Sunday morning special: in accidental praise of L’Europe sans frontières

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IN LIEU OF #seriousacademic INTRODUCTORY PREAMBULATORY ABSTRACT:

PROS

  • short
  • includes a very pretty picture of a butterfly at the end

CONS

  • includes neomedievalism
  • may reduce your faith in “quality serious authoritative” people and “quality serious” publications
  • may lead to despair about The State Of The World by way of the state of exemplary excellent elegant writing by our exemplary educated erudite élite

Yesterday, in my officially-scheduled Newspaper Reading Time, I had made my way to The Guardian online. (I need to schedule such reading because otherwise I have a tendency to read eclectically and constantly, and I am one of those awful ambitious selfish people who want to read everything.) Along the way, in my meandering adventurings, I happened upon the following article of which I have taken the liberty of excerpting the (excellent) beginning:

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And the wise but idealistic ending, a battle-cry to rouse old-fashioned good idealistic wise liberalism; of the kind that Locke, Mill, and Gladstone would recognise, unlike this pseudoneo evil nonsense (and yes, “good” and “evil” are appropriate words and ideas here):

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But something unfortunate happened in the middle.

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This is neomedievalism and it is bad.

So: over to Twitter…

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There is no excuse, in this day and age of research tools at one’s finger-tips, for getting factual matters wrong.

There is no excuse, in this day and age of free public libraries (in London, for the example above) and free openly-accessible virtual libraries online, for not reading.

Failure to do either is a sin of omission. Such failure is bad. Its culpability is compounded because this is a public venue, and because this is a serious writer writing in a serious publication and she is also senior editor of another publication that is very serious indeed.

The statements above are true for any kind of fact.

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Badness is exacerbated by casual neomedievalism.

Proper Nouns that are Medieval should be treated the same as any others, and there is the same duty to look them up and check that one is using these words correctly, in accordance with what they mean. “Medieval” is not exempt from fact-checking: we’re talking facts like those of any other historical period. The same goes for medieval literature as for non-literary material: Lancelot should have been treated like Titipu or Coriolanus—

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—and any of them should be treated like Mrs Dalloway or Tristram Shandy or any other character in any novel on this Guardian list (notable for its lack of anything medieval) or beyond.

Even were “Lancelot” to seem like a legend turned to figure of speech—like that “many-headed Hydra” above—the same obligation is there. And besides, I challenge you to find any legendary material that doesn’t have written sources capable of being checked, including transcriptions and renditions of the (hi)stories of previously entirely unwritten cultures.

Doing otherwise is a gross act of cultural imperialism: taking material without respect, attribution, or any proper care; to appropriate and make free with it, in cavalier ignorance, in whatever way one wishes. It is worse than theft. It is beyond negligence. It is cultural pillage and rape. It is careless because it is uncaring, because one doesn’t care, because this isn’t a care-worthy thing that one ought to care about. It is a thing that doesn’t matter.

The same would be true had this writer failed to check her facts before referring to a non-literary non-imaginary thing; for example, in using the words “Greece,” “Syriza,” “Varoufakis.” The same is true of places in the here and now—the UK, the USA—with a less obvious colonised past and a neocolonialised present and a precarious future ripe for recolonisation.

The past is not a free market to use, reuse, and abuse for one’s own ends, interests, and profit. Just because it can’t answer back and stand up for itself doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be treated with the same respect and accorded the same dignity as the present. And the same goes for any marginal/ised minority, however fragile and evanescent it might seem.

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Medieval images above: via the marvellous Melibeus

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