Volume 52

Guests on Volume 52: Tom Shippey, on J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century; Jeffrey Meyers, on George Orwell’s illuminating use of language; Ralph McInerny, on natural theology and the "subjective turn" in philosophy; Daniel Ritchie, on William Cowper and how we know the world; Ian Ker, on John Henry Newman and the purpose of education; Mark Schwehn, on teaching, community, and virtue; Gilbert Meilaender, on ways to think about work; and Tiina Nunnally, on the prose of Sigrid Undset.

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Part 1

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    Tom Shippey on J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century

    J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (Houghton Mifflin, 2001)

    Philologist Tom Shippey notes the characteristics that indicate that The Lord of the Rings is a twentieth-century work even though it is not set in the twentieth century. Shippey, author of J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, identifies one of the characteristics as the momentum that accompanies evil and that sweeps characters into action before they understand what is happening. Twentieth century warfare, he adds, is industrial and impersonal, just as is the warfare in The Lord of the Rings. Shippey also discusses the traditional pattern of the quest and how the trilogy does not fit it. While most of those who are on a quest are looking for something to recover, Frodo and his friends are traveling far in order to throw away something, states Shippey.

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    Jeffrey Meyers on George Orwell's illuminating use of language

    Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation (Norton, 2001)

    Writer Jeffery Meyers notes that George Orwell "had amazing insight into what it was like to live in a totalitarian country." Meyers, whose biography of Orwell is titled Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation, sites Animal Farm and 1984 as prime examples of imaginative works that capture "important truths about modern tyranny." One of those truths involves language, which, as seen in Animal Farm, explains Meyers, can be used as a weapon to betray the principles of a revolution. Meyers states that Orwell's sensitivity to language influenced his idea of good writing. Good prose, he said, "should be like a window pane—it shouldn't cloud the memory."

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    Ralph McInerny on natural theology and the "subjective turn" in philosophy

    Characters in Search of Their Author: The Gifford Lectures, 1999-2000 (University of Notre Dame Press, 2000)

    In the 1999–2000 academic year, philosopher Ralph McInerny presented the Gifford Lectures at the University of Glasgow. His talks have since been published in Characters in Search of Their Author. McInerny discusses their subject matter, which is how and why natural theology came to be thought of as pointless. He also describes the roles that Descartes and Sartre play in the story. The Gifford Lectures were established in 1887 to study natural theology, i.e. the "study of knowledge of God."

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    Daniel Ritchie on William Cowper and how we know the world

    William Cowper (1731-1800)

    "The point of being in nature is not just to come up with glittering phrases [about it], but to understand what it's teaching."
    Daniel Ritchie

    Poet and hymnodist William Cowper (1731–1800) was ahead of his time in seeing the truth about the Enlightenment, says professor of English Daniel Ritchie. Cowper understood and wrote about how inadequate mere analytic reason is for forming convictions about God and creation. Ritchie says that "personal knowledge" and "imaginative apprehension" of God are needed for such convictions, and that Cowper saw how the Enlightenment would undermine them. Ritchie discusses what Cowper believed about dwelling in creation and learning from it. He also notes what Cowper thought about the Enlightenment's preoccupation with method.

Part 2

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    Ian Ker on John Henry Newman and the purpose of education

    The Achievement of John Henry Newman (University of Notre Dame Press, 1990)

    ". . . Better to go to a formless university with discussion, than to go to an improperly formed university."
    Ian Ker

    Professor of theology Ian Ker discusses Cardinal John Henry Newman's ideas about higher education. Newman (1801–1890), he says, believed that "mental cultivation is the purpose of learning." To cultivate the intellect, he advocated studying a broad range of interrelated topics at a university. Ker explains how universities, the sort of which Newman would approve, function and why he valued them as the stewards of learning. Ker also attends to the importance the Cardinal placed on the interaction between professors and students, and on discussion.

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    Mark Schwehn on teaching, community, and virtue

    Everyone a Teacher (Notre Dame, 2001)

    "Teaching, to be properly understood, needs to be understood in a framework with transcendent horizons and some account of the human soul that points to mystery there—it's a religious vocation."
    Mark Schwehn

    Professor Mark Schwehn discusses the vocation of teaching and the anthology he edited, Everyone a Teacher. He asserts that teaching, which happens in all spheres of life, depends as much on the characters of the teachers as it does on their grasp of the subjects on which they are expounding. He lists the virtues that characterize good teachers and explains why being in community is essential for the practice. Physical presence, he says, allows for accountability and mentoring. The reality that teaching is best fulfilled within a community says much about it as a practice, states Schwehn.

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    Gilbert Meilaender on ways to think about work

    Working: Its Meaning and Its Limits is part of the Ethics of Everyday Life series (Notre Dame, 2001)

    "However humble, the work is dignified because God calls us to it and serves the needs of others through it."
    Gilbert Meilaender

    Ethicist Gilbert Meilaender is editor of the anthology Working: Its Meaning and Its Limits. Working, says Meilaender, includes essays on the four traditional views of the meaning of its subject. Meilaender names the categories and offers a brief description of each. He mentions that the view of "work as dignified but irksome" is his personal favorite. He also explains how the category "work as vocation" allows for a religious understanding of the practice.

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    Tiina Nunnally on the prose of Sigrid Undset

    The Unknown Sigrid Undset: Jenny and Other Works (Steerforth Press, 2001)

    Translator Tiina Nunnally discusses the challenges of rendering faithfully the work of Sigrid Undset (1882–1949). She likens the work of a translator to that of actors or musicians who take on "the job of performing the work," and mentions the research necessary for capturing Undset's voice. Nunnally, who has translated a number of the Norwegian's works, describes the author's style and compares it to that of her contemporaries. She notes that, unlike some of them, Undset pays her characters and nature a great deal of attention. She classifies Undset as a "working-class girl" and discusses how that reality shapes her writings.