Monday, October 06, 2008


Please finish your food and drink before reading!

Like the lady in the Gospels, I have to hurry and tell my neighbours! I found something I thought was lost...

I used to have a PC, it was a 386, I bought it in 1989 and did my whole doctorate on it, among other things. It was a lot of fun... anyway I thought I had left a very important file on that machine, and somehow never brought it over into the "new world" when I got the next machine in 1996.... but I found it, made the needed revisions and printed it. Hurray!

What file? Just a little handbook of prayers I made long ago. Yes, I put in the three "useful prayers" I posted recently.

So that was what I was up to on Saturday, and yesterday I worked on a new story for the ChesterTeens, though I was supposed to be working on the sequel to my "Black Hole" story, or something. Oh well.

But telling you about what *I* do is boring. What about other stuff? Where's the Chesterton? Oh, my. Well, one of the things I want to do is finish off the commentary on Orthodoxy, though I don't see how I will be able to finish it this year. And there are long lists of other projects waiting for spare time between the rest of the things I have to do... For example, one of the little booklets I would like to see is a "Chesterton Joke Book" with all the funniest things he wrote. The problem is there are lots of things he wrote that *I* will laugh about, and few others will - and vice versa. Sometimes he is funniest when others think he is being serious - and vice versa. But there are certain lines, and certain essays which just reach out from the page and get you laughing, no matter what. Several of these come to mind as I think about this, and strange to say, they always seem to deal with animals. I wonder why that is. One of the best is the essay about pigs as pets, (in The Uses of Diversity) which is a bit longer than I wish to post here. Then there is the famous joke in Orthodoxy:

Q. What did the first frog say?
A. Lord how you made me jump!
though I do not mean to imply that GKC invented this joke, just as there are other lines he is known for, but which originally came from someone else. And that phrase suggests something funny... but let me finish the animal idea before I go there.
Another rip-roaring bit is the famous "triangular camel" in Heretics, which is best in context:
If the two moralities are entirely different, why do you call them both moralities? It is as if a man said, "Camels in various places are totally diverse; some have six legs, some have none, some have scales, some have feathers, some have horns, some have wings, some are green, some are triangular. There is no point which they have in common." The ordinary man of sense would reply, "Then what makes you call them all camels? What do you mean by a camel? How do you know a camel when you see one?"
[Heretics CW1:167]
Then there is the even more famous "the giraffe is a lie" quip:
When first the giraffe was described by travellers it was treated as a lie. Now it is in the Zoological Gardens; but it still looks like a lie.
[GKC ILN Oct 21 1911 CW29:176]
And, as I hunt though my memory (I mean my memory, not AMBER!) I recall another quote which may give the formal philosophical answer - OK, it's not formal, but it's Chestertonian - as to why animals are funny. This comes at the end of a very serious discussion about being generous - specifically, giving poor people a turkey at Christmas:
A turkey is more occult and awful than all the angels and archangels. In so far as God has partly revealed to us an angelic world, he has partly told us what an angel means. But God has never told us what a turkey means. And if you go and stare at a live turkey for an hour or two, you will find by the end of it that the enigma has rather increased than diminished.
[GKC ILN Jan 4 1908 CW28:21]
So there you have GKC's explanation, such as it is. (I take this opportunity to remind my readers that the word "occult" in this phrase means "hidden" and not "satanic".)

And now, to take up the deferred thread of thought that arose from the word "else" above, we will turn to the even more occult matter of funny human jokes. I will just mention two, since there are others to be found, but I do have other things to do today, and I also wish to leave some of the delight of discovery for you.

The first is the very famous ILN essay which digs into theology (and science, a little) but mostly pokes fun at a very strange article GKC had read. It has several hilarious lines, and is very wonderful for its insights, but also for the care that GKC always lavished on his enemy, even when he was about to hold him up for very serious criticism:
The following words are written over the signature of a man whose intelligence I respect, and I cannot make head or tail of them -
When modern science declared that the cosmic process knew nothing of a historical event corresponding to a Fall, but told, on the contrary, the story of an incessant rise in the scale of being, it was quite plain that the Pauline scheme - I mean the argumentative process of Paul's scheme of salvation - had lost its very foundation; for was not that foundation the total depravity of the human race inherited from their first parents? ... But now there was no Fall; there was no total depravity, or imminent danger of endless doom; and, the basis gone, the superstructure followed.
It is written with earnestness and in excellent English; it must mean something. But what can it mean? How could physical science prove that man is not depraved? You do not cut a man open to find his sins. You do not boil him until he gives forth the unmistakable green fumes of depravity. How could physical science find any traces of a moral fall? What traces did the writer expect to find? Did he expect to find a fossil Eve with a fossil apple inside her? Did he suppose that the ages would have spared for him a complete skeleton of Adam attached to a slightly faded fig-leaf?
[GKC ILN Sept 28 1907 CW27:559-60]
Yes.... "boil him until he gives forth the unmistakable green fumes of depravity". Oh gosh.

And now, one of the funniest of these matters - I say funniest because we will all recognise the name of GKC's opponent:
Mr. Edison as reported does not say much about whether we "live again," but in a few well-chosen words he disposes of the soul: "My mind is incapable of conceiving such a thing as a soul. I may be in error, and man may have a soul; but I simply do not believe it. What a soul may be is beyond my understanding." So far, so good; all right; amen. But I ask the reader to remember this agnostic statement in considering what follows. He then goes on to deal with the origin of life; or rather, not to deal with it. The following statement is of such fearful intensity and importance that the interviewer prints it all in italics, and I will so reproduce it. "I believe the form of energy that we call life came to the Earth from some other planet or at any rate from somewhere out in the great spaces beyond us." In short, there will henceforth be branded upon our brains the conviction that life came from somewhere, and probably under some conditions of space. But the suggestion that it came from another planet seems a rather weak evasion. Even a mind enfeebled by popular science would be capable of stirring faintly at that, and feeling unsatisfied. If it came from another planet, how did it arise on that planet? And in whatever way it arose on that planet, why could it not arise in that way on this planet? We are dealing with something admittedly unique and mysterious: like a ghost. The original rising of life from the lifeless is as strange as a rising from the dead. But this is like explaining a ghost walking visibly in the churchyard, by saying that it must have come from the churchyard of another village.
[GKC ILN May 3 1924 CW33":321-2]
Poor Mr. Edison. The sad thing is that there are still people around who claim this "explanation" that life came from another planet.

Unfortunately, one really must laugh at this. (No, not at them! At GKC's paraphrase of the explanation. Remember: Distinguo.)

Last but not least, now that you have stopped laughing uncontrollably, I posted another chapter of my novel. There is no animal humor there, but you can find that in chapter 23...Maybe you need to go stare at a parrot for while... Hee hee!


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