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The Annoying Genius: G. K. Chesterton

F.Venni/J.Bruno

Fr Dwight Longenecker - published on 10/09/13

The Chestertonian style has the capacity to wake us up with wordplay, and within the semantic surprise a moment of enlightenment occurs. Chesterton says that “Thinking is making connections,” and Chestertonian thinking consists of making surprising linguistic connections that reveal surprising theological connections.

Not only does this happen for the readers, but as I attempted a Chestertonian style, I discovered that the linguistic legerdemain helped me to make new connections that opened new ways of seeing my subject. I had first observed this in my discipline of writing poetry. It was in the process of searching for a rhyme that I would be given a totally new perspective on the meaning and message of the poem. The need for rhyme forced me to make new connections. It was by pressing the words into the rhyme and rhythm of the poem, that the words yielded fresh juice. 

The Romance of Religion is a study of the significance of stories and the sacred; the stupendous and the sacramental. As I hammered away at the keyboard, I was constantly turning my mind to verbal gymnastics. I am not doing so merely to entertain the reader, or to imitate Chesterton, and I am aware of the danger of a pathetic pastiche – a kitsch confection and a stumbling and insulting imitation of a master. 

However, I insist on taking the risk. As I do, I am finding several other truths unfolding. First of all, the task of writing is much more fun. I enjoy the wordplay, the intellectual gymnastics, and the theological tumbling. Secondly, there is metaphysical fun in the metaphorical fabrications. As I play with the words, the concepts they represent become more alive. The language and syntax and meaning are suddenly a dance or a drama with unexpected twists and turns.  Metaphors are miraculous because they establish new connections between otherwise seemingly unconnected things. When the poet says his love is “like a red, red rose,” we see for the first time that Love is indeed ravishingly beautiful and sweet. It is temporal and fleeting, and furthermore, it bears a thorn.

Chesterton’s sometimes annoying style does the same. It opens up new ways of seeing. It opens windows in the mind and surprises us with truth. He is a rollicking, rotund, jocular jester in the court of the Almighty. He is a jongleur de Dieu – God’s juggler, and just like all the best jokers, he reveals fresh perspectives on this weary world and the tragic comedy that is the daily duty and the divine destiny of the Human Race.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is author of The Romance of Religion and The Quest for the Creed. Be in touch, browse his books, and read his blog at www.dwightlongenecker.com.

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