How Can We Save Rational Discourse?
In our own lives, in our families and communities, can we rebuild meaningful dialogue?
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
I know I’ve worded it right when I get angry emails from both sides.
You see, every week I try to evoke good dialogue, inspire discourse and poke the proverbial bear. What I try not to do, however, is to ever show my own feelings. After all, that would bias the conversation, stifling free flowing discussion.
This isn’t always easy, I’ll be honest. Every now and then, a word or phrase may give me away, revealing my own opinions (of which I have plenty you can be sure). Other times I overcompensate in my attempts for neutrality and it actually (accidentally) looks like I’m advocating the opposite of my beliefs!
But I’m always pleased as punch when I manage to excite comments from across the spectrum. It means I’ve done my job well... And last week was a good example of this. Indeed, it was a debate that raged both on and off the screen, filling up the mailboxes with responses both thoughtful and not (I have not included the latter).
So many were you and your fellow Classicists musings (indeed, this will have to be a two-parter as there were simply too many for one mailbag) that we should delve straight in...
Before we do, however, I would like to ask one quick question... because it is both relevant to how we should proceed with our mailbags, as well as to our upcoming event that Classical Wisdom is co-hosting with Plato’s Academy Centre.
How Can We Save Rational Discourse?
We live in an era of extremism, of polarization and building tensions. If we don’t find ways in which we can restore rational discourse, the very worst may occur.
But can we do it? What philosophies, civilities, and processes do we need to reinstate or reintroduce? What can we do in our own lives, in our families and communities to restore rational discourse?
As always, you can write to me directly or reply to this email.
Now... onto the controversy of Roald Dahl, and whether or not we should ‘update/censor’ ancient texts, below:
P.S. “That’s when I had the M16 follow (former Zimbabwe President) Robert Mugabe”
So went one line from my Q&A with Lord David Owen yesterday... Make sure to join me this weekend, where Lord Owen is the keynote speaker, for what will no doubt be an exciting event. You can register here.
What do you know about Helen of Sparta? Celebrated as the most beautiful woman in the world and recognized throughout the ages as Helen of Troy, she was always Helen of Sparta to the Greeks. This week Classical Wisdom Members will enjoy an in-depth look at this famous Spartan Beauty.
On Updating the Texts:
Great question. I was just discussing this in my MA in Medieval Studies class with the professor and other students. My opinion, in short, is no. Writers wrote what they wanted to write. It is not ours to alter or erase. Should we wish to write an analysis or a critique that is our right to do so, but not to destroy the work of another.
A further point is that we deface history, and much like Henry VIII and the destruction of the monasteries, we make a point that seems currently relevant at great cost. We deprive future generations of the ability to study works in situ. We capriciously decide and we may repent at length.
Lastly, who is to decide what is good and what is bad? Does not the mind of humanity seek the truth? How can we seek the truth without all of the evidence? The authoritarian nature of such proposals is chilling, and has a chilling effect on the search for truth.
Christine S, Esq.
My first thought was that revising Dahl’s work was another case of the inmates running the asylum. Then I considered that both the Christian Bible AND Shakespeare are often simplified for modern readers. On the other hand, it is considered blasphemous to translate the Quran much less simplify it.
In either case something is lost (the weight and heft of the original) and something is gained (accessibility to a broader audience). Does the loss outweigh the gain?
I fear that the answer is no. I also fear that the only reason for this change is to appeal to a confused and unmoored generation.
In the end only time will tell.
I thought you would enjoy this quote from James Boswell, who, I might add, suffered all his life from depression:
"I own I love nonsense, I deluge my mind with it at times, as Egypt is overflowed by the Nile, and I think I produce better crops. to be perpetually talking sense runs out the mind, as perpetually ploughing and taking crops runs out land. The mind must be manured, and nonsense is very good for the purpose."
He wrote that in his journal. One of the reasons he kept a journal was as a means of "charting his progress" in personal development, requiring a conscious effort at being frank with himself, even if painfully so at times.
For me, the richest vein of literary experience has always been to peer through the mind of someone who lived centuries ago in a world so different from the one we inhabit today, a world much less insulated from the stark realities of life.
As for digging up the past from our incredibly comfortable position in history, as those who went before us would perceive it were it at all possible, and mining it for reasons to be offended, I think it a sad progress indeed.
Anyway, I thought you would enjoy the quote.
Thought you might like to see this blog post that has a great statement from Ray Bradbuury on his works being manipulated and at the end a short statement from an interview by Roald Dahl that is perfect.
Patrick (Tom) P.
Dear Ms. Leonard,
Cultural surgery to “sanitize” old texts? It’s a grievous lack of respect towards the authors, a hermeneutical castration, a revealing loss of cultural self-confidence, a nail in the coffin of a dying civilization.
Semel in anno licet insanire… I hope.
Alvaro de Orleans-Borbon
I think only the author should make textual changes to their work. Problems could be put in a foreword if people are all that concerned about content. Even if the author is dead, I think their works should be left alone. Once censorship starts who knows what next will be decided is unfit for the general public. We need to protect freedom of speech.
First you censor, then you remove, and finally you burn. Any questions?
There is too much criticism of old literature. We grew up with it as is and survived very well.
Leave them be. The pyramids were built by slaves. Period.
Are we talking about updating old texts, or old stories?
The latter first. The stories change all the time. I can’t think of a myth with a transcendent singular narrative. They are told and retold in so many divergent ways (see, the life of Achilles). That’s what culture does. And it’s enriching.
Speaking of - when you are talking about old texts, well, those require translation. Which means choices. And translation is never automatic or objective. It’s not 6 = 12/2. And those choices, too, are impacted inevitably by culture. And leave us with a multiplicity of approaches to the text. And it’s enriching.
So whether we intend it to or not (or like it or not) - yeah, the Dahl treatment just happens.
David J. W.
Will Anderson and Grimm’s Fairy Tales be next? I have to admit, I grew up romanticizing The Frog Prince till recently I read that the Princess smashed the frog against the wall in frustration. Is that next?
NO. We must not tear down, we must add to our books and not touch the originals.
We are individuals and as individuals we have our own feelings, our own tastes and it is unacceptable to have “Sensitivity” readers go over our books and decide what we should read.
They are not our parents and no one died and made them Boss.
I was a teacher, I am a tutor, I still have my books from when I was a little girl and I am a mother and Grandmother and I stand firm.
Be what you want to be, read what you want to read and do not try to update literature from the times it was written to make you comfortable. Just don’t read it!
Imagine what the revisionists could do to Shakespeare! Imagine, but don’t mention in print. If they read it, they’d probably do it.
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