Thursday, April 28, 2011

Creative Fantasy vs. the "Morbid Delusion" of Post-modernism (as explained by an orthodox rebel and an Original Orthodox Rebel)

Post-modernism, in its denial of any ability to know truth, likes to languish in the ironic, absurd, and downright ludicrous. This can sometimes produce fun things (e.g., some absurdist plays can be quite humorous, and post-modern architecture is cool to look at), but more often it produces vacuous, insane, and perverse creations that leave the mind and soul empty and reeling (e.g., David Lynch's Eraserhead is exactly as he described it: "a dream of dark and terrible things"). Regardless of the result, the premise is always the same: art cannot take us to truth.

In general, post-modernists insist that art is to have no relation to truth of any kind, except for the "truth" of the artist. It is their perspective that is on display, and they may represent it however they choose (even if it is in a manner that completely destroys any real communication of that perspective). They claim that this is the true freedom inherent in art, i.e., the freedom to transgress beyond all limitations and boundaries, from absolute truths to even the canvas itself.

A counter-position to the post-modern notion of "art unlimited by truth" is here articulated by J.R.R. Tolkien in his famous essay "On Fairy-Stories". In one section (quoted below), Tolkien counters the claim (held by the modernists of his day as well as the post-modernists of ours) that the genre of "Fantasy" necessarily implies a lack of or even antagonism towards "Reason". Instead, he postulates a radical alternative: when reason fails, fantasy perishes; for fantasy is based upon a certain kind of deviation from the truth, but that deviation is not possible unless you first know what the truth is. 

An example is needed. A pilot cannot "deviate" from his "flightpath" without (1) there being a flightpath (2) that he can reference and (3) is fixed. If the flightpath is inaccessible knowledge for the pilot (either by accident or ignorance), or if it is not fixed but is changing to a different direction every second, then the concept of "deviation" disappears. Any direction chosen could as well as be a flightpath as well as a deviation. Thus, a fixed referent is necessary even for defying it, for sin is dead without the law (Rom. 7:8). Unknown and unknowable truths produce no rebellions, for the rebels could never know what they were rebelling against.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

(The following excerpt can be found on pp. 144-45 of The Monsters and The Critics: And Other Essays.)

Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured. If they ever get into that state (it would not seem at all impossible), Fantasy will perish, and become Morbid Delusion.

For creative Fantasy is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it. So upon logic was founded the nonsense that displays itself in the tales and rhymes of Lewis Carroll. If men really could not distinguish between frogs and men, fairy-stories about frog-kings would not have arisen.

Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came. But of what human thing in this fallen world is that not true? Men have conceived not only of elves, but they have imagined gods, and worshiped them, even worshiped those most deformed by their authors' own evil. But they have made false gods out of other materials: their notions, their banners, their monies; even their science and their social and economic theories have demanded human sacrifice. Abusus non tollit usum [Latin: "Abuse does not take away use."]. Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made; and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.

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