Teju Cole on the civilizing function of literature, and the disparity between Obama’s bookshelf and his use of targeted killings:
How on earth did this happen to the reader in chief? What became of literature’s vaunted power to inspire empathy? Why was the candidate Obama, in word and in deed, so radically different from the President he became?
Continue reading: http://nyr.kr/WYUGMz
Photograph: Pete Souza/The White House/Getty.
It’s so strange to me that there is still anyone anywhere who think that there is any connection whatsoever between a given person’s reading preferences and his or her moral stature. There is no “civilizing function of literature”; people will only benefit morally from reading literature if they already have a strong moral formation. As Terry Eagleton wrote many years ago about the deeply cultured officers of the Third Reich, “When the Allied troops moved into the concentration camps … to arrest commandants who had whiled away their leisure hours with a volume of Goethe, it appeared that someone had some explaining to do.” Cole mentions this uncomfortable fact, but, reluctant to draw the obvious conclusion from it, remains puzzled that the President’s political and military decisions could somehow be at odds with what Cole imagines that a reader of Derek Walcott’s poetry would be likely to do. This is misbegotten in more ways than I can even list.
Yes. Reading does not make one any less terrible.
WHEN I SUBMITTED THE FINAL DRAFT OF MY THESIS
Peter Vidani, tumblr.com
When In Academia
oh, these problematically decontextualized moving images. Tell me your troubles, darlings.
WHEN I SUBMITTED THE FINAL DRAFT OF MY THESIS:
I still feel this way:
The daily witness of the Christian in the world is essentially sacramental, rather than moralistic.
Every historical period has its own presiding powers and principalities on high. Ours, for what it is worth, seem to want to make us happy, even if only in an inert sort of way. Every age passes away in time, moreover, and late modernity is only an epoch. This being so, one should never doubt the uncanny force of what Freud called die Wiederkehr des Verdrängten—“the return of the repressed.” Dominant ideologies wither away, metaphysical myths exhaust their power to hold sway over cultural imaginations, material and spiritual conditions change inexorably and irreversibly. The human longing for God, however, persists from age to age. A particular cultural dispensation may succeed for a time in lulling the soul into a forgetful sleep, but the soul will still continue to hear that timeless call that comes at once from within and from beyond all things, even if for now it seems like only a voice heard in a dream. And, sooner or later, the sleeper will awaken.