Tuesday, July 30, 2013

C.S. Lewis and his dialectics teacher

After his unhappy time at Wyvern, Lewis studied privately with a teacher where the teacher resided.  This man was a dyed in the wool atheist and thorough dialectician.

This is the kind of thing he recalls about this relationship. He remembers being picked up by the man, hereafter the Great Knock, or Kirk, at the train station and walking from there.

"'You are now,' said Kirk, 'proceeding along the principal artery between Great and Little Bookham.'  I stole a glance at him.  Was this geographical exordium a heavy joke?  Or was he trying to conceal his emotions? His face, however, showed only an inflexible gravity.  I began to  'make conversation' in the deplorable manner which I had acquired ...  I said I was surprised at the 'scenery' of Surrey; it was much 'wilder' than I had expected.  'Stop!' shouted Kirk with a suddenness that made me jump.  'What do you mean by wildness and what grounds had you for not expecting it?'  I replied I don't know what, still 'making conversation.'  As answer after answer was torn to shreds it at last dawned upon me that he really wanted to know.  He was not making conversation, nor joking, nor snubbing me;  he wanted to know.  I was stung into attempting a real answer.  A few passes sufficed to show that I had no clear and distinct idea corresponding to the word 'wildness,' and that, in so far as I had any idea at all, 'wildness' was a singularly inept word.  'Do you not see, then,' concluded the Great Knock, 'that your remark was meaningless?'"
We see here the bewilderment that falls upon a person when they first meet their own professional dialectician to deal with.  It has happened to me.

"The most casual remark was taken as a summons to disputation.  I soon came to know the differing values of his three openings.  The loud cry of  'Stop!' was flung in to arrest a torrent of verbiage which could not be endured a moment longer;  not because it fretted his patience (he never thought of that) but because it was wasting time, darkening counsel.  The hastier and quieter 'Excuse!' (i.e, 'Excuse me') ushered in a correction or distinction merely parenthetical and betokened that, thus set right, your remark might still, without absurdity, be allowed to reach completion.  The most encouraging of all was, 'I hear you.' This meant that your remark was significant and only required refutation; it had risen to the dignity of error." 

I think this is pretty funny.  But it seems to have benefited all of us by making a great thinker out of C.S. Lewis from whom untold millions have learned.

I want to pursue this more, but don't have time today.

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