Never Absolute Zero
David Haddon on Jack London’s Failure to Keep Morality Out of “To Build a Fire”
Dr. Louise Cowan, longtime professor of literature at the University of Dallas, taught that an analysis of a work of literature is not complete until the critic has evaluated it not only at the literal, allegorical, and moral levels, but also at the anagogic level—the critic must evaluate the work’s relation to ultimate spiritual reality. Thus, at the two highest levels, we must compare the morality and metaphysics discernable in an artist’s narrative with the moral order discernible in what C. S. Lewis called the Tao (or Natural Law) and with the order of creation revealed in Scripture.
Such criticism can help us see that an artist’s vision may—even against his intentions—reach beyond his personal ideology. For example, Rob Moll, an editor at Christianity Today, credits atheist Albert Camus’s insight that “we all have the plague” (in La Peste) with ultimately turning him back to Christian faith. Cowan insisted that the artists who wrote the classics of literature sometimes rose above the limitations of their metaphysics and reflected a reality superior to it.
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David Haddon is an author from Redding, California, who has written for InterVarsity Press and Baker Book House and whose articles have appeared in Christianity Today, National Review, and Learning. He holds a B.S. in engineering from the University of California at Berkeley and an M.A. in politics and literature from the University of Dallas.
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