Why Reading Matters: Climacus Conference

There isn’t that much Harry Potter in the talk I gave at the Climacus Conference last weekend and there are two helpings of Coleridge and St. Maximos the Confessor, so I understand this isn’t for everyone here. Those of you who are interested in why human beings read, though, and who suspect that reading novels and poetry makes us more human may find it interesting.

Your comments and corrections, of course, are coveted.


  1. listening to it right now – won’t finish before work – but my first thought is that G.K. Chesterton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday” speaks to this well, especially the character Syme. The best, and most concise quote I could find is:

    ‘”Listen to me,” cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—”‘

    We do get ’round in front – or at least close – through the imagination. What kills me, and I’m not far enough to see if you address this, is that people categorize fantasy/imagination as a genre, rather than a language for talking about ALL genre. What’s beautiful about reading good fiction, good poetry, is that it talks about EVERYTHING, not just some things. The way in which it talks, however, makes it seem like a separate thing entirely. It’s not, but simply because it feels like it, people disregard it.

    And so you have this huge kicking against the goads for those who see it as an institution opposed to the house of faith, rather than a language for the house of faith to reveal things. If only we could make people literate in this language…

    I like the bit on theosis and mystogogy.

  2. *a language for the house of faith to reveal things with.

  3. @34:43 (time stamp) — I would have loved a mention to Eph. 4:6 — that God is over all, through all, in all. It might have illuminated it a bit.

    @37:10 — “One” event for all of western culture? Just one? Not even two? Love the way you deconstruct it, and delve into the patristics, but I would at least include Augustine’s idea of an autonomous individual if I tried to trace the development of western culture. But maybe that’s just me, brother. As a historian, I hesitate away from absolutist statements. However, great job on the inner Logos stuff. I LOVED it. “True light that gives light to every men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Goooood stuff.

    @43:15 — WOW — went for the gold on the “love your neighbor as yourself” stuff. That’s beautiful, and explains why I’ve cringed so long hearing sermons, lessons, and homilies using the subject-object distinction to explain that verse. “First you have to love yourself, then your neighbor.”

    @50:13 — great connection on the wood between the worlds, on the Christ being that way. As a side note, I noticed when you were talking about getting out of a “chemical” way of thinking about this, and into the connected logos-way, you said, “What matters is that we’re in charge.” And I realized that we use that phrase in English because of the chemical takeover. It’s not so much the spiritual unknowns and the imaginative realities that we give credence to, but the physical sensory things – the matter-things. And so we say, matter-of-fact, “that’s what matters” when in actuality, it’s not.

    @53:38 — I’m curious as to what literary criticism/diagnosis books you’ve read.

    “Our inside is bigger than our outside, and our goodness is key to knowing that inside.” – best line.

    And the next line was so moving, I couldn’t write it down. Good word brother, all in all I give the actual talk an A-, but an A+ for the heart and time and passion and life-story involved.

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