Saturday, June 16, 2007

On humility

Yesterday one of the sessions I attended dealt with misappropriation of sacred texts: not scripture, but literary texts that get adopted by individuals and groups to achieve their own ends. One very thought-provoking paper criticized a certain interest group for misinterpreting a literary text and appropriating it for the group's own purposes.

The indignation in the room was palpable, but here is my question: don't we all appropriate texts to our own purposes? And if it is easy for others to misinterpret texts, what makes us think we've got it right? It seems to me that this paper should spark not an attitude of superiority over the misguided souls who have mishandled texts but an deep sense of humility in our own handling of texts. Someday some more enlightened scholar will point to us with pity over how badly we've mishandled our own sacred texts. What poor misguided souls we are and how prone to error.


JM said...

I'm curious as to the specific text...and also sad that I'm not at the conference!

Bev said...

You should have been there: the text was Thoreau's Walden, and the paper (which was pretty well done) argued that the Sierra Club and Edward Abbey misappropriated Thoreau in support of the wilderness movement when Thoreau should be considered strictly a pastoralist. Another paper in the session attempted a reappraisal of John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra, but I confess that I don't recall the point of that paper.

The arguments were presented well, but I get nervous when scholars start congratulating themselves for being more enlightened than their forebears. I doubt that we're as smart as we think we are.

JM said...

Yep, I agree that I should have been there. :)

I don't think Thoreau should be considered strictly a pastoralist, but I do agree that text has been misappropriated... a lot.

I wonder about the Muir paper. My thesis is about reappraising Muir in general...I wonder what the person was trying to do with MFS.

Thanks for letting me know what it was all about!