Heretics (Anglais) Relié – 1 août 2007
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Chesterton is well known for his reasoned apologetics. Chesterton wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4000 essays, and several plays. He was a literary and social critic, historian, playwright, novelist, Catholic theologian and apologist, debater, and mystery writer. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .
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NOTHING more strangely indicates an enormous and silent evil of modern society than the extraordinary use which is made nowadays of the word "orthodox." Lire la première page
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Technically, it is a book of literary criticism, but from an unusual point of view, that of his subjects' philosophy.
"I am not concerned with Shaw as one of the most brilliant and one of the most honest men alive; I am concerned with him as a heretic--that is to say, a man whose philosophy is solid, quite coherent, and quite wrong." (p. 22)
Brilliant though he was, Shaw expected reality to conform to an inhuman ideal:
"He has all the time been silently comparing humanity with something that was not human, with a monster from Mars, with the Wise Man of the Stoics, with the Economic Man of the Fabians, with Julius Caesar, with Siegfried, with Superman. Now, to have this inner and merciless standard may be a very good thing, or a very bad one, it may be excellent or unfortunate. but it is not seeing things as they are." (pp. 62-63)
This is excellent writing, whether we entirely agree or not. It may be a little unfair to Shaw, but it is fair to life.
Chesterton is often called an optimist. But he knew the other side, as anyone reading Alzina Stone Dale's life, The Outline of Sanity, can find out. Joy in living, good beer, conversation, balance, sanity, these were achievements, not just nature.
I have managed to find a couple of books by George A. Moore, including his autobiographical novel portraying the Paris of the Impressionists of the 1870s and 1880s, Confessions of a Young Man. One tends to regard it as a memoir, and Chesterton did so. Chesterton attacks his egoism, the interest in the world as related to his own temperament:
"We should really be much more interested in Mr. Moore if he were not quite so interested in himself. We feel as if we were being shown through a gallery of really fine pictures, into each of which, by some useless and discordant convention, the artist had represented the same figure in the same attitude. 'The Grand Canal with a distant view of Mr. Moore," "Effect of Mr. Moore through a Scotch Mist,' 'Mr. Moore by Firelight,' 'Ruins of Mr. Moore by Moonlight,' and so on seems to be the endless series." (pp. 131-132)
That has to be one of the funniest sentences ever written, and I could barely type it for laughing. A bit later on the page, Chesterton gives his vision of originality:
"Thinking about himself will lead to trying to be the universe; trying to be the universe will lead to ceasing to be anything. If, on the other hand, a man is sensible enough to think only about the universe; he will think about it in his own way. He will keep virgin the secret of God; he will see the grass as no other man can see it, and look at a sun that no man has ever known."
There is no space to mention all the wonderful writing in Heretics. I will mention his often expressed view of the narrowness of the larger world, where one can choose one's companions, as opposed to the nation, the neighborhood or the family, where one has to take people the way they are, with all their foibles.
"The best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down a chimney into any house at random, and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each one of us did on the day he was born." (p. 190)
As always, Chesterton's ideas are eminently discussable! No commentary of mine could do justice to the variety, wisdom, and good humour in this book. The best thing would be to find a copy and read it.
I have the John Lane edition, 1905.
With that said, it is well to note that "Heretics" and "Orthodoxy" should be read almost as a single work. From the viewpoint of Chesterton, "Heretics" is the critique of bad philosophy and "Orthodoxy" is the defense of good philosophy.
The trouble with "Heretics" is that it is such a local book. What I mean is that this book is a series of analytical criticisms of specific men during that specific time period (late 19th century to early 20th century) and it is easy to miss the points Chesterton makes if you are not familiar with the philosophies and views of the men he is critiquing. That isn't to say this book isn't one Chesterton's finest works. Yet, I would certainly reccomend "Heretics: The Annotated Edition" to anyone who is not very familiar with these particular early 20th century English writers which he is referring to in this book. The annotated edition makes it much easier to see what Chesterton is saying. For although people change over time, philosophies generally remain the same; and that is why Chesterton's criticisms of these philosophies are still relevant. And as stated earlier, this book, in a way, sets up the groundwork for "Orthodoxy," which is still considered a masterpiece; and almost certainly worth reading for anyone who does not understand or sympathize with the sentiment and romance of the Christian faith.
I would recommend this book for those interested in exploring the arena of worldview debate. It isn't a long book, at only about 150 pages. The essay are broken up into nice little chunks that you can read in a half-hour or so, spend some time mulling, and maybe read through again, if you'd like. I could attempt to describe the content of the essay's, but it would take way too long, and I'd fail to do it anywhere near as well the Big Man himself.
Chesterton weighs in on the "heretics" of his day who prided themselves in their heretical superiority to conservative orthodoxy. These heretics seem to have had a worldview not much out of step with modern avant-garde thought. Chesterton's critique of these ideas is lucid, lyrical, and logical. The passage of 100 years has obscured the context of much of what he says, but his conclusions are as timely today as they were yesterday.
And those turn out to be important truths about some of the biggest perennial questions:
Why should it matter what someone's philisophy is?
What's wrong with subjectivism?
What is the most secure ground for human rights like free speech, tolerance, and liberty?
What is the difference between good patriotism and bad patriotism?
Are human beings more than animals?
Can we build a great and just society without first addressing human selfishness?
Are human beings incorrigibly ritualistic?
If so, what is the difference between good ritual and bad?
What is the correct attitude toward drinking and other indulgences?
Why is sensationalist media so consistently boring?
What is the proper relation between the ideas of nation and race?
Is Christianity a benefit or a hindrance to society? and how so?
Is there any value in "low" entertainment like romance stories and action/adventure films?
Does humor have any place in serious debates about the most important things?
Is there any such thing as "good" art or is it all in the eye of the beholder? to name a few.
It's also important to note that Chesterton does not just denounce from on high; much more often he is explaining how he came to change his mind or notice something that he had missed before.
Not surprisingly, this book got under the skin of a number of Chesterton's contemporaries. One of them threw out the challenge that if he was so clever and all-knowing he should write down his own personal positive beliefs instead of just criticizing others. So he did. That's how Chesterton's little classic 'Orthodoxy' (1908) came to be.
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