The Early Days of a Better Nation

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Bright materials

A recent lecture by Philip Pullman has been widely quoted for its forthright opposition to the proposed law against incitement to religious hatred. Good - but what a focus on this point leaves out is the bulk of the lecture, which is a brilliant examination and defence of literature as a school of morals; something through which we learn about, you know, life. He sees this liberal, humanist view as under fire from two sides: from theocracy and from theory. 'Theocratic absolutism' (which need not be theistic) is necessarily reductive: the function of literature (if any) is pedagogy. For theory literature is reduced to the text: the function of criticism is pathology. It is curious to imagine, as Pullman doesn't (here, anyway) what chaff might be produced if these two millstones ever came together, and started grinding.


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