A blog dedicated to providing quotes by and posts relating to one of the most influential (and quotable!) authors of the twentieth century, G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936). If you do not know much about GKC, I suggest visiting the webpage of the American Chesterton Society as well as this wonderful Chesterton Facebook Page by a fellow Chestertonian

I also have created a list detailing examples of the influence of Chesterton if you are interested, that I work on from time to time.

(Moreover, for a list of short GKC quotes, I have created one here, citing the sources)

"...Stevenson had found that the secret of life lies in laughter and humility."

-Heretics (1905)

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"The Speaker" Articles

A book I published containing 112 pieces Chesterton wrote for the newspaper "The Speaker" at the beginning of his career.

They are also available for free electronically on another blog of mine here, if you wish to read them that way.




Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"The abstract is the symbol of the concrete"

But he is enslaved by the one great fallacy of the mystics, that mysticism, religion and poetry have to do with the abstract. Thinkers of Mr. Waite’s school have a tendency to believe that the concrete is the symbol of the abstract. The truth, the truth at the root of all true mysticism, is quite the other way. The abstract is the symbol of the concrete. This may possibly seem at first sight a paradox; but it is a purely transcendental truth. We see a green tree; it is the green tree which we cannot understand; it is the green tree which we fear; it is the green tree which we worship. Then because there are so many green trees, so many men, so many elephants, so many butterflies, so many daisies, so many animalculae, we coin a general term “Life.” And then the mystic comes and says that a green tree symbolises Life. It is not so. Life symbolises a green tree. Just in so far as we get into the abstract, we get away from the reality, we get away from the mystery, we get away from the tree. And this is the reason that so many transcendental discourses are merely blank and tedious to us, because they have to do with Truth and Beauty, and the Destiny of the Soul, and all the great, faint, faded symbols of the reality. And this is why all poetry is so interesting to us, because it has to do with skies, with woods, with battles, with temples, with women and with wine, with the ultimate miracles which no philosopher could create. The difference between the concrete and the abstract is the difference between the country and the town. God made the concrete, but man made the abstract. A truthful man is a miracle, but the truth is a commonplace.
-May 31, 1902, The Speaker

4 comments:

Itinérante said...

This is brilliant! I always felt this but I would never ever be able to put it in words! Reminded me as well of a quote by C.S. Lewis that sometimes we can't express something not because it is too wide for words but on the contrary, too definite!

Mike said...

:-) That quote you refer to by C.S. Lewis reminds me of the opening of GKC's biography of Charles Dickens:
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"Much of our modern difficulty, in religion and other things, arises merely from this: that we confuse the word 'indefinable' with the word 'vague.' If some one speaks of a spiritual fact as 'indefinable' we promptly picture something misty, a cloud with indeterminate edges. But this is an error even in commonplace logic. The thing that cannot be defined is the first thing; the primary fact. It is our arms and legs, our pots and pans, that are indefinable. The indefinable is the indisputable. The man next door is indefinable, because he is too actual to be defined. And there are some to whom spiritual things have the same fierce and practical proximity; some to whom God is too actual to be defined.'

"But there is a third class of primary terms. There are popular expressions which every one uses and no one can explain; which the wise man will accept and reverence, as he reverences desire or darkness or any elemental thing. The prigs of the debating club will demand that he should define his terms. And, being a wise man, he will flatly refuse. This first inexplicable term is the most important term of all. The word that has no definition is the word that has no substitute. If a man falls back again and again on some such word as 'vulgar' or 'manly,' do not suppose that the word means nothing because he cannot say what it means. If he could say what the word means he would say what it means instead of saying the word. When the Game Chicken (that fine thinker) kept on saying to Mr. Toots, 'It's mean. That's what it is -- it's mean,' he was using language in the wisest possible way. For what else could he say? There is no word for mean except mean. A man must be very mean himself before he comes to defining meanness. Precisely because the word is indefinable, the word is indispensable."

Itinérante said...

Awesome. No other words and no definition! hehe

Mike said...

:-)