Thursday, May 19, 2016

Driving to work with Chesterton

Listening to Chesterton's Orthodoxy on disk in the car. So far he seems to be saying that the modern Western world is living in a state of insanity because we are governed by single-subject intellectuals who function as the insane do: they reason perfectly inside their own tiny circles of obsession, but are as untruthful, in day to day living as humans, as lunatics are. We know our modern joke about the man wearing a tin-foil hat. In Chesterton's day they were said to stick straws in their hair. "The madman has reason, and nothing else," Chesterton says.

And this in 1908, when the single-subject intellectuals at least propounded rather meaty codes like "materialism." They at least knew they were objecting to Christianity which, as Chesterton saw, they were glad to use "any stick to beat with." Too meek! Too violent! Unscientific! Uselessly scholastic! Today their great-great-grandchildren (in spirit) know nothing whatever. But they have only to nod their royal heads at the society under their care, to put women in combat and men in women's bathrooms. Just mopping up operations, as it were.

But -- the problem with Chesterton is that after a short while he is so annoying. I tried Napoleon of Notting Hill once, on a Kindle, so perhaps I could not do it justice one tiny screen at a time. At any rate I had to bail quickly. He described two friends walking together. Every so often one friend lay down on his back and waved his arms and legs in the air. Probably the author was on his way to some fine lesson about crazy behavior in public actually being holy, or about how long it takes bystanders to question crazy-holy behavior, or something. This went on for page after page, and it was early in the book. I shut off my Kindle and thought "Chesterton was insane."      

Now with Orthodoxy we have, I am sure, many fine thoughts and lessons, but all done in strings of sing-song paradoxes that just go on and on. "Far from the lion eating the baby, the baby ate the lion." Not exactly that, but very much like it. On and on. I pulled into the parking lot after thirty minutes of this, parked, pulled out the disk from the player and thought, "This guy was mentally a mess." A terrible thing to think of Chesterton -- twice -- the happy and healthy and productive and satisfied. But I couldn't help it. He mentions Nietzsche often, the "God is dead" philosopher who went insane. But what with the sing-song, and the artistically blurred photo of himself on the disk cover, glaring and mustachioed, I thought again -- well sir. I'm sorry but you look a bit like Nietzsche yourself.                                

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