Seeing with Other Eyes

In An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis gives a nice summary in his epilogue. The book is a collection of essays on how to read and how good reading can shape us, rearrange us, inform us, and, if we allow it, transform us. He says, “Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality.” It’s through good reading that we see more clearly outside of ourselves and into a wider world. It adds windows. He calls this “Literature as Logos.” What Lewis drives us toward is a bigger reality beyond our own, where we might agree or disagree, sympathize or despise with what’s on the page, “to occupy, for a while, their seat in the great theatre, to use their spectacles and be made free of whatever insights, joys, terrors, wonders or merriment those spectacles reveal.”

Lewis says that “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.” 

Have you felt this way? Like Narnia, where we go further up and further in, so to return with a fuller curiosity and love for this world, good reading will shape us without even knowing it. Lewis says, “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. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others.” 

Good reading are only a means to something deeper. If we turn to “The Weight of Glory” Lewis says what we know is true. “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them,” he says. “It was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.”

Do you hear an echo of truth in your good reading? Lewis says that this beauty and art are only, “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” 

Ahh, and then he says something I love every time I read it.

Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth. And yet it is a remarkable thing that such philosophies of Progress or Creative Evolution themselves bear reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere. When they want to convince you that earth is your home, notice how they set about it. They begin by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven, thus giving a sop to your sense of exile in earth as it is. Next, they tell you that this fortunate event is still a good way off in the future, thus giving a sop to your knowledge that the fatherland is not here and now. Finally, lest your longing for the transtemporal should awake and spoil the whole affair, they use any rhetoric that comes to hand to keep out of your mind the recollection that even if all the happiness they promised could come to man on earth, yet still each generation would lose it by death, including the last generation of all, and the whole story would be nothing, not even a story, for ever and ever….

Amen.

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