Thursday, October 07, 2004

On Reading Old Books

There are two ways of enjoying the past, as there are two ways of enjoying a foreign country. One man carries his Englishry abroad with him and brings it home unchanged. Wherever he goes he consorts with the other English tourists. By a good hotel he means one that is like an English hotel. He complains of the bad tea where he might have had excellent coffee...

But there is another sort of travelling and another sort of reading. You can eat the local food and drink the local wines, you can share the foreign life, you can begin to see the foreign country as it looks, not to the tourist, but to its inhabitants. You can come home modified, thinking and feeling as you did not think and feel before. So with the old literature. You can go beyond the first impression that a poem makes on your modern sensibility. By study of things outside the poem, by comparing it with other poems, by steeping yourself in the vanished period, you can then re-enter the poem with eyes more like those of the natives; now perhaps seeing that the associations you gave to the old words were false, that the real implications were different than you supposed.

...I am writing to help the second sort of reading. Partly, of course, because I have a historical motive. I am a man as well as a lover of poetry: being human, I am inquisitive, I want to know as well as to enjoy. But even if enjoyment alone were my aim I should still choose this way, for I should hope to be led by it to newer and fresher enjoyments, things I could never have met in my own period, modes of feeling, flavours, atmospheres, nowhere accessible but by a mental journey into the real past. I have lived nearly sixty years with myself and my own century and am not so enamoured of either as to desire no glimpse of a world beyond them.
~C.S. Lewis, "De Audiendis Poetis", Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (written late 1950s?; 1st published 1966)

Dear Readers,

Please take note! I will be leaving tomorrow morning for Chicago to attend The Lord of the Rings Symphony, and immerse myself in the native Chicago"culture" (local brewpubs to feature prominently in my plans...) I promise to be back next week with more daily C.S. Lewis. Until then, feel free to look at the archives, add comments to old posts, and visit the other blogs I have linked on the right side of the page. All new comments come to my email inbox, so I'll be sure to see them! And--please be nice to each other on the tagboard! =)

7 Comment(s):

At Thu Oct 07, 11:51:00 AM EST, Blogger Sandicomm said...

The way that Lewis describes reading historical literature is just what I like to do when I read the same. Lewis had a classical education, and was thus encouraged to be inquisitive about everything. If you read Surprised By Joy, you will find out that the earliest math training he had was primarily in geometry, which focuses on logic. (I miss geometry. Meanie Algebra II... Sniff...) I think we should all be encouraged to read this way; actually, it really doesn't have to be historical literature. Any literature should make us look deeper into the characters' world.

P.S. Have fun in Chi!

At Thu Oct 07, 12:16:00 PM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

Thanks, Sandi--I plan to!

The description of the traveler who brings his country with him and comes home unchanged reminded me of that movie “The Accidental Tourist”. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. Here is a very detailed review from DVDVerdict: Accidental Tourist. The story revolves around a man who makes a living publishing travel books for people who want to cope with traveling so they feel like they've never left home. Of course his life takes twists and turns that he never expected and he learns that life's journeys always leave you changed forever.

At Thu Oct 07, 01:00:00 PM EST, Blogger Lumpy the Cook said...

Have a great time! Looking forward to hearing all about it. Cheers!

At Thu Oct 07, 01:50:00 PM EST, Blogger Joelle said...

Have a great time!

At Fri Oct 08, 06:30:00 AM EST, Blogger Jude Nagurney Camwell said...

This is a lovely blog.
I promise to return.
Enjoy your trip!


At Fri Oct 08, 01:37:00 PM EST, Blogger Anamire said...

I can really relate with Lewis here. With the amount of ancient reading that I have to slog through all the time, I think I'd go absolutely nuts if I didn't find a way to make it more exciting and interesting. For me, that means putting myself in the ancient world, trying to imagine how the author felt at the time he wrote, what the world around him was like, what were the circumstances of his writing, etc. I find it more rewarding and informative to try to see things through the eyes of the ancients than to try to figure out what's going on through an outsider's perspective.

Have fun in Chicago! I'm expecting a full report when you get back. :-)

At Sun Oct 10, 07:44:00 PM EST, Blogger CarolynVB said...

I love this one! And I agree with him wholeheartedly! I am really just beginning to indulge in literature in this manner and it really does make all the difference. Thanks for posting it!


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