Monday, August 17, 2009

Selah: Dorothy Sayers

If you’ve read any Psalms, you’ve noticed the word selah. Hebrew—roughly translated, stop and listen. Let those with eyes, see, and with ears, hear.

Far too often, we're busy tuning out. Our eyes glaze, and we don’t see. The dramatic wisdom of untold centuries rushes over our feet, fresh and cool and invisible.

But it only takes a moment to step onto the shoulders of a literary giant. To pursue wisdom. Seriously, why read Noel De Vries when you could be reading, say, Dorothy Sayers?

Here she is, from her book The Mind of the Maker. Enjoy the view. And selah.

[Writing] is a social act; but the poet is, first and foremost, his own society.

For other minds, other analogies; but the artist's experience proves that the Trinitarian doctrine of Idea [Father], Energy [Son], Power [Holy Spirit] is, quite literally, what it purports to be: a doctrine of the Creative Mind.

[Theologians] are ready to use the "Father-symbol" to illustrate the likeness and familiarity between God and His children. But the "Creator-symbol" is used, if at all, to illustrate the deep gulf between God and His creatures. Yet, as Berdyaev says, "The image of the artist and the poet is imprinted more clearly on his works than on his children."

What is obvious here is the firmly implanted notion that all human situations are "problems" like detective problems, capable of a single, necessary, and categorical solution, which must be wholly right, while all others are wholly wrong. But this they cannot be, since human situations are subject to the law of human nature, whose evil is at all times rooted in its good, and whose good can only redeem, but not abolish, its evil. ... We do not, that is, merely examine the data to disentangle something that was in them already: we use them to construct something that was not there before: neither circumcision or uncircumcision, but a new creature.

...when plot precedes character and must be adhered to whatever happens, character inevitably suffers. (quoting J. D. Beresford)

...if the characters and the situation are rightly conceived together, as integral parts of the same unity, then there will be no need to force them to the right solution of that situation.

There are the propaganda writers—particularly the propaganda novelists and dramatists— Manichees, whose [form] assumes what looks like a genuine human body, but is in fact a hollow simulacrum that cannot truly live, love or suffer, but only perform exemplary gestures symbolical of the Idea.

Our speculations about Shakespeare are almost as multifarious and foolish as our speculations about the maker of the universe, and, like those, are frequently concerned to establish that his works were not made by him but by another person of the same name.

Dorothy Leigh Sayers was born at Oxford on June 13th, 1893. In 1923 she published her first novel, Whose Body, which introduced Lord Peter Wimsey, her hero for fourteen volumes of detective novels and short stories. She admired E. C. Bentley and G. K. Chesterton and numbered among her friends T. S. Eliot, Charles Williams and C. S. Lewis. To the end she drove herself hard, living the philosophy she expressed in these words: "The only Christian work is good work, well done"

Noel De Vries is a youth librarian percolating her second novel, a YA märchen set in 17th-century Holland. Visit Noel at Never Jam Today.


Sheila Deeth said...

I love Dorothy Sayers. I used to read her mysteries at my Granddad's house. Then I discovered her essays too. And my favorite is The Man Born to be King. I even listened to it on the radio as a kid.