Chesterton’s use of Paradox in The Architect of Spears

Saintsbury, while introducing Chesterton and assessing his position in the history of English prose observes that Chesterton’s strength as a writer neither rely on any propensity of thought nor on any original point of view, but on the clear and witty way is which he expresses commonplace truths. Read More Essay Admittedly this thorough going vindicator of the romantic imagination has a charming style, at once splendid and perfect. A careful scrutiny of The Architect of spears reveals that the secret of Chesterton’s flawless artistry is his ‘love of paradox’. Paradox, incidentally, is a statement that seems to say something opposite to common sense (or the devious truth) but which actually contains a deeper truth. In his essay Chesterton, like show, widely uses paradox as a vehicle for promulgating his points of view. Legovis is right in her conclusion that he had made platitudes sparkle by clothing them in the outward form of paradox. The Architect of Spears best illustrates this. This is uniquely Chestertonian type of extravagant statement.

In this essay,The Architect of Spears Chesterton undertakes to explain the secret behind the unique greatness of Gothic architecture. The opening observation that an ‘optical illusion’ revealed to him the strange greatness of the Gothic architecture is itself a fine paradox. An optical illusion generally distorts a right and gives us a false idea of an object. And yet Chesterton paradoxically found a truth as he suffered such an illusion. Next, he critically examines the conventional explanations of Gothic majesty. The gothic emulates the classical in being such in a lively and mysterious way; the Gothic enjoys greater freedom in fusing the coarse with the sublime; our interest in such architecture is a course pleasure to be had in what is barbaric and rough, or , contrarily, a refined pleasure derived from the purity of the structure.Read More Essay [According to Chesterton, all the views are wide off the mark and unconvincing]. He, therefore summarily dismisses these views in terms of an inimitable paradox – ‘None of these explanations explain’. The paradox capitalizes on the inherent contradiction between Chesterton’s own outlook of Gothic sublimity and the equally plausible interpretation of the same made by others. The inadequacy of stock explanations, which take us to Chesterton’s ‘real point’, is reinforced through a crescendo of paradoxes:

                “They are varied, but it was not variety; they were solemn, but it was not solemnity; they were farcical but it was not farce”.
Incidentally what is presented as a ‘real point’ is, paradoxically enough, essentially a subjective one.

                Chesterton once chanced to survey the Gothic structure of Lincoln Cathedral, hid behind a row of furniture vans. Since the author mistook them for cottages, in a moment of illusion, the stationary objects appeared paradoxically to be mobile. The leftward movement of the vans gave him an impression of the rightward mobility of the Cathedral. Instantaneously, the truth about Gothic – that it is ‘alive’ and ‘on the march’ – flashed to him. Chesterton weaves a network of subtle appeared to be ‘spears at rest’; the stones appeared to be ‘stone asleep in a catapult’; the arches resembled clashing swords and the engraved leaves looked like fluttering banners. Read More Essay All these expressions are basically paradoxical, for they present an apparent contradiction – which resolves the mystery in the deep structure. To cap his own explanation of the secret of Gothic architecture, Chesterton even fancies hearing the voice of ‘the half military master builder, the architect of spears’. A master of paradox, Chesterton, clinches his argument with a comment on the ‘battle beauty’ of the ‘church militant’. Read More Essay It is worth mentioning here that Chesterton’s idea in itself is vague, nebulous and delicately incomprehensible. But his chiseled paradoxes give the airy nothing a local habitation and a name. Consider, for example, the use of the following paradox –
                “The silence was deafening with the mingle noises of a military march”.
The paradoxical proposition about the eloquence of silence here is highly effective in suggesting the combative force and the injecting of life in those dead stones. Such paradoxes are not truth, and yet they lead us to the truth. It appears that Chesterton thinks in terms of paradox directly.

Ardhendu De

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