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Tony Grist

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Still Controversial After All These Years [Jul. 20th, 2018|11:34 am]
Tony Grist
Kipling is in the news because someone decorated the students union in Manchester with a mural rendition of Kipling's "If" and the student politicians (who hadn't been consulted) painted it out and substituted Maya Angelou's "And I Rise"- because Kipling was "a racist" and "an imperialist".

This revives a controversy that has been going on since Kipling's own day. And those of us who love Kipling should probably welcome it on the grounds that there's no such thing as bad publicity. If he has survived the satire of Max Beerbohm, the wilful misinterpretation of G.K Chesterton and the patronage of T.S. Eliot he will most probably survive the disapproval of Manchester Students Union.

As Orwell notes in his 1942 review of Eliot's snooty edition of Kipling's "Selected Poems", most of Kipling's critics- and perhaps many of his admirers too- haven't actually read him.  Those of us who have read him know he has many voices-  many personae. 

I re-read Orwell's essay this morning- and I don't believe he'd read Kipling either- or at least, not the whole of him. He's perceptive about the imperial Kipling of the 1890s (which isn't to say I agree with all the points he makes) but ignores anything that isn't about Empire or the army- and that's a large body of work. Kipling didn't go into a sulk after the Great War and no-one who had read the great stories about love, healing and forgiveness that date from those years could possibly claim that he did. 

[User Picture]From: steepholm
2018-07-20 08:53 pm (UTC)
I think if you decide to decorate your teenager's bedroom wall with your own favourite poems, you shouldn't be surprised if said teenager disparages your choice and prefers their own. The case seems rather similar.

The story on the BBC website, where I came across it, was incredibly tendentious, describing the decision to replace Kipling with Angelou as "defacement". Although they mentioned that the word "racist" had been used they didn't give any context, so I'm going to reserve judgement on what the SU said until I see what they actually did say. Do you know, by any chance?

I think in the case of "If" - apart from its being a very tired choice - a stronger objection is that it addresses itself exclusively to young men.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2018-07-21 07:34 am (UTC)
I only know what I read in the papers. I doubt that the SU rep was fairly reported.

I admire "If" as a technical achievement and I love the lines about "triumph and disaster" but it's one of those art works that has become stale through over-exposure. I wouldn't want it on my wall either.

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[User Picture]From: idahoswede
2018-07-21 06:06 am (UTC)
I wonder if we are going to start having revisionist literature in libraries now? I find it difficult to understand how people can totally ignore good writing and just base judgments on how politically correct it is now in 2018. If so, you are going to have quite a sweep of the shelves and what is going to replace it? Jane Eyre? Abusive relationship (just to start). Same with Jane Austen. Oliver Twist? Child abuse, gotta get rid of that.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2018-07-21 08:24 am (UTC)
Stories about texts being erased or censored make us jumpy- because we've been here before. Every society has had its blue-pencillers and book-burners- and they always think they're doing what they do for the good of society.

This particular instance of censorship is fairly trivial- and the media have tried- as they always do- to make as big a drama of it as they can. If it niggles me it's because I think Kipling has been misunderstood- and doesn't actually stand for things his critics think he does- but then I've read most of what he published- and they haven't.

Edited at 2018-07-21 08:27 am (UTC)
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