Frames and Homes
In his thoroughly un-detailed, unsystematic, rambling autobiography, G.K. Chesterton wrote that, “All my life I have loved frames and limits; and I will maintain that the largest wilderness looks larger seen through a window.”1 It is the sort of statement that only Chesterton would make: whimsical, quaint, paradoxical, and loaded with so much insight and wisdom that the mind can contemplate it for hours and uncover something profound every twenty seconds or so. What does the frame of a window do? It allows a man to see out, but not to see everything; it contextualizes the world outside, both as that which contextualizes the building from which the man looking through it is looking and as that which is definitively not inside. No doubt, Chesterton would have something more interesting to say about the frame of a window; but the fruits of the interesting things which he had to say are the interesting things his readers are prompted to think by reading them.
But what is really interesting about a window, and the frame which contains it, is that it sets a definite, limited view. Ordinarily such views do not undergo drastic changes; at least, not quickly. A man could look out his bedroom window every morning for his entire life and see the same things. A man could become quite attached to that sight. If the window looks into his backyard, he could improve it, plant flowers and shrubberies, start a garden, build a grotto. The window is what makes a man’s property a part of his house; and it is what makes living in a city apartment building that much smaller of a life, to see all that with which one has nothing to do. At any rate, a window is a certain sort of limitation, a very human limitation. It is much like literature, that which is the imaginative creation of character and action according to the laws of probability and necessity. Literature, unlike philosophy, presents a world no larger than that which has been created by the author and developed by the mind of the reader – a development which may only go so far, before it becomes an entirely different work of fiction. These limitations are what man naturally seeks, as what is inherently cognized as fitting: “Man’s pleasure… is to possess conditions, but also to be partly possessed by them; to be half-controlled by the flute he plays or the field he digs.”2 Indeed, so too is man controlled by the book he reads and the window out of which he looks.
Chesterton loved frames: no doubt he loved them all, but to a mind which so persistently turned things upon their heads, or which at times turned itself upside down, the diurnal visage out of his own windows likely held new wonders at every glance – not because it was always changing, but because it was always the same. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings shows much the same sort of thing. So long as Frodo lived in the Shire, the outside world held for him an enchantment. What he found beyond the hills and forests was something cruel and ugly. The view for Frodo did change, because he changed, because what he saw outside no longer fit with what was inside; he looked out of the windows of his house only to look towards the Grey Havens. For the incomparably hopeful Sam, who did not change at all and whose mind was not so metropolitan, the view could not change.
Just a few thoughts before the long weekend. Aristides has asked me to inform you that posting will be light for the holidays.
1 Chesterton, G.K. Autobiography. Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2006: 41.
2 Chesterton, G.K. What’s Wrong with the World. Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 1994: 41.