Deconstruction And Rehabilitation: C. S. Lewis’ Defense Of Western Textuality -- By: Bruce L. Edwards, Jr.

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 29:2 (Jun 1986)
Article: Deconstruction And Rehabilitation: C. S. Lewis’ Defense Of Western Textuality
Author: Bruce L. Edwards, Jr.


Deconstruction And Rehabilitation: C. S. Lewis’
Defense Of Western Textuality

Bruce L. Edwards, Jr.*

Schoolmasters in our time are fighting hard in defence of education against vocational training; universities, on the other hand, are fighting against education on behalf of learning.

C. S. Lewis

From many platforms and in numerous publications during his lifetime, C. S. Lewis championed a tradition of values that he believed were under attack in a crassly anti-human modern age. For Lewis the key event in modern culture was the demise of the doctrine of objective value in education, particularly its devastating effect on literary study and the concept of textuality. Lewis himself sought to rescue an approach to written texts that preserved the authority of the author and maintained the objectivity of the text under consideration. While carefully examining the artifacts of the crumbling culture about him, Lewis articulated a literacy he found indigenous to a western epistemology informed by the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Lewis understood, like many present scholars, that when the creation of texts becomes integral to a culture’s stability, literacy becomes not only a set of techniques for communication but also a way of thinking, a construct that makes possible a more interior, analytical means of cognition than is possible in a primarily oral culture. As Walter Ong has noted:

With such external, technological equipment (as clay tablets, skins, paper, styli, brushes, pens, inks), the mind can understand kinds of activities previously impossible. The analytically organized treatise, such as Aristotle’s Rhetoric or Physics, can come into existence. There is no way for an oral culture to go through the kind of elaborately analytic thinking processes that constitute such work.1

Writing, in an even more dramatic way than speech, allows for the transcendence of self, for the detachment of knowledge from personal memory into a self-existent text, accessible to those who know the code. It is the notion of literacy as a paradigm of and basis for analytical thinking and critical inquiry that Lewis vociferously defended in his career. Yet it is this notion that has slowly been eroded in the post-modern era.

Behind the “literacy crisis” is not merely a foreshortened college career for a few more beleaguered freshmen who cannot read Ulysses or the disgruntle-ment of senior faculty members who must now teach so-called “basic skills” to

*Bruce Edwards is assistant professor of English at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

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