Monday, 30 May 2011

Tolkien speaks from the past to us now?

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I continue to be astonished by coming across sections of the Notion Club Papers whose significance I had missed, but which jump-out at me on re-reading.

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NCPs, Night 65 (page 228).

[Frankley] "Well, I think there's a difference between what really happened at our meetings and Nicholas's record [of the Notion Club]. (...)

[Ramer] "People of the future, if they only knew the records and studied them, and let their imagination work on them, till the Notion Club became a sort of secondary world set in the past: they could [re-view the past as a present thing]."

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Coming in the midst of a section of debate about whether it is possible really to experience the past as it truly was, this has the force of a personal statement from Tolkien (via Ramer).

A further comment makes clear that the pre-requisites of direct contact with the legendary or mythic past are not 'literal' factuality of record keeping, but derives - as Ramer says - "from the profundity of the emotions and perceptions that begot them and from the multiplication of them in many minds..."

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Among other things, I get the eerie sense of a coded message planted by Tolkien back in 1946 for the reader today, that if the reader lets his imagination work on these feigned records of a fictional club, they may become real, in the sense of a secondary world set in the past.

At one level the process recommended may (I think Tolkien is saying) provide a mode of access to the real Inklings and their concerns. But this achieved will itself allow further things to happen.

One touchstone of the reality of the past is a sort of non-subjectivity. That the perceived past does not merely mirror or amplify the current reader's understanding, but is capable of surprising and informing the present. Capable of inducing a different perspective.

This new perspective then enables the current reader to perceive things (past and present) that were previously inapparent, which may then induce a further change in perspective.

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(Of course, such perspectival shifts are not necessarily good, can be harmful as well as helpful. The new perspective that induces further perspectival shifts might prove to be a trap. As we see all around us.)

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3 comments:

Dale said...

On reading, see C. S. Lewis's An Experiment in Criticism -- at the least, the Epilogue.

We read because "we seen in enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. ...We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. ...Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. ...in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself, and am never more myself than when I do."

Dale said...
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Dale said...

I apologize for two typographical errors in the Lewis quotation, herewith corrected.

We read because "we seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. ...We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. ...Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. ...in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself, and am never more myself than when I do."