Substack HogwartsProfessor First Post: First Principles and First Menu

The last weblog post, #2900, announced our move after twenty years here to Substack, the long-form writing subscription platform. Beginning today and for the immediate future, the opening paragraphs of Substack HogwartsProfessor posts will be available here a few days after they are sent to subscribers so readers who may have missed Monday’s announcement learn about the change. To read the whole post, subscribe — it’s free! — or just click here.

Welcome to HogwartsProfessor at its new home on Substack! Thank you for subscribing, and, in advance, for letting me know what you think. All suggestions about how best to utilize this platform are welcome, believe me, as I begin to climb the upside-down learning curve of a new dashboard and posting system.

Today, I want to offer a frank statement, one I will try to keep brief, of my first principles and perspective as a reader who writes about the artistry and meaning of beloved prose, poetry, and plays and a short prospectus of the subjects I will be writing about in our first months on this new platform. I rush to add that these are my guiding ideas and post menu, not necessarily those of the other writers who contribute pieces here.

In a nutshell, I believe that human beings are a story-telling species more than ‘rational animals’ and that the best stories and art create a portal to an imaginative or noetic experience of archetypal reality. The keys to grasping the depths of the work created by writers who intentionally embrace the goal of crafting this kind of fiction are the symbols, allegory, and structure beneath the narrative surface that deliver this iconological means of ego-transcendence. The bumper-sticker version of that is: “the stories that matter are the ones that best reflect the soul’s journey to spiritual perfection and encourage us on our journeys.”

This set of first principles reflects the Perennialist understanding of sacred art, which includes “non-liturgical” or “not-obviously religious” stories. The Perennialist understanding of myth and epic, of Shakespeare, Coleridge and Blake, as well as contemporary writers informs everything I write that qualifies as literary criticism. It’s traditional, which is to say “theocentric” view is in direct opposition to postmodern understanding, which reads literature and understands all art in profane terms, most notably using aesthetic, political, and intertextual measures. 

I promised to be brief on this count, so I will not go into a prolonged explanation or apologia for these first principles. I am obliged to note, though, that my use of them is the reason that I have consistently been able to see and explain the depths and power of writers, most notably J. K. Rowling, when the host of Critique authorities and academic specialists have missed it. Literary alchemy, traditional symbolism, the debts of Rowling (Collins, Meyer, others) to the Greats, maternal love as cipher for Christ, and chiastic or ring writing and the utility of the above in anagogical depictions of the soul’s faculties in trial, so-called ‘psychomachia,’ were all blind spots in contemporary criticism, frankly, before my Perennialist reading of Rowling.

[If Perennialist ideas of non-liturgical sacred art and their relevance to understanding fiction are terra incognita to you, I explain them at much greater length in this post about Rowling’s The Christmas Pig.]

As I start out here on Substack, I have a few ideas about what I will be exploring and explaining. This is my first menu of post topics about which I hope you will share your preferences as subscribers and the subjects or questions you want me to address. [Read more…]