The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode #97: Kubla Khan

General Introduction
– We read the poem
– Listener feedback
– The best listener email ever

The Back Story
- Laudanum
– Seeing images
– The disruptive doorbell
– The precession of the back story
– Writers and drugs

The History
- The real Kublai Khan
– Khan’s pleasure dome
– Orientalism
– The medieval world of the fairy

Biographia Literaria
- Coleridge’s role in Lyrical Ballads
- The two sides of the imagination
– Material conditions

The Natural World of the Poem
- Reconciling opposites
– The uncanny valley
– Landscape of landmarks
– Stream of impressions

The Poem’s Incompleteness- Should we care about the back story?
– Is the poem even incomplete?
– Poem or gossip?
– Coleridge’s intent
– Validation and authentication

Holiness
- The holiness of the alien place
– Sublimity
– Vs. Christian usage

We Sermonize
- Poet and prophet
– Strange negativity

6 comments
Todd Pedlar
Todd Pedlar

Just listened to this show last night.  Great program again, gents... and while you may hear the Japanese narrator's rendering of Kubla Khan, or Mad Max, or other voices, all I can hear is Frankie Goes to Hollywood (which dates me, I suppose) and their "Welcome to the Pleasure Dome".  If that doesn't ring a bell (you young turks may be too young for this, here it is:  a fine example of inanity in the 80's (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfHKgcTaU_4).  They only quote a reworked version of line 1, though the theme is certainly borrowed from Coleridge's work.  

JoshN
JoshN

When you were discussing holiness, I remembered Lewis's portrayal of it in Till We Have Faces. In "Kubla Khan" holiness, savage, and enchanted are used in the same breath. Orual mentions the "horror of holiness" while Ungit the priest calls holy places dark places. I wonder to what extent modern Christianity should recapture a bit of the pagan imagination of holiness--something which terrifies and borders on the absurd. It might change the fuzziness of some of our worship music. I also remembered Psyche's mourning in conjunction with Coleridge's woman wailing for her demon-lover. These connections are fast, loose, and from the gut, but I thought I'd mention them. Thoughts?

Hrothgar
Hrothgar

JoshN I made some of the same connections as you, but missed the parallel you drew about the weeping: "I never heard weeping like that before or after; not from a child, nor a man wounded in the palm, nor a tortured man, nor a girl dragged off to slavery ..." That's "woman wailing for her demon lover" if anything is.

Charles H
Charles H

If you do an episode on personality tests (said the guy with the personality psychology PhD), be prepared to face my close scrutiny.   [scowly intimidating face]

Hrothgar
Hrothgar

Charles H They're English academics.  They think _Scrutiny_ is a periodical founded by F. R. Leavis.  LOL.

Hrothgar
Hrothgar

I've probably posted too many comments on your board already, and I'm not sure I've anything useful to say, but as no-one else has commented yet ... Thank you.  I was delighted to see this.  This is a poem I love and know by heart, meeting it first as a small child. What I think I liked, and still like, is the sheer beauty (to me) of the *sound* of the words and the interest of the images passing.  When I first met it, I didn't know about the "person from Porlock", and was too young even to notice something like Alph/Alf.  I just read the poem and heard it.  Again, I can see how one could read sexual meanings into some of the images -- the cedarn cover, the "swift half-intermitted burst" of the fountain -- but as a child one doesn't.  Yet the poem does appeal, so that can't be where its appeal lies, as some would perhaps like to think. I think at one time I should have been quite rationalist about the images.  I think that's a way in which our culture encourages us to think.  Nowadays, I'm quite inclined to think that perhaps there are truths that can be received as symbols but not translated into any other form, and perhaps one should sometimes resist the urge to analyse or explain symbols.  But that's a purely amateur thought.  I'm not an English graduate, and not a professional philosopher. On the sound -- I was interested to find that I was slightly thrown at "tummult" when I expected "tyou-mult" and "AB-era" when I expected "er-BORE-a".  (I understand, BTW, that Abora may be Coleridge's version of Amara -- c.f. Milton.)  So I think this poem lives for me as a pattern of expected sounds -- almost like a piece of music. I can't help thinking that if young adults bring so many preconceptions to the poem, as was said in the podcast, then maybe it would be more interesting to see what children would make of it. I don't know that the poem really has much to do with opium. _The Mystery of Edwin Drood_ opens with an opium dream, familiar to many people in the 19th century when laudanum was a medicine, as you said, but it doesn't seem much like that. I have heard it suggested that the "person from Porlock" was something from Coleridge's imagination.  Whether he'd exactly lie and make up a visitor, but whether the visitor had quite the effect he later attributed to him ... I don't know whether there's any independent testimony on that. Listening to this, I remebered reading enthusiatic reviews of Richard Holmes's book on Coleridge _Early Visions_.  I had meant to buy it, but couldn't afford to at the time.  I now find that was nearly a quarter of a century ago, and I still haven't read it.  How the time flies! ________ On the meaning of "holy" -- I immediately thought of Rudolf Otto's famous book _The Idea of the Holy_, where he broaches the concept of "the numinous": http://www.amazon.com/Idea-Holy-Galaxy-Books/dp/0195002105 I'm not well-read in theology, but I know Otto.  There he says, IIRC, that the basic experience of the divine is so overwhelming that people experience it as beyond all categories.  He suggests that it was the great achievement of the Jewish people to have slowly ethicized and rationlized that basic experience over (a long) time.  But he also suggests that the sense of the divine as being something more than our rationlizations recurs.  He points to the book of Job -- "Canst thou draw out Leviathan with an hook?" and all that stuff.  He also suggests that Martin Luther tried to put back something of that at the Reformation. Otto was a big influence on C. S. Lewis.  He acknowledges Otto in several places, and you can see it all over his stuff.  It's there in _Surprised by Joy_ where he compares Paganism with Hinduism and Christianity.  It also crops up in the late novel _Till We Have Faces_.  There the goddess does seem to represent a genuine (albeit improperly understood and non-ethical) experience of the divine.  (Granted she seems also in some sense to represent purely "natural" forces or "loves" -- eros and storge.)  OTOH, there's "philosophy" as represented by The Fox, who is ethical and rational but shallow and "rationalizing".  And then there's what Psyche herself actually responds to, which is neither.