Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
In the wake of the terrorist attack in New Zealand, much of the conversation in the US has dripped with envy.
That’s right, envy.
First, a great many voices have pointed to the outpouring of empathy by the Kiwi public after the attack as exemplars of just what a “nice” country New Zealand is. Television hosts intoned that New Zealand is full of the friendliest and kindest people that they have ever met. Videos of Haka performances in tribute to the slain were posted across the Internet as evidence of Kiwi high-mindedness.
All of this, even though anyone who grew up as a racial minority in New Zealand as I did can tell you that there’s as much racial tension to go round there as anywhere else. Kiwis have mostly been helping along this idealization of New Zealand, at least Kiwis who are Pakeha. I suppose we all want to think the best of ourselves. But Americans have been pushing it as well, because they have long idealized New Zealand.
Some of you may have seen my jeremiad last week against the preferential treatment of so-called “legacies” in US university admissions. Legacy: one whose parent(s) or some other relative(s) attended the institution to which he or she is applying. As longstanding practice, most elite US colleges admit legacy students on a much more lenient basis than non-legacy ones. At Harvard, it is statistically nearly six times easier to get in as legacy than non-legacy.
I’ve been chewing over this idea of legacy. Of course the very idea offends many of us, offends our sense of fairness. Certainly it offends me.
On the other hand, the notion of heritage, of being who we are and accomplishing what we accomplish because of who our parents are, seems to me fundamental to human nature.
A few weeks ago, the world of young adult publishing was up in a tizzy over a then-forthcoming fantasy novel by a French-born Chinese author. Essentially, a few influential voices in the world of American YA literature read advanced copies of the book and accused the author of racist depictions of Africa-Americans.
Despite protesting that she had not grown up in the United States and took inspiration from indentured servitude in Asia rather than American slavery, and despite some readers pointing out that the allegedly black character isn’t black, the author asked her publisher to withdraw the book.
This storm in a teacup got me wondering: Should we not read literature by racist authors? Should we not read literature that condones racist attitudes? Naturally, considering this question led me to go back to another author, one whose racism was not in doubt: H. P. Lovecraft.
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."