Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Quotable: Martin Lings, The Secret of Shakespeare

The first spectators of Shakespeare were probably more receptive than we are. We tend to take art less seriously than they did. For modern man the supreme distinction is between 'fiction' and 'truth', as we say, between art on the one hand and 'reality' on the other. Now naturally our medieval ancestors made the same distinction, but for them it was not so sharp. They were not in the habit of speaking and thinking of life as 'truth'. By truth, by reality, they meant something different; for them the supreme distinction was not between life and art, but between the next world, that is, Truth, and this world, which is the shadow of Truth. The sharpness of that distinction took the edge off all other distinctions. 
Moreover, art for them was not merely a copy of life, that is, it was not merely the shadow of a shadow; it was also by inspiration, partly -- and in some supreme cases even almost wholly -- a direct copy or shadow of the 'substance' itself. The distinction between art and life is therefore no so much between a shadow and a reality as between two shadows.... By attributing a less absolute reality to life they attributed more reality to art. They no doubt entered into it more whole-heartedly. ~Martin Lings, "The Secret of Shakespeare" (emphasis mine)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Stories, Paradox, and C.S. Lewis

"Another very large class of stories turns on fulfilled prophecies -- the stories of Oedipus, or The Man Who Would Be King, or The Hobbit. In most of them the very steps taken to prevent the fulfilment of the prophecy actually bring it about.... Such stories produce a feeling of awe, coupled with a certain sort of bewilderment such as one often feels in looking at a complex pattern of lines that pass over and under one another. One sees, yet does not quite see, the regularity. And is there not good occasion both for awe and bewilderment? We have just had set before our imagination something that has always baffled the intellect: we have seen how destiny and free will can be combined, even how free will is the modus operandi of destiny. The story does what no theorem can quite do. It may not be 'like real life' in the superficial sense: but it sets before us an image of what reality may well be like at some more central region." ~C.S. Lewis, On Stories
I don't intend to get into the whole "predestination vs. free will" debate here -- I don't think it's an either/or. I believe in both, but trying to put that understanding into words ... I'm not really sure it can be done. I had been thinking about it for some time, trying to figure out how both could be true -- and you know what? I still have no idea.

But I came across this quote in a book about Harry Potter and proceeded to read the entire essay. And while the whole thing is good, this is my favorite part, because it really speaks to the power of stories. When I thought about it, one of the things that drove me to believe there must be some explanation for reconciling the two extremes was because I had seen it -- in stories ranging from Harry Potter to even some of the TV show Heroes (not all of it). In those stories you see prophecies/predictions of the future come true, but it never seems like people are acting against their will -- indeed, as with Oedipus, often the steps the characters take to stop the prophecy from coming true end up being exactly what fulfill it. And it seems so simple when I read or watch it, but then when I try to wrap my head around how it actually works, I just can't.

And then Lewis, being the genius that he is, showed me what I feel should have already been obvious to me -- I mean,  I am a fiction writer, after all. "We have just had set before our imagination something that has always baffled the intellect: we have seen how destiny and free will can be combined.... The story does what no theorem can quite do." And that was the big shocker for me -- that there were some things that reason could not explain, yet that we could still understand, somehow, on a deeper level. For some reason this had never occurred to me before, at least not consciously. Maybe because I tend to think analytically. But still, as a writer, you would think this was obvious to me.

How does the paradox work? I have absolutely no idea, but I've seen it work -- in stories. And while the precise way it plays out in those stories may not be exactly what it's like in real life, "it sets before us an image of what reality may well be like at some more central region."

Another reason why I love stories and want to write them.