Surprised by Joy
is, in essence, an autobiography
; that it is concerned chiefly with the earlier years of the life of C. S. Lewis
has to do with Lewis
' interest in a phenomenon he terms 'Joy
' (with a capital 'j') and what he percieves as its connection to Christian spirituality
To apprehend the sensation of Joy, without the moving, devastatingly eloquent descriptions Lewis provides, attempt the following:
(1) Recall a particular sphere of imagined space from your early youth:
---a book which seemed to constitute an entire spatial universe
---a song which provoked in you an odd welling in the chest
---a movie the meaning of which was inextricably bound up with horizons, skies, perhaps dawns or sunsets, or even the interior of a particularly compelling building...
(2) Try and experience the emotional and perhaps visceral way you felt during seasons which were resonant in a narrative, cinematic, or acousticovisual fashion (for me, it is autumn at night)
(3) Establish to your satisfaction that, whatever the quality of your life at present, the potency of this sensation has been dimishing steadily since the onset of late adolescence; wonder is replaced with happiness, euphoria with bliss, etc.
(4) Feel overwhelmingly nostalgic, in the sort of blindingly incommunicable way that one sometimes does when reviewing old photographs of loved ones.
(5) Do not analyze this phenomenon using the methodologies you have developed for processing and dealing with life (this is critical!)
That sensation, which you can perhaps now dimly remember, but with no more immediacy or intimacy than that with which one can remember pain, is Joy. C. S. Lewis once felt it when thinking about the clear, ice-blue sky under which Nordic mythological tales took place.
Lewis came to associate this emotive sensation with Christianity, and was able to again experience it through religion. Some people I know feel as he did, others don't, but it is an interesting way to consider life: an attempt to regain something lost, whether it is the Garden of Eden or your favorite children's book, your youth or maybe someone else's. Or, more likely, something utterly other.
Whatever its precipitating cause, Joy is painfully brief, and instantly nostalgic; as soon as one becomes aware of it, it is gone, and the act of experiencing it is consequently at once splendid and unbearable. And, according to Lewis, it is always surprising.
The book, by the way, is beautiful and very funny. I am not sure of the extent to which Joy is a universal experience, but C. S. Lewis believed that it was, or at least could be.
I apologize for any GTKY tone present in this write-up.