Wednesday, January 21, 2015

From My Commonplace: Words vs. Pictures

One of my Christmas money purchases was Karen Swallow Prior's book: Fierce Convictions, a biography of Hannah More.    More was a contemporary of William Wilberforce –they worked together closely in the struggle for abolition in Great Britain and in the movement towards social reform more generally.  Besides her contribution to the cause of abolition, she was also an accomplished writer and established many schools for the poor working classes.  Many of her views on education made me wonder if she and Charlotte Mason would have been friendly had she lived a century later. J    Prior brought up the point several times in her book that More and her colleagues relied heavily on the 'moral imagination' in their reform efforts.  Consider:
"The allusion to Shakespeare's Henry IV Part I illustrates how More and her cobelligerents – her partners in this great war – were sustained in their long efforts not only by religious faith but also by the vitality of a moral imagination.  In commenting on the power of poetry, Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in 1821, more than a decade before the abolition of slavery in Great Britain, 'The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our nature…A man to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own.  The great instrument of moral good is the moral imagination."
"She [More] and her fellow reformers considered reading in particular as central to moral reform because of the ability of reading to cultivate empathy deeper than what the senses can communicate, whether the issue was slavery or animal welfare.  For example, following the defeat of a parliamentary motion by Wilberforce to abolish the slave trade, a poem by Anna Barbauld lamented that even the 'sight' of 'the negro's chains' had not been enough to sway the nation.  To be sure, images – such as those of the inside of a slave-ship that More was using to expose the horrors of the slave trade – had their place.  But reformers whose faith centered on the written word naturally tapped into its particular ability to transform thinking."
~Karen Swallow Prior, Fierce Convictions
So, what do you think about that idea?  Does the written word have greater power than images to change hearts and transform thinking? Is this as true in our modern visual-stimulus-driven times as it was in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when More was fighting for reform?  Has our negligence of reading and literature been detrimental to us in the sense that the development of the moral imagination is stunted?   These are all questions that I've been pondering.   What do you think?

In My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional/Theological: Revelation, with a commentary The Final Word (Wilmshurst)
Practical Christian Living: Ourselves (Mason)
Book Discussion Group Titles: Inferno (Dante), Idylls of the King (Tennyson), The Everlasting Man  (Chesterton)
On Education: The Abolition of Man (Lewis), How to Read a Book (Adler)
Topics of Special Interest: The New World (Churchill)
Novel/Biography/Memoir: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Bradley)
Read-Alouds with the Children: Little House on the Prairie (Wilder), The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Lewis), Eric Liddell: Something Greater Than Gold (Benge)

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1 comment:

  1. I dont know if that is as true in our age with photography and instant, video media. At the time, words could be made very powerful, but in a cynical age we don't know who to believe. I'm looking forward to reading this book. The more reviews I read (and Sherry at Semicolon posted one today), the sooner I want to read it. Which means I have to work harder on The Narnian. Thanks for linking in!