Thursday, October 29, 2009

Quoting Chesterton

Every now and then I search online and at news sites for mention of G.K. Chesterton.

Occasionally I’ll find an interesting essay focusing on him, or a discussion that cites his ideas and arguments at length.

But most often, I find the mention of him is in passing in the form or a quotation or a paraphrase of a quotation. That is all fine, and it certainly helps to keep him in the public eye. And he certainly said many clever, witty, interesting things, and given his prolixity, there's ample material with which to work.

But I also wonder if it may also have an unfortunate effect: Could this make it easier to relegate him to the dustbin of history – or to dusty editions of “familiar quotations”?

It almost seems that his eminently quotable nature makes it easy to focus more on what he said and less on what he had to say. For too often the quotations are simply treated as quips that are now divorced from the larger contexts of cogent discussions of some significant topics.

I was suddenly reminded of Dorothy Day who, when people used to talk about her being declared a saint, often responded that she did not want to be dismissed so easily.

I hope that by being so quotable Chesterton will not be easily dismissed. He has too much to say to our age to be relegated to collections of witticisms.


Dominic said...

Truthfully, I think that's not a worry; simply because, so much of what GKC has to say (including some of those items that are quoted most often) is so counter-cultural in the present time and place (I'm in the UK) that it's meaning, as well as its clever use of words, cannot but stand out. Well, I hope so, anyway, but I am optimistic that this is generally the case.

Maolsheachlann said...

I have to say, for years all I knew of Chesterton were his entries in various books of quotations and poetry anthologies, and I really had a very skewed notion of him. I thought he was a harrumphing, Old Tory sort of writer. But at least people might be drawn to his oeuvre through reading such snippets.