A Conversation About Love originally posted January, 2015:
Two passages from my commonplace book; first, this from The Brothers Karamazov:
The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular . . . I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together . . . As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs my self-complacency and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner; another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity. ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky
And then this from The Screwtape Letters:
Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. ~ C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Doesn’t it make you wonder if Lewis had just been reading The Brothers K when he penned those words from Screwtape to Wormwood? Consciously or not, Lewis is joining the Great Conversation, along with so many others who join to unravel the nuances of the Golden Rule. In my mind, these common themes are just as much a part of the Great Conversation as are allusions and direct references.
We sit at their feet, we listen, and we learn. Dostoevsky’s mother of Lisa reveals her utter blindness to the disordered love in her own heart. Screwtape directs Wormwood to capitalize on that disordered love in the heart of his “patient.” Seeing these things in the lives of our fictional friends reveals to us the counterfeit love that lurks in our own hearts. And perhaps they will give me pause the next time I am tempted to “direct my malice” to the “immediate neighbors” in my own house.
Updated November, 2015
…with this quote shared by one of my Poetics & Progym II students:
“They would rather provide the liveries of a hundred footman than be bothered with the love-affairs of one. They would rather take the salute of a hundred soldiers than try to save the soul of one. They would rather serve out income-tax papers or telegraph forms to a hundred men than meals, conversation, and moral support to one. They would rather arrange the educational course in history or geography, or correct the examination papers in algebra or trigonometry, for a hundred children, than struggle with the whole human character of one.” ~ G. K. Chesterton, Turning Inside Out
Perhaps Chesterton was also reading The Brothers K? Also, Chesterton quotes are a gold mine for figures of speech.