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Tony Grist

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"Truths People Can't Fight" [Jun. 10th, 2012|11:57 am]
Tony Grist
Two characters in A.S. Byatt's Possession have a conversation about how every age is enslaved to "truths" that are so big, so universally accepted that no-one can get out of their shadow. For our own age (Byatt was writing in the 80s but I think the observation still holds good) the big, universally accepted truth is the Freudian one that sex is at the root of everything. One of Byatt's people momentarily rebels. A feminist reading of a Victorian poem that interprets a description of landscape in terms of the female body makes him queasy. He wants to see through other eyes-  for a pool to be just a pool, not a metaphor for bodily secretions, for maidenhair fern to be nothing but itself- and of course he can't. 

This slavery to "truths people can't fight" makes it very hard for us to understand the past. We can't unlearn our "truths" even if we suspect them of being bogus.  The Victorians' innocence of Freud shuts them off from us. And not only is it a case of us "knowing" things they didn't know but also of us having escaped the spell of the "truths" they couldn't question. How can we imagine ourselves back into a world in which "respectability" was all important and religious controversies we have either solved to our satisfaction or lost interest in were a matter of private and public obsession?
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: steepholm
2012-06-10 11:27 am (UTC)
Ah, how can we escape from the meme meme?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-06-10 11:50 am (UTC)
I reckon the best way of driving out an idea is with another idea that's more compelling.
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[User Picture]From: steepholm
2012-06-10 01:00 pm (UTC)
And the best way to get off weed is to take up heroin! :)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-06-10 03:35 pm (UTC)
Exactly.:)
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2012-06-10 12:11 pm (UTC)
I wonder if my library has that book. I saw the film. The most memorable line in the film was muttered, sotto-voce, by the grad student character, as he went off to research an inane query: "this is not a job for a grown-up."
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-06-10 03:36 pm (UTC)
I don't think that line's in the book- but it's true to its spirit.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-06-11 08:52 am (UTC)
It's a very literary book. I haven't seen the movie, but I should think they would have had to have filleted the book of most of what makes it interesting in order to reduce it to a script.
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[User Picture]From: rosamicula
2012-06-10 12:36 pm (UTC)
I recently read an academic book by a dear and much-loved friend. It was in thrall to the prevailing political position and held that coloured glass over a series of events and texts to reveal the 'truth'. It's a good book; she is a brilliant and well-intentioned woman.

A few weeks later I worked a trial day in a bad school with woefully demotivated pupils and mediocre staff. I was supposed to teach - drama and English - from resources that were variously, mis-spelled, badly phrased and just plain inaccurate but which were absolutely and unremittingly true to that political position and the limited and reductive binaries that position is distilled down to by badly-educated educators. The resources went in the bin.

I turned down a lucrative offer to work there to go to the school I'm in now. From an ethical point of view, I would rather teach people to read at the basic level of literacy, than to misread and call it learning.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-06-10 06:20 pm (UTC)
I've recently taken to reading the right wing as well as the left wing newspapers. It's important, I think, to be continually testing and challenging one's own beliefs and prejudices. There are few things I deplore as much as an unthinking championship of the party line.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2012-06-12 09:40 am (UTC)
Personally, after a decade of pointless war and economic decline, I have learned that politics matters and that losing a political battle can cost hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and perhaps even the Republic itself. It isn't just my fee-fees and self-image at stake. If I must look like a partisan hack in order to win, then I'm more than okay with that.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2012-06-12 09:09 am (UTC)
Do you really think Freud is just a fad? What of Darwin?

Some are asexual and for them sex is not the root of anything. For the rest of us, it is and for some much more than others. The creative impulse being what it is, artists can be and often are intensely sexual beings, whether overtly or sublimated.

If someone looks at a Georgia O'Keefe and can think of nothing but botany, that says far more about the observer than it does the artist or her art.
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