Saturday, November 06, 2004

Reading

Philip Pullman has an excellent piece in today's Guardian. It's about reading as a democratic activity, and how it resists totalitarian and theocratic government.

For Pullman the danger of theocracy is that it tries to over determine the way in which we read texts. He shows how in the USSR and in Iran reading was a political act, especially when texts were 'apolitical'.

His suggestion that America is going in this direction seems to me a less helpful approach, betraying a liberal failure to understand why Bush is so popular. It is true that government imperialism has elements of this, but then so do elements of the British government. Reports of the war, in particular, are subject to propaganda and lies. It is dangerous to dismiss the whole of America just because their government lies about war, especially dangerous for a Brit to do this!

Pullman's conclusion is that "The democracy of reading exists in the to-and-fro between reader and text, when each is free to engage honestly with the other." He warns that it is easy for democracies to forget how to read. Pullman's fear is that readings become so determined that they are no longer free. I think there is an equal danger in not allowing the text to exert any influence over the reader. This is the liberal (as opposed to the fundamentalist) danger. Distasteful realities are just as real as ones we celebrate. (Bush's reelection is one of these, and it is no good living in the state of denial that can't understand why anyone would vote for him.)

There are some clear parallels for Christians reading the Bible. We must engage with it honestly, but we must allow that it says things we don't always want to hear.

3 comments:

Ken Bradstock said...

Wanted to let you know that Bush is not popular with "Most Americans." He is popular with a slim majority. almost half of us wanted him out of office.

Also thought you might be interested in a little American religious history. This trend toward theocracy is not a new trend. It is a recurring trend begining with the Puritans who believed that they were building the New Jerusalem on this contenant. It is a deep seated belief in our culture that goes unnamed most of the time but contributes to much of our incredible work ethic along with some other much crazier features in American life.

Ken Bradstock said...

Wanted to let you know that Bush is not popular with most Americans. He is popular with a slim majority. almost half of us wanted him out of office.

Also thought you might be interested in a little American religious history. This trend toward theocracy is not new. It is a recurring trend begining with the Puritans who believed that they were building the New Jerusalem on this contenant. It is a deep seated belief in our culture that goes unnamed most of the time but contributes to much of our incredible work ethic along with some other much crazier features in American life.

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