Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

His Dark Materials and the Negation of the Negation

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moreintelligentlife.com has a mildly slavish interview with fantasist-of-the-moment (and notorious atheist!) Philip Pullman that’s worth reading if you’re interested in either children’s literature or religious controversy. Here’s a bit where he rags on Lewis and Tolkien:

Several times Pullman reminds me that a work of fiction is not an argument. Perhaps it’s safest to say that in “His Dark Materials” he has constructed his own imaginative world so as not to submit to anyone else’s. He likes to quote William Blake’s line: “I must create a system, or be enslav’d by another man’s.” His story is a rival to the narratives put forward by two earlier Oxford writers, J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” and C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia”. Pullman loathes the way the children in Narnia are killed in a car-crash. “I dislike his Narnia books because of the solution he offers to the great questions of human life: is there a God, what is the purpose, all that stuff, which he really does engage with pretty deeply, unlike Tolkien who doesn’t touch it at all. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is essentially trivial. Narnia is essentially serious, though I don’t like the answer Lewis comes up with. If I was doing it at all, I was arguing with Narnia. Tolkien is not worth arguing with.”

1) It’s a train wreck, not a car crash, though this was probably the interviewer’s error and not Pullman’s. (The Problem of Susan is worth footnoting here as well.)

2) This is a strange thing that seems to happen to a lot of atheists and agnostics, and I say that certainly having recognized the impulse in myself at times as well. Rather than exiling religious and metaphysical questions to the margins, as you might expect, the recognition of the non-existence of God has the exact opposite effect: the question of God becomes the only one worth asking and the only thing worth talking about. Hence the ludicrous claim that Tolkien is “essentially trivial” because Lord of the Rings is neither a theistic nor atheistic polemic.

I don’t quite know what to make of this, but it’s very interesting. Clearly, Pullmanistic atheism has mastered the negation, but just as clearly it needs to find some way to move forward into the negation of the negation. I think that’s what actually existing atheism would have to be, rather than the cancerous anti-theism that so thoroughly dominates the category today.

Written by gerrycanavan

December 8, 2007 at 7:45 pm

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