The Bigot Question

Beloved!

It is, of course, ridiculous. This whole Tintin affair, I mean, not the impending expansion of your lineage. Perhaps your virtues, and your sensibilities regarding censorship, just decided to skip a couple of generations? Perhaps they are waiting for more suitable circumstances? Speaking of: Is this a bad time in which to be bookish, you think? I rather think not. While I have all the required romanticism about libraries and hooking up on basis of access to rare reading material alone, it is more convenient now. I’ve found things on Amazon and Google Books that I would have had to go through quite unpleasant evenings with semi-senile scholars to get hold of in earlier days. Now, the only unpleasant semi-senile scholar I need to have dealings with is my own gracious self.

I’ve also found that using social media in a clever way (one that Zadie Smith never seems to have found, poor girl. Poor girl who is now doing her level best to ruin it for everybody) nearly eliminates the necessity of the awkward in ones life. It’s the near perfect medium to keep up with casual acquaintances. And being a semi-professional still, as well as semi-senile, I really must entertain a couple of those.

I love the way the ‘w’s in ‘awkward’ crowds the ‘k’, by the way. It illustrates the meaning quite beautifully, does it not? Possibly the ‘c’ and ‘q’ in ‘acquaintance’ accomplish something similar, being in the same linguistic circle of friends.

But I digress. Nothing but, in fact. I digress. That’s what I do. Right: The Tintin question. I hear you and agree, it is quite silly to sue an old racist. Although it’s far from the oldest grudge to be held and kept in mint condition to this day (see practically any current international conflict), the fact that this one is based on a fictional entity, which by its very nature must be prejudiced in one way or another, makes it kind of silly. Kind of, but perhaps not altogether. Books read out of context, and especially without awareness of context, may have very subtle influences on our attitudes and behaviors. If you don’t notice the bigotry in the text (and some people don’t), it may influence them to be prejudiced themselves. If made aware of the source of the influence, the influence tend to subside. Seeing a person of a certain color, sex or what not displaying some undesirable behavior, we become more likely find confirmation of that picture on later encounters. This is a real thing, and probably has a lot greater impact than we acknowledge.

While this makes sense, does it not, if its taken to its full length, it makes reading fiction impossible. Fiction in some sense relies on the “willing suspension of disbelief” and it’s hard to keep that up if every page carries the stamp “THIS IS NOT REALLY HAPPENING”.

Oh, this is a long letter, isn’t it? Well, I shan’t apologize, it is not becoming for a woman of my fair to middling age.

Bigotry has been much on my mind recently. On your recommendation sort-of (because as a semi-senile scholar, I only ever partly listen, and tend to mix advice with things I’ve thought of myself) I re-read Forster’s “Where Angels Fear to Tread” the other day. Going through all the humorous permutations, of course (“Paradise Lost – what Angels Fear to Read” and something about rich men and the eye of the needle “Which Angels Fear to Thread” that I haven’t quite worked out yet, but it’s coming along). It’s a shocking book. Forster is unbelievably rude to Englishmen and Italians alike and there are events in the book you shouldn’t read out loud to your pregnant grand-daughter. Re-reading Forster after a very prolonged absence, I was reminded of something I wrote in an essay as an undergraduate, 40-50 years ago: Forster is like Henry James without a theory of mind. If you cut out all the thinking of a Henry James novel, what you get is a (very boring, mind) E.M. Forster novel. And I very much like my fiction cerebral.

Time for one more? Since we where so impressed by the Booker Prize’s verdict last year, I decided to give the Finkler Question a try as well. “Finkler” is a person, but it is also used as a synonym for “Jew”. It’s about Jews, Jewishness, the in- and out-group perceptions, prejudices, jokes, expectations, desires etc. Mostly about the jokes. It’s a slow starter, but its gathering speed and I’m growing quite fond of it. It may be a result of the mere exposure effect: you come to like the things you spend time with. (Possibly that’s how we’ll get through the Parade. By shutting ourselves in with nothing to keep us company but that book. Our problem is the existence of other books, mainly). The banter is quite good, the sex is a bit on the male-fantasy side but there is always anthropological value in that to, I guess. I’ll write more about it once I reach the end of it.

And thus, I reach the end of this letter. I’ll knit something for your forthcoming progeny. Or buy something, and pretend I did.

cheers

Debbie

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