Mary Beard has, I believe, visited the post below. My statistics machine – a Blötzmannometer attached to the computer via a pneumatic funnel and borrowed from Frank Key – shows that someone at Cambridge University has landed there by googling “Mary Beard desert island discs” and Beard’s own blog suggests an impatient, insecure desire for internet validation:
People have sent such great emails…Of course I recognise that only people who liked what you are said are likely to email or post directly. So far not a single email from a colleague (oh dear). And there have been a couple of blogs about 9/11 and about my crap choice of music, But all in all I reckon I've come out just about ahead.
In return I’ve left an abridged version of the post on her A Don’s Life blog. As a critique of her 9/11 views it will of course be nothing she hasn’t heard a thousand times before – usually in more violent tones - so I’m not expecting a reply. The fact that Beard still feels happy to profess these views despite an awareness of the offence she causes is worth pondering. Possibly it is the result of too many years in the unreality of academia, or maybe it is just that people like this are drawn to academia. Anyway, the Don’s life is one of constant argument and opinion in a protected environment. You say something to make a splash and expect disagreement. Beard’s self-image includes being “wickedly subversive”. Presumably she feels that her statements about 9/11 are just a continuation of the wicked subversion she brings to the received wisdom about Ancient Rome.
But there is ‘wickedly subversive’ as in “wink wink ooh isn’t she just wicked” and then there is “wickedly subversive’ as in “evil and perverse”. Perhaps Beard is simply too densely donnish to tell the difference. On Desert Island Discs she used as jutification the claim that ‘most people she talked to’ felt similarly. Given that she hangs out with dons and students, this might even be all too true.
Her notorious article used the standard 'roosting chickens' device of expressing unconvincing sympathy for the 9/11 victims and then introducing her theory about how they deserved it with the word ‘but’…
The horror of the tragedy was enormously intensified by the ringside seats we were offered through telephone answering machines and text-messages. But…
The ‘But’ is the bit I don’t understand. Surely, to a human in the real world, everything said before the ‘But’ suffices. When considering an atrocity such as 9/11 it is not required of you to add a ‘But’ and a theory. I cannot fathom Beard’s way of thinking: the density and the sheer gall.