deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
[personal profile] deborah
I like to start off my semester by talking to students about how you can love media you find deeply flawed; part of learning to think critically is being willing to put aside your affection or dislike for a text for a little while. (And then you need to be able to take your emotional reaction back, and see what happens to it when informed by critical thinking. I'm all about multilayered response.) The examples I use are usually texts which are deeply flawed vis-à-vis some axis of political oppression which touches me personally: feminism, usually. There are plenty of movies I love that have deeply ingrained misogyny. On another axis, there's Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy, a fabulous book with the despicable Jewish moneylender.

But it's easy to talk about the the books you love when you're in the group under attack; not so easy when reading the book makes you into an attacker-by-proxy. Over at the Kirkus blog, Vicky Smith writes "Guilt and Pleasure":

Do you ever love a book that you feel you shouldn’t? I'm not talking about a typical “guilty pleasure” sort of book--legions of smart, emancipated women find themselves tucking into Twilight and its spawn as if they were chocolate-covered nougats. A little shamefacedly, they confess that they find the sexual politics of so many of these books utterly retrograde but nevertheless hugely enjoyable. But that guilt is a light one, not the kind that a person really feels, well, guilty about.

And then Vicky talks about what it feels like, both as a reader and as a reviewer, to have enjoyed 13th Child. It's an interesting essay, I think. As a reviewer, I share the worry she addresses:

A colleague at another book review asked me that summer, "What are you going to do about Thirteenth Child?" Of course, we had already done it. Because of our ferocious pre-publication schedule, we had gone to press with a starred review before I ever became aware of the controversy. Certainly, I was a member of that presumed non-Native audience, and I lapped the whole book up without thinking twice.

I'm not sure I know anyone who deals with books -- whether reviewers, authors, teachers, or readers (and I assume folks in publishing, although they have tighter constraints on what they can say in public) -- who doesn't occasionally have deep regret over the public or private reactions they had to a work they later realized was deeply problematic, or about problems in their own fiction. And I'm not sure I know anyone who doesn't love some deeply troubling fiction. I tell my students that you can love something and find it troubling, as part of your job as a critical thinker is gaining the ability to reconcile those. But it's a lot easier for me to reconcile my feelings about great books with despicable Jewish moneylenders than it is for me to reconcile my love for, oh, A Horse and His Boy or A Little Princess. It's easier to forgive (the book? myself for loving the book?) when I'm not reading from a position of privilege.

This goes beyond Wrede to so much of our literature, both great and not-so-great. Every year children devour the Little House books despite their terribly hurtful depictions of Native Americans, for instance. Some of us give Laura Ingalls Wilder a pass of sorts, saying she was a product of her times, a forgiveness that we cannot extend to Wrede—and, depending on the reader, to ourselves, when we enjoy her series.

Read the piece, it's thought-provoking.

Date: 2011-08-26 03:10 pm (UTC)
libskrat: Truly the way of enlightenment is like unto half a mile of broken glass. (enlightenment is broken glass)
From: [personal profile] libskrat
I saw the Wrede when visiting my sister and picked it up without hesitation, as I love the Wrede-Stevermer collaborations and enjoyed some of Wrede's other works.

I finished the book, but I was feeling mighty uncomfortable about halfway through, so much so that I hopped online as soon as I could (my sister doesn't have internet at home) to see if anybody else had had the same WTF reaction I did.

Boy howdy, did they ever.

I took this to mean I've gotten slightly better at reading works for kyriarchy. I wouldn't say I'm perfect at it (who is?), but I used to swallow up Laura Ingalls Wilder uncritically, so...

Date: 2011-08-26 07:37 pm (UTC)
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
From: [personal profile] tahnan
Wow. That's a wonderful essay, and a kind of stunning failure on Wrede's part. Made so very much worse by her offhand "the threat of Indians was replaced by the threat of un-extinct megafauna"—in other words, not only is erasing Native Americans a sensible thing to do, but it's sensible because they're only important in the way they interact with Europeans, and to that end they're completely interchangeable with other things. Indians, wild dragons, it's all the same.

That...words really start to fail me.

Date: 2011-08-27 05:08 pm (UTC)
ayelle: "Circe (The Sorceress)," John William Waterhouse, icon by me (circe)
From: [personal profile] ayelle
This is a great post. When it came out I bought the Wrede for my mother without knowing anything about it (other than its author), and felt deeply horrified when I later encountered the controversy. I even felt compelled to call her and talk to her about it, I remember.

Of course there have been many books that I saw nothing wrong with when I first read them as a child, and thus had to confront later (A Little Princess, Little House books; books that shaped my childhood and that I read over and over and that I still instinctively jump to in my mind when comparing my life to fiction). But there I find it easier to forgive myself for that love -- easier to balance the love with the awareness of the problems. I don't really feel like anybody's requiring me to magically erase the love I felt for a book before I learned to better recognize my privilege and others' oppression. I feel I'm being asked to see what's going on here, to recognize the negative as well as the positive ways that these books influenced me, to maintain this awareness of what's wrong with them before recommending them or doing other work with them. And I do. But I feel I'm not being asked to expunge nostalgic fondness from my reading psyche, because in any case, that's just not possible.

But The Grand Sophy, which I read recently, is another matter. Growing up surrounded by Jewish friends and schoolmates, even if I'd read it much younger I might still have had a problem with it -- I still vividly remember the first time a Jewish friend explained to me the "Jews are greedy" stereotype, telling me about the time he'd been chased by members of an opposing marching band shouting anti-Semitic slurs after they saw him "bend over to pick up a quarter on the field." So when I read TGS I was enjoying it so very much, and then I felt utterly sucker-punched when I got to that scene, just betrayed. But I still loved the rest of it; it was just that one scene! I'm not Jewish (I think you're spot-on in your observation about the difference between being the target of the offense or not); nobody else can morally authorize me to say it's okay to love the book despite its failures. I just have to navigate that feeling myself.

I'd have to say that for me, at least at this stage, that is a more complex negotiation than adjusting my feelings about books I loved growing up -- that is, deciding how to feel about recently-read books that I love or at least enjoy that are also really problematic. Although perhaps it also makes it easier that I never felt the unconditional love in the first place, and I'm perpetually growing more accepting of the notion that I will always be on my guard, that I will very rarely love a book unconditionally again. But there's a grief there too.

Date: 2011-08-31 03:02 pm (UTC)
ayelle: "Circe (The Sorceress)," John William Waterhouse, icon by me (circe)
From: [personal profile] ayelle
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