Lewis’ The Discarded Image is meant to be something of a manual for reading Medieval literature. Lewis’ goal is to inform us about the Medieval mind so that we will be able to appreciate and understand Medieval literature “from the inside,” so to speak. He wants to deliver us from importing our modern, Western sentiments into the texts.
In ch. 1, he explains how the Medieval mind differs from a more “savage” kind of mind and the modern mind. The Medieval mind was “bookish,” credulously accepting as authority any old book at hand. It was concerned that all information be organized and fit into a theoretical structure. Medievals were also influenced by their Model of the Universe, based on both classical and Christian ideas. This Model was either the subject, conscious material, or assumed backdrop of everything they wrote. The typical “Romance” ideas we have of the Medieval mind – with knights errant, courtly love, and so forth – were incidental, not core.
Ch. 2 is an attempt to understand the nuances of this mind. It leans heavily on Owen Barfield’s Saving the Appearances, chapter vii. We can understand the idea of “saving the appearances” as referring to the Medieval attempt to make all the data from their books fit into a cohesive whole, where every fact had its own place. In Medieval times, over-arching theories that facilitated this unity were provisional, for they recognized that newer theories could arise which fit things together better than previously.
Lewis, via Barfield, explains that Copernicus’ theory of the heliocentric universe was considered one provisional theory along with others that could “save the appearance” of the unity of the learning of the time. Galileo was so controversial because he wanted the theory of the heliocentric universe to no longer be thought provisional but to be factually true. Medieval’s didn’t think you should do that!
Lewis throws in some other ideas of his own about how ideas work in cultures that are – typically – quite interesting and helpful.
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