Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Man Who Was Thursday - Chap. 3 & 4

Logistical Stuff

We're going to have to pick up the pace a little bit, now, everyone, if we want to get this book done by the end of the summer. I'll be posting the discussion content for chapters five and six by this coming weekend. Try to stay on pace. Let me know if it's running too far ahead via email.

For those interested, our discussion of the last two chapters are available here. I hope those who were silent last time join in on this one.

Also, if it helps while you're making comment, there is a good online text of the work available here. That online library, by the way, has quite a lot of good stuff, including an extensive collection of the Church Fathers (albeit not in the best translations).

Discussion Points - Chapters 3 & 4

1) Chesterton's premise of men honoring an word-of-mouth oath is most challenged in its credibility throughout the third chapter. Do you think he pulls off the conceit?

2) Chapter three, "The Man Who Was Thursday," with the two speeched given by Gregory and by Syme, reads as a very entertaining scene - one which I would love to see acted out. My favorite aspect is that Syme is still a man of honor despite his "betrayal." I loved especially the double entendre behind the following lines:
Syme: "Comrade Gregory accuses me of hypocrisy. He knows as well as I do that I am keeping all my engagements and doing nothing but my duty. I do not mince words.
However, my favorite part of the exchange, and the part I would most like to see acted out, would have the be the very end. I'd like to see the expression on Gregory's face:
Almost in the act of stepping on board, Gabriel Syme turned to the gaping Gregory.

"You have kept your word," he said gently, with his face in shadow. "You are a man of honour, and I thank you. You have kept it even down to a small particular. There was one special thing you promised me at the beginning of the affair, and which you have certainly given me by the end of it."

"What do you mean?" cried the chaotic Gregory. "What did I promise you?"

"A very entertaining evening," said Syme, and he made a military salute with the sword‑stick as the steamboat slid away.
Haha! Brilliant! James Bond has nothing on Gabriel Syme in the way of coolness.

Please comment upon your own favorite moments of this memorable scene.

3) There are some very interesting notions in Chapter four, "The Tale of a Detective." Permit me to reproduce a sizeable passage:
We say that the most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men; my heart goes out to them. They accept the essential ideal of man; they merely seek it wrongly. Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it. But philosophers dislike property as property; they wish to destroy the very idea of personal possession. Bigamists respect marriage, or they would not go through the highly ceremonial and even ritualistic formality of bigamy. But philosophers despise marriage as marriage. Murderers respect human life; they merely wish to attain a greater fulness of human life in themselves by the sacrifice of what seems to them to be lesser lives. But philosophers hate life itself, their own as much as other people’s.
Living in our modern "culture of death," I think this idea, which seems to be Chesterton's spoken through the mouthpiece of the detective, holds merit. We've heard many times that we need to change the culture before simply enacting laws will do any good. Some disagree. Your thoughts?

4) Of course, feel free to comment upon anything else that struck you from this section of the work. But I will suggest one more passage which seems to lend itself to discussion. Consider the third to last paragraph of chapter four. It seems to be Chesterton's theory of good fantasy literature - a theory against, perhaps, the surrealism and absurdism which was burgeoning at the turn of the century. If you happen to know a little bit about Chesterton's thought on "fairy land," and how it may have influenced later writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, please share.

Happy reading, til next time!

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2 Comments:

Blogger Friguy said...

The experience of reading chapter three was the most exhilarating non-physical activity in which I have engaged recently. It was like match point between Sampras and Agassi at Wimbeldon--volley after wicked volley. Chesterton's means of expressing vocal dynamics and mob mentality (parenthetically) is masterful. The cheers of the board of anarchists were ringing in my ears as I read.

And then there was silence. Here, in a quiet respite, the Brit unloads a line that should echo in the heart of man: "Truth is so terrible, even in fetters, that for a moment Syme's slender and insane victory swayed like a reed." Indeed, truth remains truth even under the chains of repression and distortion. Even if it appears the weaker in competition, like a reed against the wind, truth is true. [I would ask "Quid est veritas," but that quest deserves more probing than a weblog comment can supply.] Truth is terrible, and time admits only of shades of truth. In time, we await the ultimate revelation in which light will be wholly pervasive; for, we believe, "the dawn from on high shall break upon us." Syme, here, succeeds in defeating Gregory in his election as Thursday, but does so with trickery. Truthfully, yes, but nonetheless slyly. The splendor of truth shines fullest when it is emancipated not only from the chains of its oppressors, but also those of its bearers.

For this reason--the truthful, but sly, manner of Syme's action--I fear his potential downfall in future chapters. Perhaps, though, I am wrong to call him a trickster. His actions could also bespeak to us the words of Christ: "Be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt. 10:16)? Maybe Syme is being select with the truth he shares with Gregory in an effort to lead both closer to the source of truth.

So, is Syme in chapter three a model of evangelical living, or is he betwixed in a nest sophistical chicanery? I vote for the latter.

I must admit to being rather confused by the characters and movements in chapter four. I hope I will get clarity as things progress, but I was struck by a passage that deserves our reflection. As baptized men, we are men on a mission. The mission is to prevail in the end. We do not know when the end is to come, where it will begin, or what it shall look like. But we believe it is coming. As Chesterton speaks through the lightless, invisible chief: "No one has any experience . . . of the Battle of Armageddon." As unfit, unworthy, and useless as we might feel in preparation for said battle, does the inexperience of mankind in this coming battle permit our inattention to its rigors? The first statement of Pope Benedict XVI to the world spoke of gladness that "God can work even with insufficient means." Indeed, there is one "profession of which mere willingness is the final test." This is the Christian life, a life of continuous death to self for the life of the world. The chief reminds me of the TV host on "Weakest Link" when he says: "I am condemning you to death. Good day." Does not Christ levy upon us the same condemnation?

6/19/06, 3:44 PM  
Blogger Joey G. said...

I'll admit that the flashback sequence in chapter four was a bit disorienting. He did a good job of constructing a bit of a dreamy, ephemeral scene, there.

I like your last observation, too, by the way. Syme's "vocation" seems a bit of an allegory for the call to radical discipleship. I often wondered about the looks on the Apostles' faces when Jesus appeared to them behind locked doors and said "Peace be with you." I imagine they were far from at peace, eyeing the wounds in his hands with maybe a premonition of what awaited them...

6/19/06, 5:43 PM  

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