In her essay, “Procrustes and the Culture War,” Anne Fadiman warns us of getting caught on the bed of Procrustes — her image of getting caught up in the ideology of political correctness, of the ideology that you must toe the party line once you sign on the dotted line for that party. She contends that we are to judge literary works — and theological ones I might add — on a case by case method and not by needing to conform to the party line. Wow, what a good chapter.
I refer to a chapter in her book At Large and At Small, which we have paused to consider already.
Have you felt the need for silence due to “PC”? Have you thought you liked a work only to be told that it was “too liberal” or “too conservative”? Any good stories or advice? Some think PC is all bad; some think it is all good. What is the good and the bad of PC?
Procrustes famously put people on his bed; if the person was too short, he stretched them and if they were too long, he lopped off the excess. Fadiman uses this for the PC drive to make people to conform in all ways. In particular, for these four questions:
1. Should we read great books for their literary value or their moral lessons?
2. Should the life of the writer affect our valuation of the work?
3. Should a book be demoted if its plot fails to meet standards of behavior that have changed since the piece was written?
4. Should you read a book when your sex (female mostly, but now also male) is excluded from view by the author?
Ah, what an observation: “if in every battle you look around and see the same people fighting alongside you, you should ask yourself whether are demonstrating an admirable constancy or a Procrustean intransigence” (77).
I know this problem. Sometimes I find my liberal friends thinking I’m a hopeless conservative and sometimes I find my conservative companions think that I’m dangerously moving off the map. This encourages me to think I’m thinking for myself, taking things on a case-by-case method. Some don’t think it is possible to do that — it’s all one or all the other. Punch the lights out on the dichotomy. It would be an odd world if everything liberal were right or if everything conservative were right. Where’s the middle ground here? Anyone game for the middle ground — or taking sometimes one view and othertimes the other side?
Do I have a witness?
One more from Fadiman: “But if you start hacking the toes off your culture, you will soon look down and find that your own toes … are unaccountably missing” (77-78).