Sunday, October 22, 2006

You're a better man than I am

And who so will, from Pride released;
Condemning neither creed nor priest,
May feel the Soul of all the East.
About him at Kamakura.

I want to recommend two articles I've read today:

  1. At War With Himself - Griff Rhy Jones on Kipling from the Sunday Times.
  2. Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching - Terry Eagleton on Richard Dawkins in the London Review of Books.
I've thought for a long time that Kipling (and especially Kim) has a lot to teach us and it is good to see that Jones gets it.
The essence of Kipling is to get under the skin of other men. He inhabits them. “He does the voices.”
Like all good writers, he doesn’t take sides. His characters do.

Kipling's protean facility reminds me of Shakespeare. You feel as if he can't help but create rounded human beings regardless of his advertised prejudices. Mahbub Ali, Hurree Babu and Teshoo stand out in this regard in the immortal Kim, but what about Father Victor the Irish priest in the same novel? Kipling was no supporter of Irish Catholics, yet in the novel, the omniscient narrator says of Bennett, the Anglican Chaplain:

Between himself and the Roman Catholic Chaplain of the Irish contingent lay, as Bennett believed, an unbridgeable gulf, but it was noticeable that whenever the Church of England dealt with a human problem she was very likely to call in the Church of Rome. Bennett's official abhorrence of the Scarlet Woman and all her ways was only equalled by his private respect for Father Victor.
One of the things I love about Kipling is that his empathy is entirely free of the taint of self congratulation that - for me - cheapens any mention of tolerance and respect in the global dinner party that passes for our culture's debate with itself. He accepts that his protagonists have prejudices, and that is a lot more honest and valuable than the New Labour chatter in which prejudices are never held by people like us - perish the thought - but by a boorish underclasss who feed their children fried food through railings and against whom any calumny may be uttered with impunity.

Come to think about it, Marx and Engels were forever slandering the lumpenproletariat as well, so maybe it's not that new a development. Give me Tommy Atkins any day.

Moving from Marx to a Marxist, I never thought the day would dawn when I would be praising Terry Eagleton to the skies, but he does give Richard Dawkins a very thorough shoeing in the LRB and for that we are forever in his debt.

Let us acknowledge our prejudices; I admit my Dawkism. Richard Dawkins is a proficient writer, but his fulminations on religion and philosophy strike me quite frankly as puerile and I am amazed that more people don't point it out. Reading them is like reading music criticism written by a tone deaf reviewer.

For me Dawkins is the last representative of an arrogant and daft intellectual movement in the first half of the last century that gave us dead ends like logical positivism in philosophy and behaviourism in psychology by announcing that the "life, the universe and everything" questions that had fascinated the brightest and best for millenia were in fact meaningless.

You just can't move the goalposts like that; so goodbye AJ Ayer, and goodbye BF Skinner. I am sure that Dawkins R will be joining you in obscurity soon.

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