You'll have to read my previous post The Dialectic of Desire to understand this post.
Referring back to societal polarities as I've done previously in the blog, consider something Pascal wrote before we go back to C.S. Lewis:
"I do not admire the excess of some one virtue unless I am shewn at the same time the excess of the opposite virtue. A man does not proves his greatness by standing at an extremity, but by touching both extremities at once and filling all that lies between them. "Out of Lewis' quarrel with the counter-Romantics came the dominant image of his Pilgrim's Regress allegory:
"the barren, aching rocks of its 'North', the foetid swamps of its 'South', and between them the Road on which alone mankind can safely walk"What of this allegorical North and South? First recall the book is copywritten 1933, and then a second edition 1943. There's a lot of wisdom to be found here, and if you're creative you can apply some of that to today's polarized political, social and cultural environment. When I first read Lewis' explanation of his North-South descriptive allegorial tool, I grinned to myself as I recognized them as also representing caricatures of political extremes. It's also a reminder of role temperament sometimes has in the choice of one's political party:
"The things I have symbolised by North and South, which are to me equal and opposite evils, each continually strengthened and made plausible its critique of the other, enter our experience on many different levels. In agriculture we have to fear both barren soil and the soil which is irresistably fertile. In the animal kingdom, the crustacean and the jellyfish represent two low solutions of the problem of existence. In our eating, the palate revolts both from excessive bitter and excessive sweet. In art, we find on the one hand, purists and doctrinaires, who would rather (like Scaliger) lose a hundred beauties than admit a single fault, and who cannot believe anything to be good if the unlearned spontaneously enjoy it: on the other hand, we find the uncritical and slovenly artists who will spoil the whole work rather than deny themselves any indulgence of sentiment or humour or of sensationalism.
Everyone can pick out among his own acquaintance the Northern or Southern types -the high noses, compressed lips, pale complexions, dryness and taciturnity of the one, the open mouths, the facile laughter and tears, the garrulity and (so to speak) general greasiness of the others. The Northerners are men of rigid systems whether sceptical or dogmatic, Aristocrats, Stoics, Pharisees, Rigorists, signed and sealed members of highly organised "Parties".
The Southerners are by their very nature less definable; boneless souls whose doors stand open day and night to almost every visitant, but always with the readiest welcome for those, whether Maenad or Mystagogue, who offer some sort of intoxication. The delicious tang of the fobidden and the unknown draws them on with fatal attraction; the smudging of all frontiers, the relaxation of all resistances, dream, opium, darkness, death, and the return to the womb. Every feeling is justified by the mere fact that it is felt: for a Northerner, every feeling on the same ground is suspect. An arrogant and hasty selectiveness on some narrow a priori basis cuts him off from the sources of life. "
One might also add the role of contempt in any face-off between 'Northern' and 'Southern' systems or people: "Contempt is a well-recognized defensive reaction."- I.A. Richards. It accompanies and fuels pendulum swings between political/cultural and social North-South axes. It is predominant in much of our contemporary discourse and hardly absent from the news media. Indeed, preccupation with ratings pushes media execs to tap into the bottom of the barrel and provide the people with polarized commentary and slant. Meanwhile, political operatives strategize around the expression of contempt because it provokes emotional reactions which mobilize the people, and cause them to quickly delve into their pocketbooks.
Back to Lewis: "In Theology there is also a North and South. The one cries 'Drive out the bondmaid's son', and the other 'Quench not the smoking flax.' The one exaggerates the distinctness between Grace and Nature (the real praeparatio evangelica inherent in certain immediately sub-Christian experiences) makes the way hard for those who are at the point of coming in. The other blurs the distinction altogether, flatters mere kindliness into thinking it is charity and vague optimisms or pantheisms into thinking they are Faith, and makes the way out fatally easy and imperceptible for the budding apostate. ...
I take our own age to be predominantly Northern -it is two great 'Northern' powers that are tearing each other to pieces on the Don while I write. But the matter is complicated, for the rigid and ruthless system of the Nazis has 'Southern' and swamp-like elements at its centre; and when our age is 'Southern' at all, it is excessively so. D.H. Lawrence and the Surrealists have perhaps reached a point further 'South' than humanity ever reached before. And this is what one would expect. Opposite evils, far from balancing, aggravate each other. 'The heresies that men leave are hated most'; widespread drunkeness is the father of Prohibition and Prohibition of widespread drunkeness. Nature, outraged by one extreme, avenges herself by flying to the other. ..
With both the 'North' and the 'South' a man has, I take it, only one concern -to avoid them and hold the Main Road. "
Regarding Lewis' depiction of his own age as predominantly 'Northern' and of opposite evils each of which continually strengthened and made plausible its critique of the other, I'm reminded of the classic image of the pendulum swing. Perhaps the systems that support such swings are so popular because in the process of shifting -the moment of maximum kinetic energy- sensate culture cops a buzz off the process, feeding its own collective Sweet Desire, the object of which it never truly attains.