Monday, May 2, 2016

Classical works reinforce hierarchy

The literature of antiquity is all seen from the perspective of the ruling class; its characters are exploiters, controllers, conquerors. There is where the sympathies of the narrator invariably lies [sic] and it is the elite audience for whom the author is playing. The victims by and large have walk-on parts; they do not matter. That is the truth of the slaves in Gone with the Wind, no matter that Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for her forceful portrayal of Mammy in the film. The slaves are so unrealistically portrayed that no one with the slightest knowledge of the sociology of the antebellum American South could possibly consider the characters identifiable. Think of Theresienstadt, the so-called model concentration camp.

Then it was that I began unconsciously to find my lifetime's subject matter unpalatable. The glorification of cruelty, the self-pity of the exploiter and despoiler, these were the stuff of ancient literature, and adopted easily by ruling classes throughout history. Our obvious spiritual ancestors, the English aristocracy at their Greek and Latin at Eton and Oxford, the German Junker class, were then embraced by the bourgeoisie in both those countries and in the United States as a means of empowerment. Children of this class could reinforce their notions of superiority by recourse to identifying with Aeneas or Achilles or Hector and their consorts.
Charles Rowan Beye, My Husband and My Wives: A Gay Man's Odyssey (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), p.

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