Thursday, October 30, 2008

When Barbara Kay Reads, Bad Things Happen

Barbara comes to the rescue of Margaret Wente and Dick Pound by--and you knew this had to happen at some point--invoking JJ Rousseau:

One really has to wonder what the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau would have made of this nonsense. The term "noble savage" signified high praise by Rousseau and many other romantics of the eighteenth century, when "primitivism," another word that would raise native hackles today, was all the rage.

For one thing, this in context is a lotta hoosegow. Neither Pound nor Wente used nor intended the term in the sense noted above.

Secondly, the concept of the "noble savage" entails its own set of condescending stereotypes. For example, the "noble savage" as a literary character tends to physically resemble a white guy with a tan. For example, check out this description of Oroonko, the protagonist in Aphra Behn's early novel "Oroonko, or: The Royal Slave":

He came into the room, and addressed himself to me and some other women with the best grace in the world. He was pretty tall, but of a shape the most exact that can be fancied: the most famous statuary could not form the figure of a man more admirably turned from head to foot. His face was not of that brown rusty black which most of that nation are, but of perfect ebony, or polished jet. His eyes were the most awful that could be seen, and very piercing; the white of 'em being like snow, as were his teeth. His nose was rising and Roman, instead of African and flat. His mouth the finest shaped that could be seen; far from those great turned lips which are so natural to the rest of the negroes. The whole proportion and air of his face was so nobly and exactly formed that, bating his color, there could be nothing in nature more beautiful, agreeable, and handsome.

And it is entirely unsurprising that the most famous example of the type, Tarzan, is in fact a white man transplanted into the jungle.

But arguing like this with Barb Kay is essentially offering pearls to swine. After spending a good couple hundred words of digression on how not all uses of the term "savage" are derogatory, she simply pivots in the last few sentences to offer her own personal assurance that Margaret Wente doesn't have "a drop of racism" in her. Since all this babbling about Rousseau and Co. does absolutely nothing to prove this contention, one wonders what the point of it all was. A gratuitous display of erudition? Or, perhaps more accurately, of googling skills?

PS. Jonathon Kay claims that the assertions in Wente's column are "entirely substantiated". Claims, but does not offer a shred of proof. Well, here's a point-by-point debunking of those assertions. Care to put up or shut up, Jonathon?

3 comments:

Ti-Guy said...

From your Globe link:

"Thomas Jefferson once remarked that those who don't read newspapers are better informed than those who do, even as the former may know nothing, the latter only know falsehood and error."

The Kays must be inbred. Lil' Johnny always looks like he's a second away from blurting out a deep dark secret that terrifies him.

David Wozney said...

Thomas Jefferson referred to “merciless Indian Savages” in the U.S.A. Declaration of Independence.

He wrote that the “King of Great Britain” “has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”.

Ti-Guy said...

All the while shtupping his black slaves...

The English have always hated the original inhabitants of the New World because they were too graceless to appreciate the divine responsibility God had thrust upon the fairer race.