Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Well this is kinda sad, but not unexpected: Toni Morrison makes idiotarian comments.

Now some of this may be by the reporter, rather than by Morrison. You be the judge:

Inaugurating a new lecture series started by fellow Nobel laureate, Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Morrison on Monday retold the story of "Beowulf," the epic of how good triumphs: by continuous, bloody and escalating violence, until evil is destroyed.

"You may be reminded of events, rhetoric and actions of many current . . . violent upheavals," she told a standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 U.N. officials and diplomats.

For centuries, the language of war was inspiring and glamorous, and it was the language the world accepted, Morrison said. "The heroic language of war was rivaled only by religious language."

First of all, if you're going to talk about Beowulf, you should actually know something about it, which she obviously doesn't.

Let me quote that again: "good triumphs: by continuous, bloody and escalating violence, until evil is destroyed."

This may perhaps be the single most stupid thing ever said about Beowulf. Good triumphs? At the end of the poem Beowulf is dead and his people are anticipating being exterminated or enslaved by their enemies.
"Escalating violence"? What the hell does that mean? The dragon is a more deadly enemy than Grendel or Grendel's mother, but that doesn't show "escalation." It's a different sort of violence, brought about for different reasons, not an "escalation."

But the really idiotarian thing is the idea that if we replace the rhetoric of violence with the rhetoric of non-violence, anything will change. Try non-violence and understanding with Grendel and see what happens. (hint: he'll eat you). The problem that is at the heart of Beowulf is the problem that we're still dealing with: to give up war and hope for peace is only possible when you are so strong that your enemies fear to attack you. But you can only become that strong by gaining a fearsome reputation in war. Beowulf is seen as a great king because he did not use his power unjustly (see his dying speech) and because his reputation allowed his people to have peace and prosperity.

Morrison's thick-headed analysis provides just another data point to support Drout's Nobel Prize Theory of Stupidity. To wit: once you win a Nobel, you begin to act like a moron because you no longer get criticized or edited, and you can say stupid things and people will not contradict you. Losing your feedback loop, you lose your connection to reality and you become an idiot. The same phenomenon can be see in the work of popular writers, culture makers like Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, etc.: once you stop getting edited, your work goes to hell.

But the main point: if you don't read Old English, don't comment on Beowulf.

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