Towards a "Best Seller"

Scott Holmes (sholmes@PACIFICNET.NET)
Sun, 6 Oct 1996 17:16:42 -0700

Clendinnen in "Fellow Sufferers: History and Imagination" seems to be
addressing the concerns of our List readers dealing with creating the
"Best Seller". The goal is nothing less than utopia:

"The trick would be to extend 'natural' human distaste for the
sufferings of known persons to embrace the sufferings of persons
unknown; to incite in us 'the imaginative ability to see strange
people as fellow sufferers.' Once persuaded of the reality of distant
sufferings and of our own capacity to inflict unintended cruelties
in pursuit of private goals, we would be prepared to temper our quest
for autonomy. Thus human solidarity would be extended and consolidated."

Clendinnen's essay is not so much about this goal as it is about historians
potential role in enabling this ability. She begins the essay by crediting
one Richard Rorty with recognizing that 'the springs of private fulfilment and
of human solidarity are the same.' She states:

"The task, Rorty said, lay with 'genres such as ethnography,
the journalist's report, the comic book, the docudrama, and, especially,
the novel.' A couple of sentences later, he added film, acknowledging
that 'the novel, the movie, and the TV. program have, gradually but
steadily, replaced the sermon and the treatise as the principal vehicles
of moral challenge and progress.'

Clendinnen's thesis is that fiction may not be appropriate and that
historians, too, have a place in this process. I may be reading her wrong
but her argument against fiction seems to rests entirely on the idea that
fiction can be put down without being taken seriously. Where great fiction
does illuminate, she wonders " these writers achieve what they achieve
because they are writing fiction? Or because they are great writers?"
She goes on: "With actual people, however long dead, I cannot in conscience
seal the pages to preserve myself."

I would recommend this essay to all of you Anthro-L people involved in
the Anthropological "Best Seller". Your goals are very similar and
Clendinnen does a very credible job of illuminating the pitfalls of Academics
writing "readable" works. Of particular interest is her discussion of
objectivity and that "upright personal pronoun". I'm sure we have all done
battle with the THEs and the Is in our academic compositions.

Just a thought...

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Scott Holmes <> Informix Applications
4GL -- SQL -- New Era

---- There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, ----
---- Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. ----
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