Dangerous insects

I happened to acquire a copy of C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy at the weekend.  Yes, I know I should have read it ages ago, but I find him hard-going, apart from the Narnia novels (and sometimes those are a bit much too).  So I thought I’d find out more about him from this spiritual autobiography.

I haven’t got much further than his childhood.  Writing about his fear of insects, which he found to be like machines come to life, he added: 

You may add that in the hive and the ant-hill we see fully realised the two things that some of us most dread for our own species – the dominance of the female and the dominance of the collective.”

He was born in 1898, and so this is in a sense a period-piece. And I imagine he would view modern developments as the nightmare scenario he dreaded as a child.  Do the two fears hang together though?  Do women necessarily encourage the ‘collective’ rather than the individual?

Women are often assumed to be ‘better at relationships’, good at pastoral work, family-oriented.  I don’t much like stereotyping of any gender, but in any case, I don’t think this trait is about the ‘collective’;  it’s more to do with wanting to get individuals to hang together and celebrate their diversity.  It’s this which makes the increase in female entrepreneurs, political leaders, and even religious leaders, a matter not of ‘dominance’ but collaboration.

I had always thought Lewis was a Classicist in outlook – and yet the hive and ant-hill which he fears were praised by the ancients as models of society.  So was he a modernist?  Romantic?  For he seems to be an individualist.  How do you understand his perspectives?

I’d like to have some motivation to continue reading Surprised by Joy – is anyone willing to supply it?

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1 Response to Dangerous insects

  1. Alistair says:

    Wasn’t Lewis was a medievalist – don’t know if that explains anything. I guess his misogynism was a natural product of a his closeted, male dominated college existence. The antipathy to collectivism probably reflects his generation’s experience of totalitarian regimes – whether Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany. Also a bit of the Ulster Protestant obsession with individual freedom. His contemporary, the Ulster poet John Hewitt wrote this is 1946:
    ‘Against the anthill or the beehive state, I hold the right of man to stay out late,
    to sulk and laugh, to criticise or pray, to vote by show of hands, or stay at home,
    to stroll on Sunday with a vasculum, to sing or act or play or paint or write
    in any mode that offers him delight.’
    Lewis was a big influence on me when I was young, but I soon grew out of him. Can’t read his theology now, though I still love the science fiction trilogy.

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