December 16th, 2019

After last week’s election…

In recent Salon discussions and in several social conversations, we have re-visited the question as to why we read writers who present perspectives that we now find deeply problematic. This could be in reference to Proust’s anti-Semitism, Woolf’s snobbery, Faulkner’s race-divided world, Joyce’s xenophobic Dublin. These discussions present the opportunity to distinguish between a writer presenting a point of view for critique and illumination versus a reflection of the writer’s own prejudice. The writers I have cited above purposefully present the worst views of their world to probe, overturn and dismantle—but their writing often takes us into the heart of these views—often views that they themselves have inhabited—to extricate the roots that are embedded in their culture.
Though we may look at these works as chronicling a past history, last week’s election suggests that we desperately need to consider openly our prejudices, our violently differing political perspectives and how we will foster greater understanding of each other moving forward.

The studies on offer in the coming months provide an opportunity to consider and discuss the roots of tribalism, the impact of a racist world on individual identity, the female reduced to male projection, the way the weight of traumatic history distorts an individual—and the way art holds up the bright and hard edges of human experience. I believe our engagement in the literature has the capacity to engender hope—hope that can translate into activism.
Coming in January and beyond:

Look for the annual Ulysses study in 2021, leading to next year’s centenary of Joyce’s immense work…

 —Toby
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