Saturday, 11 January 2014

GKC and modernity

Chesterton is often thought of as an amusing journalist and man of letters, a literary critic and novelist, but he was many other things besides – among them an artist, a poet, a playwright, a philosopher, and a theologian. Gilson praised him as a Thomist, while Ian Ker regards him as the worthy successor to Newman as Christian apologist. A new book called G.K. Chesterton, London, and Modernity presents him as a sophisticated commentator on the urban environment. His views on modernity and on reality itself have been widely quoted, and he is an influence on a surprisingly wide range of thinkers, such as Marshall McLuhan, Ivan Illich, Antonio Gramsci, Rene Girard, S.R.L. Clark, Slavoj Zizek and John and Alison Milbank.

So what was his critique of modernity, and what was the alternative he proposed?

First, here is a passage that will evoke a snort from Neoconservatives. “It cannot be too often repeated that what destroyed the Family in the modern world was Capitalism. No doubt it might have been Communism, if

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Why Chesterton?

Part of my recent interview with Maica Rivera concerned the G.K. Chesterton Library, which used to be looked after by the Centre for Faith & Culture. The following is slightly edited.

Q: What is the most important book/collection in the Chesterton Library at the Center for Faith & Culture in Oxford?

A: The Chesterton Library is no longer a part of the Center for Faith & Culture. It is owned by an independent charitable trust and located at the Oxford Oratory. The details are online here. Among the important books in the collection are many first editions, also many books inscribed by Chesterton himself (not just with signatures, but with drawings and comments).

Q: What is your favourite Chesterton book? Why?

A: It is hard to name a favourite, but perhaps I should say The Catholic Church and Conversion, because it reflects so accurately my own experience of becoming a Catholic. Or Orthodoxy, which is also about conversion, but contains a much more detailed argument and many famous passages. That is undoubtedly one of the greatest books of the 20th century.

Q: How can Chesterton's books impact our lives in the 21st century?

A: Chesterton understood many of the problems that afflict our culture, for example consumerism and the loss of a sense of meaning in modern life. He wrote: “People are inundated, blinded, deafened, and mentally paralysed by a flood of vulgar and tasteless externals, leaving them no time for leisure, thought, or creation from within themselves.” He wrote perceptively about these problems of modernity, and his arguments and insights are completely relevant to us now. He was a great influence on Marshall McLuhan, Ivan Illich, and Jorge Luis Borges. Pope Francis seems to be a fan. And new books about Chesterton continue to appear. For example, Chesterton, London and Modernity. Also, an book called Chesterton and the Jews by Ann Farmer will appear later this year, based on important new research. Ann has an article on her site that will give you an idea of what she says.

Q: Can a non-Catholic reader really enjoy and understand Chesterton´s work?

A: Certainly! He wrote for everyone, and many of his friends were non-Christians or even anti-Christians – witness his debates with George Bernard Shaw. He loved argument, and he wrote in a way that anyone can understand. He did not assume that his readers were Christian.

For further information and links visit the G.K. Chesterton Library site.