All posts by M Sheffner

CS Lewis and the reductionists

Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smok...
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A reader sent me this comment:

someone said that rose represents a woman and worm that eats rose is a man, and I had similar idea at that time I remember. Now I notice that ideas of Freud has influenced on people’s consciousness much more than we expect and it became like common sense.

I mentioned a lecture that C.S. Lewis gave in 1942 concerning psycho-analysis and the ideas of Freud. Lewis had read Freud. He disagreed with Freudian psycho-analysis of literature. Specifically, he disagreed with the idea that everything in literature, as in dreams, has a sexual meaning. He agreed that the sexual meaning is part of the literary meaning; but only part of it, not the whole thing. In addition, the psycho-analytic view can hide the

Reductionism is the term often used to describe the psychoanalysis that Lewis was arguing against: the idea that, for example, a garden in a story only means the female body, that it has no further meaning or value.

Other writers and thinkers have also argued strongly against reductionism: Ayn Rand was one. In Atlas Shrugged, a character called the Wet Nurse is someone who has been educated in the ideas of reductionism: that the human being is only a bundle of cells and chemicals, and that human life, therefore, has little or no meaning (to quote Shakespeare, “It is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing”). Through working and talking with Hank Rearden, the Wet Nurse comes to understand that a human being is so much more than that. Rand expressed herself angrily in other writing, too, about the terrible effect such ideas can have on young people, when their minds, ideas and values are still forming.

If the commenter is correct and Freudian ideas have become accepted as “common sense”, then perhaps the reductionist ideas have also become accepted, without examination. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” 吟味されざる生に、生きる価値なし。

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Session 22: Feb. 24th, 2010 – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Ch. 2

Domenico di Michelino, La Divina Commedia di D...
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Dear Readers,

Thanks for attending the Feb. 24th session. How did you find the pace? Was it too slow? Too fast? As always, I will be glad to receive your comments.

In this session, we touched on a number of topics:

  1. CS Lewis’ philosophy (his Christianity, his idea of “reality” and heaven and hell – a big thanks to Yoko for her report on The Great Divorce),
  2. the Scandinavian mythology, properly called Norse mythology (or in Japanese 北欧神話here)
  3. fauns and
  4. dryads
  5. and nyads (or naiads)
  6. Silenus (Silenus appears as a character in a later Narnia story, Prince Caspian)
  7. and Bacchus or Dionysus
  8. allegory; famous allegorical stories in Western literature are
    1. Dante’s Divine Comedy,
    2. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress,
    3. and a modern one for children (fun and easy to read, and I warmly recommend it) called The Phantom Tollbooth (and on Amazon Japan here [www_amazon_co_jp] )

The next session will be Wednesday, March 10th, 3-5 pm. Your homework is to finish reading Chapter 2, and read chapters 3-5. In the next session, we will not read all the text, but only read some excerpts. I will ask you to give short summaries of the chapters.

If you find some interesting or useful articles or books in Japanese about CS Lewis, either general ones, or ones about the Narnia or other stories, please pass them on to me.

Also, I encourage you to try and read some other works by C.S. Lewis. If his adult fiction sounds too difficult, then how about trying another Narnia story? Although the one we are now reading is the most well known, I think some of the other Narnia stories are even better and more satisfying.

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How to get more enjoyment out of reading

Do you enjoy reading English? Are you enjoying the story we are reading at the moment? Did you know that you can get some benefit from reading a book even if you do not really like the story?

Some of you have told me you are happy to read CS Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch nd the Wadrobe”. However, perhaps there are some of you who are not so happy, or who do not enjoy this story so much.  I hope so! People who do not like the story can be of great help to us. Why? Because of dialectics 弁証法

Dialectics is a vital part of Western thinking. One example is the justice system: in court, the judge (or jury) hears not just one side of the story but both sides. The purpose is not necessarily to find the truth, but to decide which story is more probable. Justic cannot be done from hearing only one side. (This system is also called the adversarial system.)

What has this got to do with reading an English children’s story?  Is it a good story? Is it well-written? Does it have interesting dialogue? Are the characters believable? If you like the story, you can learn more about why it is a good story if you first

  1. hear someone else criticize the story, then
  2. defend the book (and your opinion) against this criticism.

We will discuss the merits (and weaknesses) of this story more after we have finished reading it. In the meantime, if you do not like this story, or if you find yourself losing interest, I encourage you to come forward and express yourself! Your thoughts are very welcome, in fact very useful and important.

Until our next session.

Session 21 Follow-up 2

Plaque on a park-bench in Bangor, County Down
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Thanks to one of our members (thank you, Yoko), below is a list of links to Japanese websites related to CS Lewis. Perhaps one (or more) of you will have enough time and interest to read something else by C.S. Lewis in Japanese and tell us about it at one of our future sessions.

  1. A brief biography of C.S. Lewis in easy-to-read table format
  2. A list of Japanese translations of works by Lewis
  3. A list of Japanese translations of works by Lewis by the Japanese bookstore Junku-do

Tezukayama University library has a number of books, by C.S. Lewis, as well as books about Lewis, in both English and Japanese (actually more books in Japanese than in English). You can search the library online by clicking here.

C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters has been translated into Japanese, and is titled 悪魔の手紙

One of the links below is to a dramatization of Lewis’ allegory, The Great Divorce (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis), now playing in Seattle. (The Japanese translation is called 天国と地獄の離婚―ひとつの夢)

And here, a young mother blogs about reading Lewis’ Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold (in Japanese, 顔を持つまで 王女プシケーと姉オリュアルの愛の神話). It’s nice and short, and gives you an idea of what it’s about, and whether you would like to read it or not.

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Session 21 Follow-up

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1979)
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In Session 21, we read chapter 1 of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and discussed it. Some of the matters we discussed were:

  • the evacuation of London during World War II
  • the delight of exploring new places
  • the attraction of large buildings with lots of rooms (perhaps it reminded Lewis of the image in the Bible (New Testament): “In my Father’s house are many rooms” John 14:1-4)
  • what we learn about the four children from what they say in chapter 1
  • the possible significance of the children’s names (Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy all the names have a long history, but only two of the names are Biblical (Peter and Susan)
  • big books (especially the Bible – some – photos – here)
  • how some words have changed in meaning and use since 1950 when the book was first published (especially chap, wireless and queer)
  • badgers – a well-known and well-loved wild animal in Britain.
  • the meaning of “bluebottle“: is it a fly or a flower?

(to be continued…)

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Session 21: February 3rd, 2010 – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

C. S.
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The next session will be on February 3rd, 2010, 3-5 pm. The text will be chapter 1 of C.S. Lewis‘   The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first in the “Narnia” series.

I will provide copies of chapters 2 and 3 for the following session (February 24th), but after that you will be expected to obtain your own copies of the book. (My copy cost just 840 yen from Amazon Japan; I recommend you buy second-hand from Amazon Japan: they are good quality and often much cheaper.)

In the first session, we will read the text together and discuss it, as we have done in previous sessions. However, in future sessions, I would like to spend less time reading the text, and instead discussing certain questions or themes.  In order to discuss these themes or questions, you will need to do some extra reading. This will of course be optional, and perhaps we can find a way to share the work.

The themes and questions: some I will suggest, but I expect some questions or themes will be suggested by you, the readers.

I look forward to seeing you on Wednesday, Feb. 3rd.

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Happy New Year and welcome back.

Happy New Year, readers. Welcome to 2010. I look forward to reading and discussing with you high-quality English writing. May our conversation be bright and witty and profound.

(I stole this photo from Stardust’s blog. Isn’t it a great picture?)

We already had our first session, on Wednesday January 27th, in which we read a newspaper article about the pleasures and dangers of eating too much at Christmas (a common theme in many Christian countries), and also listened to a popular winter song, Baby It’s Cold Outside.

To make a change from last year, I proposed reading an English novel over several sessions, e.g. 2-3 months. This idea seemed to be accepted by those present last Wednesday.

The next session will be on February 3rd, and I have chosen a well-known children’s story by one of the most influential British writers and critics of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis (in Japanese here): The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  (This novel was made into a movie recently. I don’t think it was a movie that does justice to the novel. However, if you would like to see it, before you spend money at Tsutaya, let me tell you that it will be shown on Feb. 11th on the cable Star Channel.)

I have sent copies of chapter 1 to all members. You can also buy the paperback quite cheaply.

I have created a new page on this website to introduce our meeting place, Rifuan. The page includes links to a map and other details about Rifuan.

Session #19 December 2nd, 2009: The Age of Innocence (follow up)

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Thanks to everyone who attended today.

A few follow-up points:

  1. Speaking of economics, I mentioned Paul Volcker as head of the Federal Reserve before Bernanke. This was not quite correct. He WAS head of the Federal Reserve… but before Greenspan. He was later head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, and most recently was chosen as a key member of Obama’s economic advisory team.
  2. Amazon Japan cannot find Japanese translations of Peter Schiff‘s book Crashproof (and the latest edition, called Crashproof 2.0), but here are a list of websites in Japanese that came up in a google search on ピーター・シッフ:
    1. ピーターシッフ

    2. ピーターシフ – Wikipedia

    3. もんどセレクト: ピーターシフ講演(@オーストリア学派年次学会

    4. 地政学を英国で学ぶ : ピーターシフは正しかった

    5. ピーターシフ金価格に- ForexForum.GR

  3. Henry Hazlitt’s book Economics in One Lesson is also unfortunately not in Japanese (?). You can buy it from Amazon or download the PDF file for free from the Wikipedia entry on Hazlitt. Here’s a small blog entry in Japanese I found about Hazlitt.  And here is another Japanese website on Hazlitt: it lists the books in Hazlitt’s list which he called “The Free Man’s Library”, i.e. books that a person interested in freedom should read.
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Session #19 December 2nd, 2009: The Age of Innocence

* Photo: Edith Wharton, 1915 * License: Public...
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The next session will be on Dec. 2nd from 3:30-5:30. This will be the last meeting of the Informal Reading Group this year.

For this session I’ve chosen 2 pages from a novel by American authoress Edith Wharton, “The Age of Innocence”, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921.

Edith Wharton wrote in a post-Romantic style, the style called Realism. The story and the characters show the tension between Romanticism and Realism.

Edith Wharton on Wikipedia (English)

There seems to be no Japanese Wikipedia entry for her, but perhaps some of you can find a good website in Japanese about her.

“The Age of Innocence” is also the title of a painting by the famous British portrait painter Joshua Reynolds. You can see the painting and read about Reynolds here.

Did this painting influence Wharton? We can discuss this in the session, perhaps.

This website tells the whole story of “Age of Innocence” in a “digested” form (in English, though).

This article writes about “Age of Innocence” and Gustave Flaubert‘s classic “Emma Bovary“, itself a novel about Romanticism.

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Session #18 November 25th, 2009: A Sense of Place

Today’s session will be on a Sense of Place, and the text will be an extract from British author Martin Amis’ book,  ” Money” (1984). I will bring Japanese translations of the extract.

The discussion will briefly include Romanticism and the Realism movement which followed it.

Session #19 will be next week, December 2nd, from 3:30 – 5:30.

P.S. You can listen here to an interview with Martin Amis discussing his book “Money” on the BBC (recorded 2002).