mercoledì, novembre 11, 2009

Sin before suffering

Wrapping up the Jarrett. I've never read a book like it and the further I get into it the more bizarre it becomes. I don't know where its academic utility would be exactly - perhaps not for history; more, I think, for training people in how to be literary critics or commentators or psychoanalysts, which I think was his idea too, to some extent. I do know that I would love to write books in this one's style, but I don't have the general knowledge, or the in-depth understanding of a given era.

A history of the imagination, it calls itself, from Victoria's accession to World War One; a history of the more changeable bits of collective thinking that seem so immutable when you're the one thinking them. A self-confessedly Jungian history, with an unexpectedly dramatic tone - almost something serialized about they way he organizes it, the way Conan Doyle and Victoria and Gladstone and Disraeli pop in and out of focus . . .

The other night I was struck by an account from the "Watchers upon the high towers" chapter, which is full of apocalypse. Many people before 1881 thought the world would end that year, and many people after 1881 thought the world had ended - that they were now in post-Rapture chaos or the reign of Christ on earth (I can never keep all those Christian stories straight). Jarrett mentions one extremely popular lecturer and author, Josiah Strong, who I'd never heard of before, who believed that the Christians of the United States had it in their power:

". . . during the next ten or fifteen years to hasten or retard the coming of Christ's kingdom in the world by hundreds, or perhaps thousands of years." But first they must stop letting members of inferior races into America, since only the Anglo-Saxons were "exponents of a pure spiritual Christianity". Then they must steer clear of idleness, atheism, popery, alcohol and above all socialism, "which attempts to solve the problem of suffering without eliminating the factor of sin". . . the Librarian of Congress later said the book had an impct second only to Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Looking into this sort of thing strikes me as incredibly important, and incredibly underdone in terms of how history is presented to dilettantes like myself at least. . . the beginnings of ideas, the emotional bases of what we're convinced is our rationalism, seem to me like one of the most important things you could know about history. Socialism isn't just a problem because the rich have to sacrifice some of their wealth, it's an emotional problem because you don't know that the people it benefits have done anything to deserve that we attempt to relieve their suffering - there's a moral angle to the history of the massive resistance to socialism in the United States that needs to be understood, if not admired . . .

4 commenti:

Rocky ha detto...

thinking of a tome in terms of its academic utility is probably one of the least useful ways of thinking about it, but it strikes me that Jarrett (like Stuart Hall or Donna Haraway or Anne McClintock), would be perfect in an interdisciplinary humanities context, like UCSC's History of Consciousness program or U of C's Committee on the History of Culture.

(PS, got my Jarret in the mail. you didn't warn me that the print would be so tiny!)

PPS "popery" !

Mistress La Spliffe ha detto...

Would he? That makes sense. Did I ever tell you about the interdisciplinary humanities degree me and some of my buddies who have popped by this blog did? We weren't allowed to read what the profs called "secondary sources".

I thought that was completely fucking awesome at the time and for years afterwards. I'm not QUITE so fucking egotistical anymore, and not AT ALL persuaded the profs didn't enforce that to make sure what we got was an almost pure, unadulterated Prof + Dante/Nietzsche/Beauvoir etc. ego-trip.

But I still like the fact that the "secondary sources" I pick up now, I can put down again if I'm repelled without having some innate fear I'll flunk an exam. And I love the fact that when I read a "secondary source" like Jarrett, it does my brain in a whole new way.

Sorry about the print, try one of those old-lady magnifying bars.

Rocky ha detto...

Sheesh! That sounds like a rather dogmatic approach for an interdis program. I mean, how are you supposed to learn to think like a synthesizer unless you read some mind-bending blenders? Which is funny, b/c Nietzsche and Beauvoir certainly were just that, Back in Their Day. But to call them Primary Sources? The only thing that earns them that status is the Good Old Passage of Time.

Mistress La Spliffe ha detto...

Oh exactly. All a book had to do was make it into 'the canon' first. And we knew what 'the canon' was because we got a two-page list at the beginning of the four year programme.