The OF Blog: A quote and then a link to a quote/post

Saturday, April 03, 2010

A quote and then a link to a quote/post

This nostalgia for a past often so eclectic as to be unlocatable historically is a facet of the modernist sensibility which has seemed increasingly suspect in recent decades.  It is an ultimate refinement of the colonialist outlook:  an imaginative exploitation of nonwhite cultures, whose moral life it drastically oversimplifies, whose wisdom it plunders and parodies.  To that criticism there is no convincing reply.  But to the criticism that the quest for "another form of civilization" refuses to submit to the disillusionment of accurate historical knowledge, one can make an answer.  It never sought such knowledge.  The other civilizations are being used as models because they are available as stimulants to the imagination precisely because they are not accessible.  They are both models and mysteries.  Nor can this quest be dismissed as fraudulent on the grounds that it is insensitive to the political forces that cause human suffering...

Susan Sontag, Approaching Artaud

 This quote appears as the opening epigraph to Samuel R. Delany's 1983 novel, Neveryóna.  I read this part last night and was immediately struck by how much is packed into just one paragraph-sized excerpt.  It certainly has some rather provocative things to say, things that would run counter to the sentiments found in another quote, posted over at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist earlier today. 

Interesting how "the other" is presented in two very different ways.  I'll let you weigh in on both, if you feel like it.  Guess which one is closer to my sentiments.


PeterWilliam said...

The quote is similar to the "other" in one key respect. Both represent interesting pieces of "navel-gazing" (i.e. sitting around and critiquing the opposite approach/worldview), but represent absolutely nothing in the way of a viable solution, going forward. The fecal maelstrom currently ravaging the comments section to that "other" quote reveals nothing more than the fact that a solution is not in the offing. There are just two competing, warring tribes bent on "winning."

Larry said...

Strange, almost pejorative term you use there for a critique. The part about a "viable solution" is equally odd, since all this quote is noting a problem and is part of a much longer piece, so any such "solution" would not necessarily be found in one paragraph.

I also don't think this quote revolves around "winning," but rather just merely acknowledging that there is a hegemonic worldview that is reflected in several fictional works that reduces complex, non-Western societies to shallow parodies of the true societies on which these writings are based. And considering how many non-Western points of views have come to be broadcast since Sontag wrote her piece several decades ago, I'd have to say that some progress has been made to avoid the worst stereotypes being presented, or at least these don't occur quite as frequently without commentators pointing out how flawed such an approach is.

As for the comments section over in Pat's blog, interesting that he only decided to lock comments after two Muslim readers of his made strong but polite rebuttals to the xenophobes commenting there. I'm not one who passes judgment lightly, but he's lucky that certain people didn't see that post beforehand, as he would have been tarred (and sadly, with some justification, it seems) as being a xenophobe himself.

Add to Technorati Favorites