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The Lewis Legacy-Issue 82, Autumn 1999

Hooperian Persiflage?

The essay in Present Concerns titled “Modern Man and His Categories ofThought” is suspicious in several ways. One is its view of women. The
writer laments the intellectual and spiritual damage done to men by “The
Emancipation of Women.” He says the proper glory of the masculine mind is
disinterested concern with truth for truth’s own sake and the cosmic and
metaphysical. The emancipation of women cuts men off from the eternal and
forces them down to the immediate and the quotidian.

The following sentence about the social mingling of men and women is one of
the essay’s assorted peculiarities. “Any mixed [male/female] society thus
becomes the scene of wit, banter, persiflage, anecdote — of everything in
the world rather than prolonged and rigorous discussion on ultimate issues,
or of those serious masculine friendships in which such discussion arises.”

Persiflage is a rather pretentious syonym for the word banter, which
precedes it, a stilted redundancy unlike Lewis’s usual style. Another
suspicious aspect of this sentence is the fact that the word persiflage
occurs nowhere else in Lewis’s writing.

Furthermore, this sentence includes a structural error that destroys its
meaning and renders it illogical. This error is easiest to see in an
old-fashioned sentence diagram, but it can also be explained as follows.

“Mixed society” is the subject, and “becomes the scene” is the predicate.
Two prepositional phrases obviously modify scenes: (1) of wit, etc., and
(2) of everything in the world. The latter phrase is modified by the
nine-word phrase beginning “rather than.” At that point the writer became
confused and ended with a ten-word prepositional phrase that modifies
scene, beginning with “of those serious masculine friendships.”

Thus the writer inadvertantly claims that mixed society produces rather
than prohibits serious male friendships. Any mixed society becomes a scene
1. of wit, banter, etc.
2. of everything in the world
3. of serious masculine friendships