18 October 2016

C S Lewis Not Quite Discussing Neil Gaiman's American Gods

"Because the 18th century was fond of personifying abstractions ('Corruption has seized the provinces' etc.) and because Carlyle carried that further and gave us a tinge of poetry in his French Revolution, whence it passed into every writer who wants to write impressively on poetical and historical subjects, we have now reached a stage at which causes, movements, tendencies etc are talked of as if they were real things who did things: as if it were Bolshevism, not Bolsheviks, who fomented revolutions, and the revolutionary spirit, instead of the revolutionary spirits, which made men drunk.  The natural corollary is that the world is managed by beings such as 'Woman' or 'The Locarne Spirit' and real human beings are pawns in their hands. Now a days you can resist a given spirit or tendency only by hitching yourself to its equally spirituous or tendentious opponent -- much like an Egyptian who, helpless himself against the name of a god, can put it across it by means of the name of a higher god. I was just going to describe this as the return to polytheism. But the polytheists were more sensible for they accepted their positions as pawns because they believed in their gods. And if the wiseacre really believed in the beings to whom he attributes all public events (as I would be quite prepared to do with certain reservations) I could forgive him. But he is the first man to denounce you for a mystic if you hint that there might really be an entity such as the 'spirit of the age' over and above the human beings acting in the age. He is thus in the remarkable position of suspending everything on a peg which (he believes) isn't there, and preaching the uselessness of human endeavour because we are helpless in the hands of -- Nobody. However, the subject seems to be carrying me further than I foresaw."

from a letter to his brother on 9 July 1927.

No comments:

Post a Comment