Monday 15 May 2023

The perilous necessity of seeking enchantment (The 'romantic life' as a fact of nature.)

I have been re-reading that most inspiring of essays: On Fairy Stories, by JRR Tolkien; and considering the need some of us feel (in the 'modern world') for enchantment

Tolkien describes how this can be found in the best of Fairy Stories - or what we nowadays, since Tolkien's essay, term 'fantasy' literature. 

But what of 'real life' - of our lives outside of fairy stories? What of our disenchanted mundane lives? Is there any kind of 'cure' for disenchantment - something in-addition-to our leisure-time and recreational immersion in artistic recreations of faery?

What should we do when we awaken from the enchanted realms of a fairy story, and find-ourselves back in the mundane world?

Such questions are the basis of the 'romantic' impulse; and for people such as Tolkien (and myself, and many others) they are unavoidable and compelling matters; they are matters of life and death. 

We can try to ignore or drown-out the 'horns of Elfland' - the call of enchantment - but we will always be comparing our actual lives with the possibilities experienced in 'fairy stories'. 

For us, the prospect of life stretching ahead is intolerable without enchantment; so it is not a matter of whether we pursue enchantment; but how

Yet, as Tolkien often emphasizes; this seeking of an enchanted mortal life is perilous; just as true faery is perilous. He frequently depicted this - most explicitly in Smith of Wootton Major, most pessimistically in his poem The Sea Bell; and it forms the background motivation to the embryonic plot of The Notion Club Papers

The fundamental problem is that mortal Men in this world cannot attain any Good with permanence - because that is the entropic nature of our-selves and the world; and from the fact that such joys are subject to 'habituation'/ tolerance/ fatigue - so that they cannot be sought directly and repeated 'stimuli' (use of symbols, rituals, or exposure to art-works) will decline in effectiveness. 

Many have tries to create for themselves an enchanted life; all have failed - in the end we are up-against our own corrupt and limited natures. 

Many, many people have ended up in the tragic situation depicted at the end of The Sea Bell; unable to forget, yet unable to attain, 'faery' - and finding no consolation in 'the world'. 

A Christian can and should be consoled by the ultimate prospect of resurrected life in Heaven; which is (as Tolkien makes clear at the end of his essay) the only possible actuality of that which we glimpse in faery. It is resurrection that makes the quest for enchantment a matter of truth rather than delusion. 

Yet, that still leaves the problem of how we structure our earthly lives in the years ahead... indeed in this day, and this moment...  

A further problem is that the consciousness of Modern Man has developed so as to become so resistant to enchantment - that there seem to be many people who claim not to experience it, not to want it. 

And there are others who (whatever they may they claim) seem never to experience any kind of enchantment; but instead seem (so far as I can tell) to live disenchanted lives; to the point of being hostile to the whole idea - and regarding any taint of romanticism is childish, insane or evil

Sadly, many self-identified Christians are of this aggressively disenchanted type: the kind of Christians who regard any whiff of faery, magic, romanticism as indicating the stench of Hellish brimstone (and who regard Tolkien himself as one of the devil's party). 

I say 'sadly' - because, despite that the quest for enchantment may be personally tragic; not-to-want it at all, and to regard enchantment as stupid, malign of delusional, strikes me as a kind of self-maimed half-life. 

I cannot help feeling sorry-for such people - even when they are frustrating or maddening to deal-with. 

My best positive suggestion, that I have discussed many times before on this blog; is to apply some of the lessons of Owen Barfield's concept of Final Participation - which I have further analyzed into concepts such as Primary Thinking and heart-thinking. 

In particular; the idea that - instead of seeking an overwhelming and immersive experience of enchantment, of faery, such that we hope to experience 'being there', inside that world -- we may choose to seek to participate-with such a world in the realm of purposive conscious thinking

Instead of (mentally) lowering-our-selves-into enchantment, instead of sinking-into a dream-like realm; we might instead aim to rise-above the mundane: to weave our conscious thinking with thoughts of (experiences from?) faery. 

This Final Participation is not a final answer; because there is none on this side of death; but engaging with an assumed living and potentially present realm of faery is something that lacks some of the problems of the more usual attempt at 'travelling'-into/ dwelling-within faery - not least because it is immune to that loss-of-effectiveness that plagues all attempts to lose-ourselves. 

With the Final Participation idea; we do Not try to lose our-selves or our awareness of this-world - but aim instead to remain our-selves; indeed to expand and strengthen our-selves as we encounter enchantment; which can be done by aligning our motivations with that which is Good in faery.  

Such is difficult because it is a creative activity; and creating just-is difficult. Also because it entails the discernment of what is Good in our-selves and 'the enchanted' - and working-from that.

But - however difficult, intermittent, and only-partially-successful, is such a creative endeavor; it is nonetheless something that provides a very deep level of satisfaction, and a potential for profound learning.

So, Final Participation in faery seems like a valid Life Quest for those of us for whom a 'romantic life' is a fact of our natures. 

Sunday 14 May 2023

Review of Divine Friendship (2023) - An aggregation of Arkle's analects; edited by Jon Flint

Divine Friendship: An aggregation of Arkle's analects

Edited by Jon Flint. Independently published on Amazon Kindle, 2023. 77 pages. 

Current price: 77 pence Sterling; 1 US dollar 

Jon Flint, who was a friend and collaborator of the author, has edited a short collection of William Arkle's writings on the subject of Divine Friendship; which was probably Arkle's core theme - the understanding of which can be a key to Arkle's larger philosophical ideas.

Arkle is one of a handful of authors that I regard as of primary importance in developing my attitudes and understandings of life and reality. But I am the first to acknowledge that it is difficult to grasp his meaning and significance. 

Arkle's major work was A Geography of Consciousness, 1974; republished 2019 - to which I contributed a new introduction. But GoC is a tough read in parts, with its analogies from physical science and strategy of building-up the argument from basic assumptions. 

The Great Gift of 1977 is much more accessible, with its paintings and poems; yet such is its richness of ideas and images that they are perhaps difficult to navigate and synthesize. 

Jon Flint takes the different approach of collecting a variety of forms of communication, spanning more than two decades of Arkle's later life - all focusing on the same theme.

This theme is that God the creator most desires from us his children that (eventually) we might grow-up to become mature 'friends' that can share in the divine work of creation. 

Simple to state, but easy to misunderstand! - not least because 'friend' has become such an enfeebled concept in this era of social media, and yet the English language offers no alternative better substitute.  

The collection begins with a verbal transcription taken from an informal live lecture, so we can get an idea of Arkle's conversational style; and of how he explained things person to person. 

Then there follow relevant excerpts from four of his books, the two mentioned above, plus Equations of Being; and including the entirety of his self-published pamphlet God: the Player Friend (1992); which, until now, has been almost impossible to obtain.

A further 'angle' is provided by extracts from Arkle's personal correspondence to the editor Jon Flint, written from 1986-1999. I found these very valuable - indeed, Jon Flint has previously allowed me to read a much larger selection from this correspondence; which is so good that I have read it at least four times through, already! 

I hope that, at some point, this more-complete correspondence between Arkle and Flint might be published in its own right; but in the meantime Arkle's admirers will welcome this 'taster'; and indeed the volume as a whole. 

Nowhere else could you obtain so much spiritual nourishment for less than the price of a bar of chocolate!