Thursday, August 21, 2008

Paradox: Physician and Physicist

Paradox: Physician and Physicist

Which ought to be subtitled, "Which came first: the irresistable force, or the immovable object?"

(Oh my. That's what you get when you combine an evolver with an ontologist! Hee hee. I guess you ought to know by now: you ought not be eating or drinking when you read my postings. You never know when the wit will seep out. Hee hee.)

And it is a good thing we are laughing. Today, perhaps more than before, I must shove the stationery... (great pun!), I mean push the envelope. Or at least Chesterton does, by bringing up the sensitive topic of women.

But before we proceed, I must welcome any Spanish-speaking readers to this blogg! If you assiduously read all the comments of our postings, you may have noted the Spanish comment on a recent posting, from a reader in Chile! ¡Que bueno! This of course is quite germane to our discussion, and the principle we noted recently, that the Cosmos is cosy - that is "it IS a small world after all".

This large/small paradox shows up in a very famous line, which may be quite provoking in some ways, and which helps introduce today's discussion:
...a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.
[GKC What's Wrong With the World CW4:119]
So if you are ready to join Uncle Gilbert in shoving the stationery, you may proceed into today's selection.

(( click here to proceed))

People tend to think very odd things of our Uncle Gilbert, and (in this particular case) point to "Part Three" in his 1910 book, What's Wrong With the World, called "Feminism, or the Mistake About Woman". Of course those who cite this rarely seem to cite anything more than the title, or they would be shocked. So, in paradoxical Chesterton fashion, I will instead cite something else, which I think will demonstrate GKC's real view of women:
I believe this way of talking about women and their higher culture is almost entirely a growth of the classes which (unlike the journalistic class to which I belong) have always a reasonable amount of money. One odd thing I specially notice. Those who write like this seem entirely to forget the existence of the working and wage-earning classes. They say eternally, like my correspondent, that the ordinary woman is always a drudge. And what, in the name of the Nine Gods, is the ordinary man? These people seem to think that the ordinary man is a Cabinet Minister. They are always talking about man going forth to wield power, to carve his own way, to stamp his individuality on the world, to command and to be obeyed. This may be true of a certain class. Dukes, perhaps, are not drudges; but, then, neither are Duchesses. The Ladies and Gentlemen of the Smart Set are quite free for the higher culture, which consists chiefly of motoring and Bridge. But the ordinary man who typifies and constitutes the millions that make up our civilisation is no more free for the higher culture than his wife is.

Indeed, he is not so free. Of the two sexes the woman is in the more powerful position. For the average woman is at the head of something with which she can do as she likes; the average man has to obey orders and do nothing else. He has to put one dull brick on another dull brick, and do nothing else; he has to add one dull figure to another dull figure, and do nothing else. The woman's world is a small one, perhaps, but she can alter it. The woman can tell the tradesman with whom she deals some realistic things about himself. The clerk who does this to the manager generally gets the sack, or shall we say (to avoid the vulgarism), finds himself free for higher culture.
[GKC ILN Apr 7 1906 CW27:160-161]
Oh, you didn't like that? How about this, it's lots shorter:
Twenty million young women rose to their feet with the cry We will not be dictated to: and proceeded to become stenographers.
[recorded by Christopher Morley, quoted in M. Ward's Gilbert Keith Chesterton 205]
If this is not enough, I shall remind you that the book we are examining, Orthodoxy, was dedicated to his mother, and that he was happily married for seven years when it was released. Now that you have a better understanding of what GKC thinks, you will be ready to proceed.

One more thing. Recall, if you please, the line we ended with last week: "The more transcendental is your patriotism, the more practical are your politics." That gives the launch point for this next paragraph of our text, which we now examine:
Perhaps the most everyday instance of this point is in the case of women; and their strange and strong loyalty. Some stupid people started the idea that because women obviously back up their own people through everything, therefore women are blind and do not see anything. They can hardly have known any women. The same women who are ready to defend their men through thick and thin are (in their personal intercourse with the man) almost morbidly lucid about the thinness of his excuses or the thickness of his head. A man's friend likes him but leaves him as he is: his wife loves him and is always trying to turn him into somebody else. Women who are utter mystics in their creed are utter cynics in their criticism. Thackeray expressed this well when he made Pendennis' mother, who worshipped her son as a god, yet assume that he would go wrong as a man. She underrated his virtue, though she overrated his value. The devotee is entirely free to criticise; the fanatic can safely be a sceptic. Love is not blind; that is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind.
I do not have familiarity with Thackeray (nor his books) and cannot cite the Pendennis reference at present - but I think the idea is clear anyway. Or, perhaps, as mystically shadowed as any other GKC phrase. You may find this deeply mystical: "Love is not blind... love is bound, and the more it is bound the less it is blind." But it is far more precise than any hundred rock songs, or even any dozen modern liturgical hymns. It gives us a piece of the mechanics of love, a datum as sound and as illuminating as any force diagram or equation of motion is for the student of mechanics.

But while we ponder this, we must not lose track of where we are! Remember: eye and foot, stand in the place where you live? This short consideration of Woman is just another example of GKC's studies, and he finds it consistent:
This at least had come to be my position about all that was called optimism, pessimism, and improvement. Before any cosmic act of reform we must have a cosmic oath of allegiance. A man must be interested in life, then he could be disinterested in his views of it. "My son give me thy heart"; the heart must be fixed on the right thing: the moment we have a fixed heart we have a free hand. I must pause to anticipate an obvious criticism. It will be said that a rational person accepts the world as mixed of good and evil with a decent satisfaction and a decent endurance. But this is exactly the attitude which I maintain to be defective. It is, I know, very common in this age; it was perfectly put in those quiet lines of Matthew Arnold which are more piercingly blasphemous than the shrieks of Schopenhauer -
Enough we live: - and if a life,
With large results so little rife,
Though bearable, seem hardly worth
This pomp of worlds, this pain of birth.

Now I beg pardon if you find this rather abrupt adjacency of words like "woman" and "birth" - but that's what appears in the text, and I think it is well. There's something more profound here in any case: that dramatic quote from the book of Proverbs "My son give me thy heart"; [Proverbs 23:26] which is the response for the Second Vespers of the Feast of the Sacred Heart. We might discuss here the most mystical of the anatomy and histology which is suggested here, but rather than anything either scientific or personal, I will just recall that the collection of Bil Keane's cartoons called The Heart of the Family Circus is about "Mommy". And even GKC said "the woman is the heart of the house". [ILN Apr 22 1911 CW29:76] Now that we have warmed ourselves with such thoughts, let us address that Dark bit at the end. Or rather see how GKC addresses it, and find even more strength:
I know this feeling fills our epoch, and I think it freezes our epoch. For our Titanic purposes of faith and revolution, what we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralize each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre's castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening.
You see? It is not a wandering piece of word-play, or an accidental example: rather, GKC is building, strong block upon strong block. The citing of woman (the heart of the house) and her role is because we are trying to find out our own role in "the place where we live" called the cosmos or world or universe. And there is this strange tension - this paradox.

You know, it needs to be stressed repeatedly (Remember "Do it again!" is our motto!) that Chesterton is hardly the author of all these paradoxes. All he does is write about them. They exist as part of our life, our world - and by now you ought to be expecting to see these things all the time, and maybe even seeing some for yourself. As you read more and more Chesterton, you will find it taking root, and begin to realize how amazing he found life, and start sharing in that experience - which will be healthy for you. It's not just by knowing where your heart is that the physician can assist you, but because he has a heart too... and not simply a blood-pump in his chest. "My son give my your heart." Not as a surgeon, but as a lover who chooses to be bound:
No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world, and enough of a Christian to die to it? In this combination, I maintain, it is the rational optimist who fails, the irrational optimist who succeeds. He is ready to smash the whole universe for the sake of itself.
Now we are getting into the very deepest part of the Chestertonian view: the idea that we can have extremes, opposite extremes, simultaneously! We are going to study this in detail next time, and see how this launches into some amazing insights.

I shall conclude with a quote from the amazing little book called Platitudes Undone, GKC's replies to Platitudes in the Making of Holbrook Jackson, who wrote:
X. Love is protective only when it is free.
GKC replied, in green pencil:
Love is never free.

--Dr. Thursday

PS I promised yesterday on my own blogg that I would give you a quote about St. Bernard that applies to our diuscussion. Here it is:
It is obvious that this cool and careless quality which is essential to the collective affection of males involves disadvantages and dangers. It leads to spitting; it leads to coarse speech; it must lead to these things so long as it is honorable; comradeship must be in some degree ugly. The moment beauty is mentioned in male friendship, the nostrils are stopped with the smell of abominable things. Friendship must be physically dirty if it is to be morally clean. It must be in its shirt sleeves. The chaos of habits that always goes with males when left entirely to themselves has only one honorable cure; and that is the strict discipline of a monastery. Anyone who has seen our unhappy young idealists in East End Settlements losing their collars in the wash and living on tinned salmon will fully understand why it was decided by the wisdom of St. Bernard or St. Benedict, that if men were to live without women, they must not live without rules. Something of the same sort of artificial exactitude, of course, is obtained in an army; and an army also has to be in many ways monastic; only that it has celibacy without chastity. But these things do not apply to normal married men. These have a quite sufficient restraint on their instinctive anarchy in the savage common-sense of the other sex. There is only one very timid sort of man that is not afraid of women.
And I also found this, which might be GKC's tribute to home-schooling moms everywhere:
If education is the largest thing in the world, what is the sense of talking about a woman being liberated from the largest thing in the world? It is as if we were to rescue her from the cruel doom of being a poet like Shakespeare; or to pity the limitations of an all-round artist like Leonardo da Vinci. Nor can there be any doubt that there is truth in this claim for education. Only precisely the sort of which it is particularly true is the sort called domestic education. Private education really is universal. Public education can be comparatively narrow. It really would be an exaggeration to say that the school-master who takes his pupils in freehand drawing is training them in all the uses of freedom. It really would be fantastic to say that the harmless foreigner who instructs a class in French or German is talking with all the tongues of men and angels. But the mother dealing with her own daughters in her own home does literally have to deal with all forms of freedom, because she has to deal with all sides of a single human soul. She is obliged, if not to talk with the tongues of men and angels, at least to decide how much she shall talk about angels and how much about men.
[ILN Aug 5 1922 CW32:421]
Yes, even if you are not a woman, even if you are not a parent, as an adult you have a share in this teaching responsibility for the young people of your family...

1 comment:

  1. An excellent and interesting post, Dr. Thursday.

    Chesterton certainly does make one think.

    I particularly loved the part about where women are loyal to their men, but ask any hairdresser in the world, and we know that women also complain about their men. Paradoxical, as usual.


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