31 May 2010

Points of Interest in Kermode & Lewis


Although there is no connection between them that I can think of, I’d like to post about some brief comments in two different books I’ve been reading the past couple of days. The first was a rather disappointing error. At the Half Price Books 20%-off Memorial Day sale, I picked up a copy of The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction with a New Epilogue, the published edition of the 1965 Mary Flexner Lectures at Bryn Mawr College given by Frank Kermode. Having always enjoyed Kermode’s work, I felt let down when I noticed the words ‘Greek Orthodoxy’ while skimming through and stopped to read the following: ‘The Book of Revelation made its way only slowly into the canon—it is still unacceptable to Greek Orthodoxy—perhaps because of learned mistrust of over-literal interpretation of the figures.’ [1] I guess I thought it was a matter of common knowledge that, first, Revelation can be seen as part of the Eastern canon as early as St Athanasius’s 39th Festal Letter in 367, and, second, the only reason one might think otherwise is that it was never included in the Eastern lectionary.

The other thing I came across was of a happier sort. In a piece written as an introductory chapter to a book that was never completed, ‘De Audiendis Poetis’, C.S. Lewis is arguing against the view that the power of the wondrous tales—which he calls ‘ferlies’—found in Mediæval literature is always derived from primitive myths and rituals in which the tales had their origin. In response to this view, Lewis writes:

The myth or rite does not always (it may sometimes) seem to me superior or equal in interest to the romancer’s ferly. The cauldron of the Celtic underworld seems to me a good deal less interesting than the Grail. The tests and ordeals—often nasty enough—through which savages, like schoolboys, put their juniors interest me less than the testing of Gawain in Gawain & the Green Knight. In tracing the ferly’s imaginative potency to such origins you are therefore asking me to believe that something which moves me much is enabled to do so by the help of something which moves me little or not at all. If after swallowing a quadruple whiskey I said ‘I’m afraid I’m rather drunk’, and you replied, ‘That’s because, while you weren’t looking, someone put half a teaspoonful of Lager beer into it’, I do not think your theory would be at all plausible. [2]

I thought Lewis’s analogy with the quadruple whiskey simply wonderful.


[1] Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction with a New Epilogue (Oxford: Oxford U, 2000), p. 7.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Studies in Medieval & Renaissance Literature, collected by Walter Hooper (Cambridge: Cambridge U, 2008), pp. 14-5.

6 comments:

elizabeth said...

Vintage CS Lewis I'd say. Lovely. Thanks for sharing. Best wishes for the Apostles Fast for you and your family!

Mark Christian said...

Kermode's passing remark is disappointing, but not at all surprising. Still, I would have expected better from a fellow Manxman...

And the quadruple whiskey trope does come quite readily to Lewis. Makes me wonder what they were quaffing at the Bird & Baby!

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

I would suggest reading Presvytera Jeannie Constantinou's doctoral dissertation titled Andrew of Caesarea and the Apocalypse in the Ancient Church of the East: Studies and Translation. The first volume covers historical issues like authorship, reception, and commentators. The second volume is the translation of St Andrew's work, the prime commentary on the Apocalypse in the Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox world.

Usually it's available here, but the server appears to be down at the moment.

aaronandbrighid said...

Sounds great! I didn't know St Andrew's commentary had been translated yet.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

It certainly is great!

She's preparing an edition of the translation for the Ancient Christian Writers series, I think it was. So that'll be nice to have.

Her investigation of the authorship of the Apocalypse is very thorough, much moreso than most such. She reveals the very interesting bias of Eusebius for one, and his blatant manipulation of the evidence against Apostolic authorship. Fascinating!

I hope the site comes back up soon!

Mark Christian said...

I just accessed it - a 530 page PDF!

What a treasure! Thank you for the link!