Monday, May 17, 2010

Uncharitable, arrogant, irreverent, and intentional

Dear Signatories to the letter of May 7:
I am sorry I have been slow to respond to your letter expressing disappointment in my decision to to accept the Dan David prize. I will attempt to do so now. You begin by describing my work as dwelling ‘consistently on histories of colonialism and displacement’. I am dismayed that my work should be reduced to this simple formula.
My work is about people who find themselves in many different kinds of predicament, historical and contemporary, and anyone who is familiar with my books will know that my most important characters are never those who see things in black and white; nor do they resort to easy judgements. In my view all important ethical and political judgements are difficult; what is more they are always specific to the situation at hand. If this were not the case then every situation would be reducible to a few simple formulae and novelists and poets would be out of work…
I know you are all people of conscience and good intention so let me ask you this: what is the point of making generalizations that are so totalizing as to erase all possibility of nuance? Is teaching in a Californian university that is supported by weapons research really the same thing as torturing prisoners in Abu Ghraib? Can’t you see that in this world sanity depends upon being able to perceive and make certain distinctions? If you cannot make these distinctions in relation to Israel how will you answer the people who say that all Palestinians are terrorists and all Gazans are suicide bombers?]

Peter Heehs wrote as the chief of the Ashram Archives, and hence his uncharitable remarks, arrogant observations, irreverent tone, and intentional omissions in The Lives of Sri Aurobindo can never be condoned under any distant criteria of ‘distinctions’. [TNM]

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