Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dead white males

I read a lot of them, sure, but I try to read some other things too. Anyway, Sullivan today has a post responding to somebody else's essay saying maybe we should shore up the canon. The idea, basically, is that black literature focuses on the experience of oppression, and thus its perspective is narrow. Sullivan writes:

Naturally, if someone has me in shackles, is holding a gun to my head and denying me my basic human rights because of the colour of my skin, I would choose to firstly devote my intellectual energies to addressing that injustice. But it is undeniable that man’s inhumanity to man is only one part of the human condition.

The dead white men never had to face the evils of slavery or the physical and emotional oppression of racism. Thus their minds were freer to range over the great philosophical questions, metaphysical quandaries and cosmological dilemmas. In short, they have been allowed to address man in relation to the macrocosm, as opposed to just the microcosm.

To which I say: isn't bondage a metaphysical quandary as much as a physical? Isn't oppression an inextricable part of the macrocosm of human experience? Is a mind that can't see this free in any way that matters? Why doesn't Andrew Sullivan, a gay Catholic who insists that his temperamental home is with the conservatives, see this?

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