wherein a disagree with rohan — 2 of 2

January 12, 2014

tIn last Friday’s post, I got tuckered out. My bad.

Picking up the thread, let’s agree that Gone with the Wind is a morally appalling book.

Here’s the passage in the Rohan’s superb article I’ve been mulling over:

“While I read [Gone with the Wind], in the present, I am invited to share its point of view; I enter, today, into its particular pattern of “desire and fulfillment.” The desire it urges on me is a desire for the South to prevail. Of course, this wish cannot be fulfilled, which is why the dominant mood of the novel—one to which even Scarlett finally succumbs—is nostalgia. But it’s a retrograde nostalgia, one that requires me, if I play along, to compromise my commitment to a just and equal world.”

Like most novels, good or bad, well written or not, Gone with the Wind has a definite point of view. In this case, it adopts a stance on labor, land, family, leisure, race, history, and duty, among other things. A complex moral framework with many moving parts, some of which are appealing, others not.

Entering a point of view, with its alien and foreign values, doesn’t require us to compromise our commitment to a just and equal world.

Why would it?

We can read an adulterous novel without abandoning our belief in the virtue of fidelity. And we can read misogynistic, hebephilic, and even homicidal necrophilic novels without losing or staining our moral beliefs in these areas, too. A moral stance isn’t compromised by entering a strange odious world.

Rohan suggests that reading Gone with the Wind sympathetically suppresses one’s best self. I disagree.

There’s an alternative way to frame the issue. Bring one’s best possible self to bear on a novel, period. Do one’s level best to enter its world, good or bad, familiar or alien. Allow one’s emotional center to be moved by it. Then one might learn something new and unexpected about language, about desires and values, about in-group and out-group dynamics, about the primacy of gut feelings over reason, about different moral foundations and viewpoints, and about the mysterious transit between belief and action in a pluralist world.

We’re so easily divided into hostile groups, each convinced of its own righteousness.

Instead of worrying about the possibility of moral contagion, bring your best possible self to bear on reading alternative points of view, especially when they strike you as morally appalling. Especially then.

Struggling to find common ground through the difficult practice of sympathy is a lot better than the alternative.

wherein i disagree with rohan — 1 of 2

January 10, 2014

wilde2At last I’ve finally screwed up the nerve to disagree with Rohan Maitzen, an English professor and talented book blogger at Novel Readings. She’s read Gone with the Wind a staggering 31 times. That to my one.

Of course I’m likely playing the upstart to a wiser, more informed perspective. Or not.

If you haven’t read Gone with the Wind, here’s what you need to know to join the party.

The novel is a compelling read, a page turner, and it’s splattered with many vices. Yeah, it suffers from aesthetic limitations as a work of art.

But these aren’t the vices I’m foregrounding (thanks, Tom!) at the moment.

No, I’m talking moral vices.

As Rohan says, “It’s a morally appalling book.” It ignores the iniquity of slavery, adopts an apologetic stance toward the Confederacy, and whitewashes the history of the civil war.

Now I’m not convinced books can be immoral. I tend to agree with Wilde that they’re either well written or not.

The proper objects of moral condemnation are people and their actions.

Not fictional people, those thronging denizens of stories.

Real ones.

You, me, and all the rest, including Margaret Mitchell.

Perhaps she is immoral after all. Assuming the narrator is not only a literary device but is also a kind of incendiary or morally retrograde bullhorn, Mitchell might be writing (read: acting!) immorally.

Even then I’m not convinced.

But let’s assume it is a morally appalling book with a morally offensive point of view and that Mitchell is an immoral author and person to boot.

Let’s just grant all that. Or rather please allow me to grant it when I’ve mustered the energy to press on.

I’ve plumb run out of steam and am ready for bed…

Gone With The Dream

December 7, 2013

I awoke
Or thought I awoke
And looked into a mirror

Beneath my hat, near my hairline
A piece of folded skin like a postage stamp was affixed

I fiddled with it
And it unraveled in reverse origami

This fabric of skin
Was my face

It had retracted like a screen on a roller


I waited for the pain to start
Of exposed tissue on my nose, forehead, and cheeks
Worse than road rash or a thousand paper cuts


Stretching the skin taut into a sheet
I pressed it onto my cheeks
Fixing it to my chin

I looked into the mirror

I was beautiful beyond charismatic handsomeness
With dark eyes and lusty facial hair
Like Rhett Butler

Minus the jeering snarky contempt for everything

wherein scarlett o’hara quibbles over 3K

November 26, 2013

A drive by posting. A scene from Gone With The Wind. Here’s the setup. Distraught, Scarlett walks to the edge of her family’s property. In the strange half-light, she waits for her dad. There’s no sign of him on the quiet winding road. Suddenly he gallops up the hill at top speed and enthusiastically leaps over a fence. Scarlett steps out from the shadow of the trees. He dismounts; they talk, they laugh. “I was waiting for you,” says Scarlett. “I just wondered if you bought Dilcey.” “Bought her I did,” her dad replies, “and the price has ruined me.” “Bought her and Prissy, too,” he adds. “Three thousand for the two of them.” “In the name of heaven, Pa, three thousand! And you didn’t need to buy Prissy.”

Oh, one thing thing: Dilcey and Prissy are people. Dilcey is Prissy’s mom, too. They’re part of a family who will be reunited with husband and father for the tidy sum of three thousand dollars.

A fairly steep price, judging by the reaction of our charming self-absorbed heroine.

Mental ecology is often repugnant, but fortunately there’s always a physical world that can be endlessly described:

“The sun was now below the horizon and the red glow at the rim of the world faded into pink. The sky above turned slowly from azure to the delicate blue-green of a robin’s egg, and the unearthly stillness of rural twilight came stealthily down about her. Shadowy dimness crept over the country-side. The red furrows and the gashed red road lost their magical blood color and became plain brown earth.”

first one thing, then the other, and then one more thing

November 25, 2013

For the harried book lover who doesn’t know what to read next, I encourage you in the strongest possible terms to read The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. It’s one of the best novels I’ve read in the last decade. And I assure you, it has nothing to do with Greene’s Roman Catholicism, for which I have little or no sympathy. I’ll say something more about the novel after I stagger my way through a post or two on The Heart is the Lonely Hunter.

In the meantime, I want to apprise you of my current reading faire. Contrary to all expectations and everything I know about myself as a snooty, high-brow reader and could have reasonably predicted as little as a week ago, I’m embarked on Gone with the Wind. I don’t know what to make of this just yet. I was certainly discouraged by “pointed of chin,” “square of jaw,” “kind of heart,” and other stylistic tics. But I was pleasantly surprised by Mitchell’s deft handling of ecology, landscape and nature, at least in this passage: “Spring had come early that year, with warm quick rains and sudden frothing of pink peach blossoms and dogwood dappling with white stars the dark river swamp and far-off hills. Already the plowing was nearly finished, and the bloody glory of the sunset colored the fresh-cut furrows of red Georgia clay to even redder hues.”

“Frothing” is a perfect word choice, and the alliteration of “pink peach” and “dogwood dappling” isn’t half bad, either.

Most impressive, I’ve never seen a description of a sunset as a “bloody gory” mess, which strikes me as totally original. Am I mistaken? Anyhow, the jolting contrast, as we see between spring, which is supposed to be a time of fecundity and life, and the death and dying of the sun, continues in Mitchell’s description. “It was a savagely red land, blood-colored after rains…. It was a pleasant land of white houses, peaceful plowed fields and sluggish yellow rivers…, of brightest sun glare and densest shade.” Savage yet pleasant. Red yet white. Bright yet dark. These are fine stylistic touches in the run up to one of the most brutal and horrific contrasts of all, the impending Civil War.