Friday, October 14, 2022

The need for roots

Andrew Wilson:
A few years ago I noticed how many of my favourite authors were writing during or immediately after World War II. ....

Their works are...marked by a deep awareness of radical evil, which is hardly surprising given the times in which they lived. It gives their essays an urgency, and their poetry and fiction a cosmic drama that few writers before or since have achieved: think of Big Brother and Room 101, Sauron and Saruman, Lord of the Flies, the White Witch, Animal Farm, and the role of sin and the devil in Graham Greene’s novels.

So it is fascinating how often their responses to radical evil involve an appeal to history. Sometimes this comes as a direct address to the reader, like James Baldwin’s writings on race, Hannah Arendt‘s on revolution, Leszek KoĊ‚akowski’s on communism, Isaiah Berlin’s on liberalism, or Dorothy Sayers’s Creed or Chaos. T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden do it through their numerous references and allusions. Greene and Flannery O’Connor draw on their Catholicism. C.S. Lewis makes the point through essays on why we should read old books, and by skewering chronological snobbery at every opportunity, from That Hideous Strength to the fates of Uncle Andrew and King Miraz in the Narnia stories.

J.R.R. Tolkien does it through his medieval language and setting, his complex prehistories, and his plot: remember Sam on the edge of Mount Doom, reminiscing about the Shire and reminding Frodo of the old stories long before totalitarian evil seized the world. Simone Weil’s greatest work is entitled L’Enracinement, usually translated The Need for Roots. Most powerfully of all, George Orwell creates worlds where nobody remembers the past, and where those in power, from the pigs in Animal Farm to the Party in 1984, are free to manipulate it for their own purposes, throwing unwanted recollections down the memory hole. “History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.” All of these writers had witnessed the near-collapse of the West in recent memory, and they knew the dangers of losing their history, and the importance of not allowing it. .... (more)
Not a bad reading list.

Andrew Wilson, "The Need for Roots," Think, Oct. 12, 2022.

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