Imitation is an Art – Part I: Originality, History, and “Chronological Snobbery”

Imitation is a fundamental principle to all human activity, with a special place in education, the arts, and moral philosophy. In an age that emphasizes originality, however, imitation is often discouraged. Children and adults alike are urged at every turn to seek individuality, or originality, and to blaze their own trail in distinguishing themselves from everyone else they know. This is admittedly an attractive pitch: who wouldn’t want to stand out from the crowd? Who wouldn’t want to be recognized for being different?

And yet there is a lurking irony here. One need only tweak the emphasis on that rhetorical question to see that in fact one of the things we fear is standing out too much, or standing out in a way we are not comfortable with, or which may be misunderstood. There is risk in being original, therefore. iI the modern world, our originality can’t be too original, lest it be misconstrued and become a source of derision. For it is actually recognition and affirmation that we seek; originality is more often than not a means to this end, but in a way that also enables us to see the unique value (at a surface level) which we supposedly bring, distinguishing ourselves from others in an age obsessed with difference, diversity, and – perhaps more basically – value-added productivity. Are we making our mark in the global marketplace of individuality? In our world of digital news and social media, the paradoxical quest for the perfect balance of individual originality and social acceptance drives many to the heights of anxiety.

And anxiety is precisely the right word to use here; angst, in German. Literary critic Harold Bloom has studied and written about the emergence of this uniquely modern phenomenon of anxiety. He notes how European and American novelists and poets during the late 18th and early 19th c. period of Romanticism suffered from what he called the “anxiety of influence,” that is, the fear of their work being perceived as deriving not from their own original creative genius, but from the influence of earlier works of art or other artists. In these turbulent times of burgeoning emphasis on individual uniqueness – the adolescence of the modern age – to have one’s creative work deemed “derivative” or “unoriginal” was a significant insult.

Bloom’s work illuminates what was a new phenomenon on the landscape of the modern “social imaginary,” to use Charles Taylor’s term for the collective worldview of a cultural period. For what characterizes the mindset of earlier historical periods in the West would be, in fact, precisely the opposite, something we could call “the anxiety of originality.” In the classical and medieval worlds, artistic and intellectual productions were careful to ground themselves in a larger, longstanding tradition or history of expression or thought that would guarantee the worthiness and acceptance of new works and writings. But this was in part because in those earlier periods people placed a high value on the past and its achievements, and on what had been cumulatively tested and enshrined in tradition.

But tradition was not a collection of fossilized artifacts; creative development and a dynamic process of dialogue renews, each generation, the content of tradition, simply by nature of the fact that time marches onward and new challenges have to be met, and problems addressed. But in the premodern age, the scales of value tipped the other way than they do today, toward a valuation of what came before, rather than on the “unending march of the new and improved.” By locating wisdom in the past, rather than the present, there is a humility to the classical and medieval perspective.

On the other hand, the modern approach – for all its technical and scientific progress – in assuming that anything prior to itself is therefore automatically of less value, tends toward the vice of pride, and all its retinue. Would we trade the whole world – material and mundane success and achievement – for our own soul? Past ages knew that wisdom outweighs convenience, and that moral integrity and spiritual purity outlives even death.

Past ages did not see themselves as the height of human glory; in turn, they sought genuinely to imitate ancient heroes. Our age prizes itself above all, guilty of what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery,” and thus tends to consider itself in need of no improvement, politically or otherwise. Hence we are less energetic in seeking out mentors, models, and exemplars of virtue.

As C.S. Lewis wrote in “On the reading of old books”, a preface to St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, “every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.” He later says that for the blindness of each age, including our own, to its own errors, “the only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only be reading old books.”

Lewis provides all the reason we need to take seriously the question of whether there might, in an age of originality, still be a place for imitation. He himself stands on the shoulders of giants in insisting that the best place for us – and our children – to start, is to learn from and imitate the best of what has come before us, hopeful that it will, in our particular present time, come to new life. If we don’t remember to bring into the present the wisdom of the past, by modeling our lives after the paradigms of virtue the past provides, we will almost certainly be subject to errors to which we will remain blind, and misconceptions that will remain hidden to us. The present is the future of the past – the least we can do is remember this, and imitate what it has given us that is of enduring value.

Classical Christian education looks to past, thrives today

Jenna Mullinix is only 11, but she can already translate common phrases from Latin.

Sitting around the table at Red Lobster waiting on their meals several months ago, she and her younger siblings occupied the time by reciting an Orthodox hymn from memory. When she and her brother are outside at night, they can identify a half-dozen different constellations, the result of a homework assignment to find particular stars in the night sky.

“There’s deeper purpose behind that,” said Jay Mullinix, Jenna’s father. “It inculcates in these kids a sense of wonder at the universe and particularly the universe as created by God and ordered by God and reflective of his beauty. I love that.”

To read more, visit the Wichita Eagle!

Matters of the Heart : A Return to Virtue in Education

I was stunned when I recently heard a teacher explain why virtues were not taught in her classroom. And yet, she is right: adults, sadly, have not gotten it right.  One scan of the newspaper or the evening news makes it painfully clear that adults could use a crash course in kindness and respect, which is precisely why we should return to teaching virtue in the classroom.

To read more, visit Wichita Moms Blog!

Six Easy Ways to Build Your Toddler’s Math Mind

Studies show that a child’s math skills when entering kindergarten are a better predictor of future academic success than reading skills, social skills or the ability to focus.

That’s why Katherine Earles, who holds degrees in engineering and mathematics, knew that preparing her Pre-K children to read was important, but developing their math mind was equally important.

To read more, visit Wichita Moms Blog!

Wings of the Wind Kites and Toys

Dear Parents,

Locally owned Wings of the Wind Kites and Toys has generously agreed to donate to Christ the Savior Academy a percentage of sales made on behalf of CSA during the holidays.  Just stop by their store before the end of the year and let them know when you are making your purchase that it is to benefit Christ the Savior Academy.  They are located at 550 N Rock Rd (NE corner of Rock and Central).  Their business hours are 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Saturday, and closed on Sunday.

Wings of the Wind sells quality educational, fun and unique gifts as well as an incredible assortment of kites and yard ornaments crafted by local artisans.  The proprietors, Susan and Mark, would love to help you find the perfect gifts for your loved ones this holiday season.  Check out their website:  http://wingsofthewindkites.com/

Thank you for supporting CSA!

Merry Christmas!

Mikell
CSA PTA

Divine Liturgy

We celebrated the Divine Liturgy for the feast day of St. John Chrysostom. Our 3rd, 4th and 5th graders helped with the chanting guided by Mrs. Jenny Farha, our 5th Grade and Music Teacher, her husband, Aaron Farha and Father Isaac Farha. Father Joshua Burnett, served the Liturgy. All are parents of students at the school. We are blessed to have parents and family as role models and setting example of the many ways we can serve Christ in our daily lives.

Sitti Luncheon

Part of the spiritual component of education is to teach children about relationships – learning to interact with people beyond our age. Each year, we invite the sittis (Arabic word for grandmother) into our school to have lunch with us. Many of these ladies volunteer in our school. They love us, support us and always believe in us. CSA loves our Sittis.

Grandparents Day

Our grandparents visited school, and we showed them a sample of all we are learning – from the JKers signing the alphabet to the Third Graders partial recitation of Horatius at the Bridge. We broke bread with them and delighted in their visit. Thank you, grandparents, for sharing a special day with us.