Friday, August 08, 2008

Father Brown Friday - The Wrong Shape

St. Mungo, also known as Kentigern, was a bishop in the sixth century. He founded the see of Glasgow and was the grandson of a British prince. He also is the patron of Father Brown's parish in The Wrong Shape.

In a number of the FB stories, such as "The Wrong Shape", "The Sign of the Broken Sword" and "The Honor of Israel Gow", it seems small details; things that are incomplete, the wrong shape or just slightly off, aid Father Brown in the solving of the mystery.

Obviously, this is especially key in the story currently under discussion. One of the first objects of the wrong shape to catch Father Brown's eye was an oriental dagger. Some of his remarks on the subject struck GilbertGirl, Algernon and I as quite interesting, such as:

"Don't you see it is the wrong shape? Don't you see that it has no hearty and plain purpose?"


"It's very beautiful," said the priest in a low, dreaming voice; "the colours are very beautiful. But it's the wrong shape."

"What for?" asked Flambeau, staring.

"For anything. It's the wrong shape in the abstract. Don't you ever feel that about Eastern art? The colours are intoxicatingly lovely; but the shapes are mean and bad-- deliberately mean and bad. I have seen wicked things in a Turkey carpet."

Which begs the question: What shapes are mean?

Eastern culture plays a VERY significant role in this story and brings about several other interesting quotes:

"When first he said `I want nothing,' it meant only that he was impenetrable, that Asia does not give itself away. Then he said again, `I want nothing,' and I knew that he meant that he was sufficient to himself, like a cosmos, that he needed no God, neither admitted any sins. And when he said the third time, `I want nothing,' he said it with blazing eyes. And I knew that he meant literally what he said; that nothing was his desire and his home; that he was weary for nothing as for wine; that annihilation, the mere destruction of everything or anything--"

"...he dealt much in eastern heavens, rather worse than most
western hells..."

"The Christian is more modest," muttered Father Brown; "he wants something."

While we're on the topic, GilbertGirl, Algernon and I were wondering earlier, was Chesterton in any way prejudiced against the east?

Mrs. Quinton is an interesting character, although you don't see much of her, "that's the kind of woman that does her duty for twenty years, and then does something dreadful." What do you think of her? Why did she marry Mr. Quinton?

Also don't miss GilbertGirl's dramatic ChesterTrance involving this story.

P.S. GilbertGirl, Algernon, I'm quite sure I forgot things, do fill in.


Old Fashioned Liberal said...

Chesterton, a person with a prejudice against the east? In these confused times, I want to ask: define prejudice. He definitely has a prejudice against eastern religions---the same sort of prejudice all of us who think they are false do. But, he also seems to see them as uncommonly bad false creeds. He says that he could make a convincing case for the Catholic Church on the basis of two things: freedom and reason. Eastern pantheism is uncommonly low on both. If one's self is god, the idea of free will and absolutes of any sort are nonsense. Right there go freedom and reason and the sanity of believing in something other than one's self One gets stuck in the oversimplification that is hindu pantheism, an oversimplification that is an endless cycle of death and reincarnation.
As for eastern humans and eastern cultures, Chesterton's view is less antagonistic. In Manalive, Innocent Smith respects the good moral qualites of the Chinese, even while lamenting the fact that they are not free to break the conventions. In an essay in Uses of Diversity, Chesterton actually goes so far as to lament the westernization of Japan. (it is a secular westernization). He says almost nothing (that I know of) in favor of Indian people or Indian culture, but I am sure that he would be the last to deny that although he may disagree with every thing they believe, their total sincerity cannot be but respected.

don pedro said...

Also, if Chesterton was anything like me, he might have been fed up with the modern obsessive compulsive praise of all non-Western types of art, while at the same time bashing particularly midieval art. The same people who blame midieval art for it's surreal qualities adore abstract Arabic geometric patterns as well as the surrealist movement. Does this remind anyone of The Paradoxes of Christianity?"

Furthermore, this reminds me of my WHAP textbook which went to great lengths to impress upon the reader the beauty of the mosque of Sulimein I as opposed to the hideous Gothic Cathedrals of Europe. I was fuming =)

RoseinFaith said...

I have to agree with OFL for most of his/her post. As you know, pointing out the faults of a creed, religion, or culture is not prejudice; the truth never is prejudice. Criticizing a culture or ethnic group for the simple reason that it *is* that particular culture or ethnic group, that would be prejudice. Chesterton never does this; if he objects to something in the East, it is because he finds it false or even evil, not because it is Eastern; remember, too, how very quick he was to point out what false and evil things existed in the western world, as well, especially in his own beloved England, such as atheism, modernism, materialism, etc. Yet he always did this with charity; think of how he treated his philosophical opponent and good friend, G.B. Shaw. One might say that his criticism of "What is wrong" in the western world is more intense and specific, probably because he was trying to defend the good in the western world from any evils that invaded it.

Also, he doesn't avoiding pointing out the faults or foibles of Englishmen. (Humphrey Pump during "Songs of the Car Club" in "The Flying Inn" comes to mind).

I believe that prejudice has at its root self-centered pride (the sin first of the fallen angels and then the first sin of Man) and hatred. I can't think of an instance where Chesterton ever exhibits either of these when speaking of the East...or of anything else, for that matter.

Anyway, that's my two cents. :) Always open for debate, of course. ;)

God Bless!

RoseinFaith said...

Oh, didn't see don pedro's post! Very true.

Furthermore, this reminds me of my WHAP textbook which went to great lengths to impress upon the reader the beauty of the mosque of Sulimein I as opposed to the hideous Gothic Cathedrals of Europe. I was fuming =)"

I don't blame you! I'd have been disgusted, too!

God Bless!

don pedro said...

Thanks for sympathizing, roseinfaith! =) Also, I just remembered another example of pro-Eastern compassion and anti-Western intolerance so prevalent in today's soceity. I was at a Global Issues Seminar and they took us to a mosque, at which we got onto this tangent of why the muslims kept calling it a mesjah (or something to that effect). Well apparently it comes from Medieval Spain where they referred to Muslims as "mosquitos." Now this whole program was Muslim-Sympathies 101, but oh no! those evil Spanish! they call people names. Terrorists only blow people up. Also, anyone who knows Spanish culture knows that they are frequently more "insulting" than we of the English tradition. For example, the term "little n*****" is actually a term or endearment in Spanish. They also like to call everyone fat. So calling the Muslims mosquitos was probably more of a term of endearment. But, I forgot, we can criticize Spain, because it's Catholic. How could you be so insensitive to the Muslims' feelings Mapaz! Shame on your country! ;-)

Old Fashioned Liberal said...

I'm not insulted, but I do happen to like abstract eastern art, both Christian icons and other things. I think it's because I'm no visual artist, and I'm male (does that clear up any slashes, Rosinfaith?). (According to Anne Carroll, men are better with abstractions than women, while women are better at concretes.) And I do love the sickening ornateness of Hindu temples, but I can find all of that in Baroque cathedrals.

RoseinFaith said...

Heh, yes, thanks for clearing that up. My apologies if it annoyed you! :( I just didn't want to pick the wrong one by mistake.

As for eastern art, I'm sure no one would insist that the West has a monopoly on beauty. ;) (What immediately comes to my mind is Eastern Orthodox Icons, which are rich in symbolic beauty, even though that's not what you are talking about).

I think I recall one of Chesterton's main objections to abstract eastern art--- that it was too much like abstract modern art: it had no figure from reality at it's center. (Here I go referencing "The Flying Inn" again.) Generally, abstract art is not really a picture of something from the natural world. I think that's what Chesterton objected to in some eastern art, that it was, to put it one way, out of touch with reality. Which is actually fitting for some Eastern art, because that matches some eastern creeds; I recall one in India which denied the existence of an objective reality and moral absolutes.

And then:

"It's the wrong shape in the abstract. Don't you ever feel that about Eastern art? The colours are intoxicatingly lovely; but the shapes are mean and bad-- deliberately mean and bad. I have seen wicked things in a Turkey carpet."

I seem to recall another one of GK's objections to eastern art, specifically eastern idols, was that they always looked inward, towards the self, instead of outward at others.

Of course, we have to be careful not to read too deeply into art, beautiful or ugly, by itself; the ideals of the artist must always be taken into account. :)

God Bless! :D

Old Fashioned Liberal said...

Here's something you might want to think about concerning the "Intoxicatingly lovely" colors on the Hindu knife. In 'Death of a Guru,' the story of a Hindu Brahmin (member of the priestly caste) who converted to Christianity, he said that during his periods of yogic meditation, he would see visions of the gods whom he worshipped. What could these gods be other than real-life demons? Furthermore (and this is where the intoxicatingly lovely colors come from) these visions were accompanied by psychedelic colors and feelings of peace (think hippie peace). These colors on this knife could come straight from Satan!

p.s. 'Death of a Guru' is really good for learning about Hinduism, especailly the glossary, which you MUST read. Quite honestly, however, I don't know the author's name or where you would find the book.

Mapaz said...

Oops! I hope I'm not too late to post now, but my Internet connection has gone crazy. It only works in the bathroom, under a tree in the garden and in the stable. I'm now under the tree.
Anyway, I was thinking of what is common to the different kinds of eastern art(egyptian, chinese, muslim...), and I found that all of them tend to be kind of 'hieratic', in the sense that the egyptian hieroglyphics, the arabic writing, were meant to be understood by a caste of priests, and unknown to the vast majority of an illiterate population.
The romanic or gothic cathedrals of Europe, however, are full of images that make the message of the gospels understandable to the simplest peasants, or the triumph archs, which showed the victories of the generals...

Dr. Thursday said...

Superb insight, Mapaz! Hidden therein is another hint of why Roma was God's Other Chosen People: did you know that the Law of Ancient Roma was posted on great bronze plaques in the Forum - the Twelve Tables - and, according to Cicero, were memorized by every schoolboy? (De Legibus 2.4.9)

--Dr. Thursday

Old Fashioned Liberal said...

Notice, too, that this "democratization" of art from Egyptian to Gothic, does not hurt the quality of the art. The artist who seeks to be democratic must always keep in mind that just becasue anyone can view his art does not mean that anyone should be able to create art of the same quality as his art. That would be like saying that since everyone can sing, everyone should sing only as well as the common man, even if they can sing better.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Is it this or another one where Father Brown's saying he could almost forgive a Brahmin for being a Hindoo because he's brown, while some are almost forgiving Brahmins for being brown becaue they are Hindoos?