Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | November 6, 2007

Being serious in the wrong way

We are all guilty, I suspect, of mostly swimming in a world of like-minded thought – only attending to those we agree with. So I thought I’d dip into someone I suspect I have little affinity for – C.S.Lewis. In the following quote he says something so odd I can hardly understand him. A prize to anyone who can decode this: “You could almost say they (lovers) put on nakedness as a ceremonial robe – or as the costume for a charade. For we must still be aware-and never more than when we thus partake of the Pagan sacrament in our love-passages of being serious in the wrong way.”

Here it is in context:

“Are we not our true selves when naked? In a sense, no. The word naked was originally a past participle; the naked man was the man who had undergone a process of naking, that is, of stripping or peeling (you used the verb of nuts and fruit). Time out of mind the naked man has seemed to our ancestors not the natural but the abnormal man; not the man who has abstained from dressing but the man who has been for some reason undressed. And it is a simple fact – anyone can observe it at a men’s bathing place-that nudity emphasises common humanity and soft-pedals what is individual. In that way we are “more ourselves” when clothed. By nudity the lovers cease to be solely John and Mary; the universal He and She are emphasised. You could almost say they put on nakedness as a ceremonial robe-or as the costume for a charade. For we must still be aware-and never more than when we thus partake of the Pagan sacrament in our love-passages of being serious in the wrong way. The Sky-Father himself is only a Pagan dream of One far greater than Zeus and far more masculine than the male. And a mortal man is not even the Sky-Father, and cannot really wear his crown. Only a copy of it, done in tinselled paper. I do not call it this in contempt. I like ritual; I like private theatricals; I even like charades. Paper crowns have their legitimate, and (in the proper context) their serious, uses. They are not in the last resort much flimsier (“if imagination mend them”) than all earthly dignities.” (from The Four Loves, C.S.Lewis)


Responses

  1. Lewis seems to be postulating that since early days the normal state of humanity is to be dressed rather than undressed, as a way of marking our individuality from the herd. The more we pay attention to our clothes, the greater scope we have for defining ourselves rather than letting ourselves be defined by nature.

    He is following that argument (erroneously, in my opinion) into all realms of nakedness, including the intimate nakedness between lovers. And in trying to follow the argument there, he is tying himself into knots. For Lewis, the two lovers are not (or maybe not solely) getting “nekkid” so they can have closer intimacy and total body on body tactile stimulation, but are (also?) trying to “achieve” (perhaps subconsiously) some sort of transcendent state. If there clothes are what make them John and Mary, then getting them out of their clothes takes that identify away from them. If it’s taken away, then what is left? In Lewis’s thesis, it is “the universal He and She”, a kind of embodiment of the idea of being lovers (as I read it).

    This is where the idea of nakedness as a ceremonial robe comes in. Druids are familiar with the concept that wearing robes both elevates you from quotidien time and space but also helps bring together a group mind that can accomplish more spiritually than the individual mind. If being normal and everyday and individual means to be dressed, then taking off your clothes would have a similar effect to putting on ceremonial robes, becoming ‘skyclad’, ie. dressing yourself in the heavens themselves – surely no grander covering or one more likely to elevate you!

    The second sentence is hard to decipher because the punctuation, the use of dashes or hyphens, seems wonky somehow. Lynne Truss would be screaming if she read this, hee hee.

    My reading is that the comment about “being serious in the wrong way” follows directly on from and comments on the previous sentence likening the putting on of a ceremonial robe to putting on a costume for a charade. He elucidates further. Pagans can only conceive of a god as something bigger and better than men, sort of a giant US, but not of something that is so different it is unknowable, his conception of the true nature of god. All we do to emulate has to be in the nature of performance, for we can never hope to really achieve or even understand his magnitude.

    THEREFORE (getting there, I promise) John and Mary hoping (perhaps subconsiously) to transcend mere mortality by becoming Universal Lovers in the act of disrobing, can also achieve nothing more than a charade of Universal Love, which can only be experienced by God himself. When they do not recognise this they are being serious in the wrong way, by hoping in their meagre Pagan way to really be able to transcend mortality instead of seeing that really what they are doing is honoring God by an elaborate performance of something they know is truly beyond their ken.

    Thank you very much.

  2. Thank you Paul on that very elucidating reply. There is a way in which Lewis succeeds in rendering the concept of attaining an awareness of an archetypal identity as something ‘merely’ universal – as if by making love in our nakedness we all become Joe Average! Imagine a Tantric trying to see their approach in this way!

  3. Yeah, it’s mad. But an interesting intellectual exercise to put yourself into that mindset and try to work out what it all means from that perspective.


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