A Review

Another review. JS sent me the link. It’s…well it’s a good review. It sees the point, for one thing. That’s rewarding. Excuse me for just a second here – this is very cringe-making in a way – but I do want to say something.

In this book, Benson and Stangroom are wide-ranging in their knowledge and in the thinking about what they know, and so the book appears laid out almost like a collection of essays that are connected by the theme described above. Anthropology, evolutionary psychology and sociobiology, feminism, philosophies of various sorts, and the policies of Nazism are all touched on or addressed. Each chapter is interesting in its own right, but the background and source materials are so comprehensive, the reader may need to put in some effort to integrate them and keep the theme in focus. This is not a bad thing — readers usually benefit from adding their own effort.

I love that last thought. Quite independent of any particular book, I love that thought. We had a running argument about exactly that throughout the writing: about how careful to be not to throw anything at readers that might seem too arcane or obscure or academic. The arguments were rather fierce at times. That’s because I worry about leaving out things that are interesting or enriching or thought-provoking or necessary merely because one hypothetical reader somewhere might not have heard of it. I don’t think it’s worth doing that, beyond a certain point – I think it’s worth risking stretching people a little. But JS had a serious point too, which is that it’s not worth risking making people feel stupid. I agree that it’s unkind to make people feel stupid, but I also feel rather strongly that we don’t always read about what we already know backwards and forwards; that if we never read about anything we don’t already know inside out, we never learn anything; and that to some extent people choose to feel stupid instead of feeling stimulated to learn more, and I don’t really want to pander to that. I think it works as a kind of auto-impoverishment. I’m serious. I’ve heard apparently sensible people arguing passionately that such and such book made them feel stupid because it was full of references they didn’t recognize. But why didn’t they feel inspired to learn more, I wondered. I think that ‘feeling stupid’ response is a learned, indeed a political response; it’s rather like the ‘feeling offended’ response to cartoons and paintings and operas and plays and novels. I think it’s somewhat sinister, and I worry about encouraging it. So I was really thrilled to read that ‘readers usually benefit from adding their own effort’. That is exactly what I think, and I think that’s a generous view (I don’t mean I think I’m generous for holding it, I mean I think it’s the generous way to go).

So – what’s on at Folk Life this afternoon?

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