Saturday, May 20, 2023

Kalamazoo diversity


So, I’ve now had a chance to listen to the recording of the racism roundtable, and been able to confirm some of my in-person (virtual person, that is) impressions.

The first and foremost flaw, from my point of view, is DiNardo’s assertion (in the discussion following the papers) that, given the current crisis, Tolkien scholars needed to put aside biographical studies and exploration of Tolkien’s thought and instead focus their attention on Tolkien and racism and related issues. 

Tolkien’s invented languages were not mentioned but I can’t see how they’re not part of those marked for marginalization. Instead, she said, we need more RINGS OF POWER and especially MtG: Middle-earth. I concluded that she’s not really interested in LORD OF THE RINGS or THE SILMARILLION, et al, in themselves, as works of art, as in what can be done with them —i.e. as tools to fight racism.

My own belief is that as Tolkien scholars we’re all in this together. I don’t agree with the idea that Tolkien scholarship is a zero-sum game.

—John R.


Wurmbrand said...

Yes -- it seems the bottom line here is that literary art (and presumably all art) is conceived as being an instrument for the effecting of designated social outcomes. If someone is perceived as using works of art for the sake of undesirable social outcomes, a crisis exists. But in either case the view of art is that it is a means to an end. This idea about art is familiar from various forms of 20th-century fascism, whether Nazi or Soviet.

Conversely, the kind of scholarship that activists want to have suspended, which deals with works of literary art as art, and also seeks to deepen the enjoyment of them through various approaches including the biographical, is needed, because it recognizes the integrity of the work of art.

Its' thus the kind of scholarship that the activists want to shut down, that is more closely akin to the kind of reading Tolkien himself encouraged and the kind of creative enterprise in which he was engaged: "subcreation" in the broad sense that includes not only "fantasy" but literary art such as (for example) the novels of Dickens.

Tolkien did recognize that there is a benefit from literary art that extends beyond the enjoyment of the secondary world, of course -- that "cleaning of our windows" that restores to us the imaginative value of fire, leaf, loaf, iron, etc., so that we perceive them anew.

Politicized "scholarship" is apt to work in the opposite way, to dull such apprehension of the "common" things and to replace it with abstractions and the will to power. But think of what Tolkien's work has to say about that "will to power"!

Dale Nelson

Matt Fisher said...

The big problem I have with DiNardo's assertion is that it seems to assume that ALL scholars are equally capable/skilled/comfortable focusing their work exclusively on combatting the enthusiasm of white supremacists for Tolkien's work. That's a BIG assumption, and one that often backfires. From my perspective, the stakes are pretty high...which means that this challenge is not something to be taken lightly or approached in a way that will result in anything less than the "best possible/strongest" response.

There are other ways to engage the wider community of Tolkien scholars in this work besides asking everyone to "drop all other scholarship and focus on this."