Wednesday, April 30, 2008

C. S. Lewis says...

This is a great passage from the opening of his A Preface to Paradise Lost (a little book that is, may I point out, dedicated to old Charles Williams); I think it may also be a selection in The Business of Heaven. Lewis is of course saying all this in introduction to a critical analysis of Milton's masterpiece, though I'm certain that this is also how the man would approach the scriptures (on a critical level, that is)--which is only proper. While the study of scripture isn't usually undertaken as a study of it qua "workmanship", this initial consideration, of what a thing was meant to be, is still of the utmost importance in looking at any text. All the talk of genre with the scriptural texts is necessary today simply because so many people are trying to ignore this first and most obvious step in critical thinking.
The first qualification for judging any piece of workmanship from a corkscrew to a cathedral is to know what it is--what it was intended to do and how it is meant to be used. After that has been discovered the temperance reformer may decide that the corkscrew was made for a bad purpose, and the communist may think the same about the cathedral. But such questions come later. The first thing is to understand the object before you: as long as you think the corkscrew was meant for opening tins or the cathedral for entertaining tourists you can say nothing to the purpose about them. The first thing a reader needs to know about Paradise Lost is what Milton meant it to be.

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