The Blinkered Prophetess

Like many conservatives, I have been able to enjoy the writing of Marilynne Robinson, even though she appears to be quite at home in the liberal mainline tradition. Despite the differences I have had with her outlook on many issues, her novels have been written with depth, nuance, and sensitivity. This is apparently because she writes about the Fifties, back when all those characteristics were still legal.

In Gilead and Home, when Ames and Boughton have their periodic political “fusses,” the first thing you see in and through the portrait is their humanity. You see how the issues are complicated, and how good people get themselves tangled up in complicated things. You can see this in her treatment of the civil rights unrest in Montgomery, and you see it in her treatment of the Civil War — in the flashbacks in Gilead about Ames’ father and grandfather, and in the tensions between radicalism and pacifism. In her novels, some of the characters have demons, but none of them are demons. There are absolutely no cartoons.

The thing that is striking about all this is that it has become plain to me that Robinson would be clearly incapable of writing a first rate novel, of the same kind as these, set in the present time. In a recent interview with Religion News Service (more here and here), she spoke in some very skewed and unflattering ways about people she clearly doesn’t understand at all. She has a prophetic eye, pressed to the keyhole of a very small room. She is a blinkered prophetess.

In that interview, she discuss

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Jane
Member

I’ll start by saying I haven’t read anything of hers, so I’m only reflecting on what’s in this blog post. But I’m wondering if she isn’t as adept as she is at portraying actual evangelical Christian characters because she knows some, but as an “NPR liberal”, she is convinced that the people she knows are exceptional and better than their kind. The reality is opposite — most evangelicals are decent, generous folk, with the cartoons being just common enough to make for stereotypes. I have acquaintances and relatives who operate this way — they are open-minded enough to respect the… Read more »

Moor
Guest
Moor

I think you’re on to something Jane, well said.

Jordan Wilson
Guest
Jordan Wilson
Matt
Guest
Matt

The irony here is that you protest Robinson’s ignorance and caricatures, then go on to paint nothing but crude caricatures of your own cultural and political adversaries. Not two paragraphs later, liberals are totalitarians who want to make the conservatives disappear forever. It would fit right into Saturday morning.

dchammers
Member

Matt, There is of course some irony there, but I wouldn’t call the painting a caricature, rather from the school of realism. Recently it’s like a bibical plague out there of free thinkers who have been so open minded that all their brains fell out. You can’t turn around without bumping into a howling pack of brain-dead progressives enforcing a Two Minute Hate. Maybe plague and pack are the wrong metaphors. As DW says, there is always a theocracy. We working our way towards the Inquisition.

Karl von Buddenbrock
Guest

Thanks, Doug, for a fascinating critique. I’ve been following your blog for a year now from down South. That’s South Africa. I enjoy your writing. I have also found that despite their talent, writers of liberal hue find that their voice has to be couched within PC discourse. They lack the imagination to step outside of this. Jonathan Franzen, for example, has a wonderful gift, but has to play within the now very tired and passe anti-establishment establishment: pro choice, gay mirage (to use your excellent term),pacifist etc etc. It’s almost as if they won’t sell if they don’t wear… Read more »

JP Stewart
Member
Eric the Red
Guest
Eric the Red

Doug, I hope you don’t mind, but I just commented on this on my own blog:

http://nohbdyimportant.blogspot.com/

Matt
Guest
Matt

Matt, maybe there’s a bit of truth to Doug’s “caricatures”

Maybe there’s a bit of truth to Robinson’s?

JP Stewart
Member

Matt: nope. Real-life examples vs. the Sunday comics. If there are right-wing, Christian men who own guns because they’re “scared of the world,” I haven’t run into them yet. And I know dozens if not hundreds of men who fit into that category.

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

Suffering from a lack of imagination???

In Les Miserables, when Victor Hugo would beautifully & imaginatively tell us how religion in general is good (all connected), but the individual religions are detestable, given their exclusivity claims, the novelist never suffered from a lack of imagination.

Caricatures don’t result from ignorance, but from hate.

Jane
Member

But as the intolerance intrinsic to liberalism has grown stronger, we now have the phenomenon of other views getting shouted down, run out of business, or packed off to sensitivity training.

Is this an example of what Matt calls a “caricature?” Something we’re reading about happening almost daily? This is comparable to a claim that Christians are negligent of needy babies?

David
Guest

I was thinking much the same thing reading the HuffPo interview. When the interview makes the leap from the contemporary scene to Calvin, that is where the interview takes off. Like flicking a switch, the interview goes from typical and boring to engaging and delightful. It was evident that like many people in her circles, Robinson doesn’t interact with real conservatives; and, unlike most people in her circles, she has read Calvin and the Puritans with deep appreciation and understanding. The interview also made me recall the experience of reading Robinson’s essays in The Death of Adam. When Robinson stands… Read more »

Dan Glover
Guest

I appreciate this post, Doug, and I think you hit the nail on the head when you said: “At the end of the interview, she is asked about Twitter and Facebook, and responded more revealingly than she knew. She said, “I’d have to educate myself about what contemporary culture is, because all of these words are essentially meaningless to me . . . So I might as well just write about 1956.” I think this is very wise, but she also needs to have limited herself to interviews about 1956. She has no more idea of what pro-life adoptive parents… Read more »

Matt
Guest
Matt

If there are right-wing, Christian men who own guns because they’re “scared of the world,” I haven’t run into them yet. You may not have met any paranoid right wingers, but they are trivially easy to find. Go to any gun show. I went to one and was astonished, like a liberal cartoon come to life. In the same way it is trivially easy to find intolerant liberals. The caricature is that this tells us something “intrinsic” about either group, as that is what a caricature is: reducing something complex (like a political movement involving millions of people) down to… Read more »