On the Mind of the Thinker

220px-Gilbert_Keith_Chesterton2“Chesterton, a whale of a man with ambrosial locks and heavy tread, rambles like a huge blunderbuss about the room and talks. And as he walks and talks he blunders about among his words exactly as he blunders about among the furniture. He seems to be feeling his way through a blunder of terms and names struggling with the stiff, reluctant clay of language in which all thought is imprisoned, to get the wrong words out of it and to find the right words to hold the true mold of sense. This big man is he whom dealers in literary tags never weary of wearying everybody else by names “clever paradoxer,” and perpetually convicting of “brilliance.” Attend, and you will see that the process by which the paradoxes and these brilliances are evolving is going on before you. They are being forged under your very eye. Those seeming lightning flashes of intuition are laboriously fashioned out of such raw material as you see in what manner you also see. However, you must see, still further, if you use your eyes to fair purpose, that the big man is not thinking of paradoxes for the sake of paradoxes – as some foolish critics may have invited you to suppose. Not a bit of it. He is fumbling – literally fumbling – after the truth, the “net” truth, as it were. He is rummaging in the rubbish heap of words and concepts to which a slovenly race of thinkers has reduced the working dictionary of the English tongue. He seeks the clear word for the clear idea, baffled always by the layers of mixed metaphor in which every idea expressed in words is wrapped. And especially he seeks the terse concept in the center of the word which has gone so far astray from its meaning in the service of that metaphor and this, that it will no more retain any one of its meanings through two consecutive steps of an argument than a chameleon will keep the same color as it moves over a streaked and spotted background. This shifty habit of words is the cause of the other confounding of most logic and the futility of nearly all argument. It’s also the cause of a great part of the world’s almost consecrated topsy-turvydoms. It explains why, as Chesterton persists in saying, many good people do actually believe that the waving of of the trees makes the wind.”

(From an interview with GK Chesterton by H.I. Brock, published in the New York Times August 18, 1912)