Sunday, September 13, 2020

Judging the past …

… On Reading Badly | Stand Firm. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

… it is very bad to go back and read modern virtues into the past, holding the long-dead accountable for sins they didn’t imagine to be sins. Though, I would say, doing that is what we do. We always judge the past, just as we will be judged, and it’s one reason literature goes out of fashion, and notes have to be made at the end of the page, and children have to learn how to read books and walk the delicate line between empathy and judgement. But it is also very bad, if not worse, to not see the nuance in a book for what it is, to assume some sin, where a more careful reading would show there is not, in fact, sin. It is as bad as doing it to a real live person—assuming that the person is saying or meaning something they are not saying or meaning, because they haven’t used the correct terminology of the day, or don’t see all the contours of acceptable tastes of the moment.

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