Tuesday, February 05, 2008

"Puritans and Prigs"







I am re-reading Marilynne Robinson's essay "Puritans and Prigs." Good stuff
(if you are at all sympathetic with the Puritans)--she notes that the Puritans have been systematically misunderstood due to lack of critics reading enough original texts. She asks "What does it matter if a tradition no one identifies with any longer is unjustly disparaged? If history does not precisely authorize the use we make of the 'Puritanism,' we all know what we mean by it, so what harm is done? Well, for one thing we make ourselves ignorant and contemptuous of the first two or three hundred years of one major strain of our own civilization. . ." She goes on to note that "the way we speak and think of the Puritans seems to me a servicable model for important aspects of the phenomenon we call Puritanism. Very simply, it is a great example of our collective eagerness to disparage without knowledge or information about the thing disparaged, when the reward is the pleasure of sharing an attitude one knows is socially approved."

I like this essay (and strongly recommend it as well as Robinson's other stuff, espcially her great novel Gilead), because it points out a common problem in Academia and (probably) the world in general. The attitude one finds in general about the American Puritans seems almost always to be "Oh, you mean those evil, ignorant folk who burned witches" ala The Crucible. Robinson is, I believe, on to something when she points out that the shared attitude is almost unassailable because it is so socially approved.

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