds bringing huge masses of heterogeneous material into unity. The perfect examples are the Summa of Aquinas and Dante’s Divine Comedy;”

Pg. 11:

“They are bookish. They are indeed very credulous of books. They find it hard to believe that anything an old auctour has said is simply untrue. And they inhabit a very heterogenous collection of books; Judaic, Pagan, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoical, Primitive Christian, Patristic. Or (by a different classification) chronicles, epic, poems, sermons, visions, philosophical treatises, satires. Obviously their auctours will contradict one another. They will seem to do so even more often if you ignore the distinction of kinds and take your science impartially from the poets and philosophers; and this the medievals very often did in fact though they would have been well able to point out, in theory, that poets feigned. . . . A Model must be built which will get everything in without a clash; and it can do this only by becoming intricate, by mediating its unity through a great, and finely ordered, multiplicity.”