Thursday, November 1, 2012

Online Book Club: *The Mind of the Maker*

My wise, witty, and wonderful friend Cindy Rollins at Ordo Amoris / Dominion Family is hosting a nice, slow read through Dorothy Sayers' classic The Mind of the Maker, which I just love having an excuse to read.  I sat down this evening with my satisfying Levenger note cards

and started in with the Preface, Introduction by Madeleine L'Engle, and Chapter 1: "The 'Laws' of Nature and Opinion."  I'm going to post here my own contributions to the discussion, but first I'm going to read my predecessors.  You can find all the links here.

Cindy R. asks if we like Sayers' style--yes, of course, it's delightful!  She makes me long for the life I haven't had, that scholarly life in trimmed-lawn quads traversed by busy people in academic gowns with stacks of books, part of what always made Mystery! such a fun show to watch.  I love her naughty little limerick that is only tangentially necessary to her discussion of the "law" of probability in genetics--it doesn't say the fourth baby in a Mendelian sequence will be male or female or mulatto but that with enough babies we'll get roughly that distribution.

I agree with Sayers that it is depressing, distressing, that too many conversations end with frustration, when I see that the other person just doesn't get it. Will this kind of misunderstanding increase as education diversifies into the public mass education on the one hand, full of bureaucratized recordkeeping, and individualized free education of all the amazing sorts we've sampled as homeschoolers and online educators and students over the years?  Then those outside of the mainstream will find that only the most talented of the mass-produced students out there will be able to hold a real discussion--it's a contrast from the olden days when a talented farmer's son (or daughter) would surprise everyone and hold court in the marketplace or force his way through law school or write great poetry quietly after the chores.

I love Sayers' idea that the creativity of man is a reflection of the Creator.

I also really enjoyed L'Engle's Introduction in my edition, but I won't spend time on that here.

The Chapter 1 distinction between historical fact, like Grimm's phonetic law, and natural law--a statement of physical fact--reminds me of a great xkcd cartoon I saw the other day:  "Electoral Precedent."  Other political hints come in her note about how our dumb laws are superceded by natural law when those dumb laws lead to war, pestilence, and famine.  The good intentions are well illustrated by our friend Debra Hilton's observation that mosquito nets so lovingly sent to Mozambique actually result in MORE malaria because the locals use them for really efficient fishing nets, casting all the little fish up on the beach to die and thus end their careers eating mosquitos. Natural law will out.

I wonder about applying this idea to our ideas of when our children should marry.  By natural law they ought to marry at about 15-18, I'm thinking, but our society has smothered natural law with expectations and half-measures of contraception. But natural law will out.

I love the commentary on Aristotle's dramatic unities--I've been fascinated with those since Mrs. Schwerdt's 12th grade AP English class introduced me to them. How satisfying that we prove the wisdom of Aristotle when we naturally respond well to drama that follows those "rules."

But we also strain against the yoke when we find God's laws inconvenient or limiting to our freedom, we think.  Sayers says we should not ask, "Is it pleasant?" but "Is it true?"  "Creeds are statements of fact."  I don't have to strain myself to believe that Jesus was come down from Heaven, born of a virgin--I merely affirm what my whole being resonates to in the truth of that statement--what glorious truth!


Renee Mathis said...

I'm in a book club with smart women! This is going to be fun!

Ordo-Amoris said...

I agree with Renee! I am so happy you are contributing. It will up the game.

I just read a Miss Read book yesterday and I always have that little twinge of wanting to be a mild-mannered elderly academician in some village somewhere or even Oxford.

Sayers was such an interesting lady. By all accounts her husband was just a regular guy. I imagine him in a wife-beater drinking beer after work on a couch.

Brandy @ Afterthoughts said...

Did you know I didn't realize she was married??

So how do you use the note cards? I'm curious. :)

Your post makes me feel guilty about skipping L'Engle's introduction, but I did. I should go back to it sometime soon...

sara said...

Huh. My introduction by Howatch says Sayers had an illegitimate child and a couple of disappointing relationships, but no mention of marriage. What to make of that?

sara said...

Oh wait. There it is. She was married but contemplated separation.

Cindy Marsch said...

Thanks so much for your comments, Sara, Brandy, Cindy R., and Renee! What fun this is--I hope more will engage with us as the weeks go by.

Brandy, I can see how you would think her single. Was her hubby her own Lord Peter, do you think? Was she her own Harriet Vane? Hmm . . . The child is an interesting twist, but not so unexpected. My maternal grandparents were roughly her contemporaries, and I remember my grandmother lamenting how difficult it was to get birth control in their time--she "accidentally" got pregnant ten years into their marriage (she was 27 at the time, and he 37).

How much do we all think "rightly" while not living up to our own ideals? All the time for me.

Cindy Marsch said...

Oh, and Brandy, I just took pretty little tiny notes on the tiny orderly lines on the card, in pencil, and delighted in the aesthetics of the enterprise. I had one for the Preface and Introduction and another for Chapter 1. It just worked out that way. I jotted page numbers in the margins and noted down bits of quotes (conveyed in my post), paraphrases, and my own reactions--things to stimulate my thoughts when I wrote my post. That's all. I think I'll make up another one with the schedule on it. They make nice bookmarks, and my mom gave me a gorgeous pale lavender buttery leather pocket briefcase (link below) that feels perfectly indulgent to hold, and I can carry more cards in that. I look forward to getting into a good system for using it well. She also gave me a beautiful wooden box for my desk (both that and the case have my initials) that holds stacks of the cards perfectly. I feel very spoiled after that birthday!

Brandy @ Afterthoughts said...

Wow. that pocket briefcase is *amazing*!

Dancingirl said...

I, too, liked her example of Arstotle's "rules" for drama - really just observations of what actually works in drama. His "rules" conformed to what actually is true. So I guess that leads us to this: only laws/actions/ideals that conform to what is actually true will work. Ones that don't conform to what actually is true, will only lead to heartache and worse.

I enjoy Sayers' blunt, clear style. She doesn't try to sugar coat anything, does she?

I'm not sure how to get involved in this discussion. I did add my brief thoughts on the first chapter on my blog, which I linked at Ordo Amoris. I am looking forward to joining in. Do you need some kind of an introduction?


Cindy Marsch said...

Hi, Becky. I wasn't completely sure how to do it, but I think posting your link to your own comments at the Ordo Amoris site and then engaging with comments on each person's site is the way to go. I look forward to looking at your comments, and then I hope to pry out the time to read Chapter 2 in the next day or so! :-) I see Renee has already posted on that one.


Ordo-Amoris said...

Her husband was NOT her LPW although she may have been Harriet Vane. Her husband, apparently, was really truly just a regular guy not at all her intellectual companion. I did not think she contemplated separation. It seemed they had some sort of amiability.

Willa said...

I so crave the Levenger notecards and briefcase! : )

You commented on my blog about poets using ambiguity intentionally, because of delight with the possibilities, and in light of your comments about education I was wondering whether typical modern education simply closes off mystery, ambiguity, and paradox.

When you look at a child's textbook, you usually find a great effort made to clarify meaning and to propose answers to questions not yet asked. But then the child misses out on that whole half-seen world on the borders of understanding that CS Lewis talks about in The Discarded Image. And since wisdom begins in wonder, that seems like a real loss.

Cindy Marsch said...

That's a great insight, Willa. And Cindy R., I do so hope they had some amiability! Perhaps he helped bring her down to earth--a welcome tether.