Guests on Volume 77: Eric Miller on the conserving radicalism and revolutionary traditionalism of Christopher Lasch; Lisa de Boer on the depiction of everyday humanity in northern European post-Renaissance painting; Peter J. Schakel on seeing The Chronicles of Narnia as fairy tales, not just Christian allegory; and Alan Jacobs on how The Chronicles of Narnia reveal much of C. S. Lewis’s thinking on almost everything, and on how Lewis's imagination was prepared to write such books.
Historian Eric Miller discusses the concerns of cultural commentator Christopher Lasch (1932-1994), who is the subject of his essay “Pilgrim in an Unknown Land: Christopher Lasch’s Journey.” The work is included in an anthology Wilfred McClay edited, titled Figures in the Carpet: Finding the Human Person in the American Past. Lasch was the author of several books and hundreds of articles and essays; he had insatiable intellectual curiosity, states Miller, and was a radical in the true sense of the term, always honing his previously published arguments. He spent most of his career observing how American culture resists neat ideological explanations. Miller notes that Lasch was looking for a way to preserve morality without relying on religion and theology.
In an essay titled “A Comic Vision? Northern Renaissance Art and the Human Figure,” professor Lisa de Boer studies Northern European painters during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and their understanding of the human figure and its place in the world. De Boer is one of the artists whose work appears in the collection A Broken Beauty, which is a companion piece to the art show of the same name. Both the show and the anthology attend to the beauty found in the midst of suffering, loss, and brokenness. De Boer discusses her contribution to the book and describes one of the paintings she wrote about, “The Harvesters” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569). She explains how his vision and work were different from that of Southern European artists of the same era.
Professor of literature Peter Schakel discusses his book The Way into Narnia: A Reader’s Guide and the charms of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. In The Way into Narnia, Schakel argues that Lewis intended the books to be read as fairy stories, not as straight representations of the Christian story. The former work on the imagination differently than the latter and — while they can include Christian themes — also include universal themes. Fairy stories are those tales that take place in enchanted worlds full of strange creatures and magic. The Chronicles of Narnia work well as such says Schakel, successfully weaving elements from other genres into their fabric, portraying well-conceived imaginary worlds in a creative and structured fashion.
In this extended interview, Professor Alan Jacobs discusses his book The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis and what it means to say that Lewis (1898-1963) had a “pre-modern consciousness.” In his biography, Jacobs explores the images and themes found in both the Narnia stories and Lewis’s nonfiction works. He explains that Lewis’s thought and imagination were integrated in a way foreign to the modern mindset, which bisects reason to the public sphere and imagination to the private with neither informing the other. In a disenchanted world, Lewis cultivated a willingness to be enchanted. He trained his imagination on the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, probing the images and feelings that that developed and embodied them.