Monday, February 01, 2010

Mary Beard 2: Wicked subversion and the donnish mind

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.

13 comments:

maryb said...

I did visit it... but not from Cambridge University nor by googling "Mary Beard desert island discs"!!

sorry .. must be someone else frying to track me down

Peter Burnet said...

"Why is it that some people feel the full existential horror of an innocent secretary incinerated by a photocopy machine, while others see nothing more than a vindication of their thesis on Kyoto?"

--Mark Steyn, September 15, 2001

Brit said...

Why, Mary Beard, would you take the trouble to log in to correct the trivial matter of google referral, when I have called your views 'evil and perverse'? Doubtless you're tired of defending your 9/11 statements, so surely the sensible thing would be to just completely ignore such blogposts?

Sophie King said...

"Given that she hangs out with dons and students, this might even be all too true". Well yes, and I'm surprised that you're surprised. I suspect that if you went into the SCR in King's you would be hard pressed to find many that disagreed with her.

I'm guessing it's a combination of traditional Cambridge leftyism and a career spent looking at things that happened thousands of years ago which made her feel able to say what she said and not to appreciate the offence it would cause. My verdict would be 'unfeelingly arrogant' rather than 'evil'.

Brit said...

Yes and no, Sophie. Lefty anti-Americanism is everywhere of course, especially in the campuses, but I think it's actually pretty rare to see such a direct intimation that 9/11 was justified by US foreign policy. It's the use of "terrorist" in scare quotes that distinguishes the merely misguided from the unforgiveably crass.

Gaw said...

I'd never really paid her any attention until I clicked on the link to her blog.

Now what I find most shocking is not her views (I agree with Sophie) but the fact that she appears to struggle with literacy. Perhaps she has bad days with self-expression in all its senses?

ghostofelberry said...

Ah, Cambridge, that would explain it. The air is funny there. In the 30s, when Wittgenstein was learning Russian so he could emigrate to The Workers' Paradise to become a manual labourer, he dismissed the Purges thus: "Tyranny doesn't trouble me, but people must have work", as if Stalin had created a society where everyone had good, wholesome work to do, even if a few people had to be disappeared in the process.

It's strangely easy to say things like "they got what was coming" or the broken eggs & omelette line, as long as you don't yourself have to do the killing, or witness it close up. A story i recall about Himmler visiting a SS squad who were shooting Jews, getting spattered with blood, going quite pale, and basta, that was his last visit.

It occurs to me one could use Professor Beard's reasoning to justify Dresden & Hiroshima & Nagasaki - not as expedient acts of war (as some do) but "they had it coming" - holding civilians, women & children, dogs & cats even, responsible for their Government's acts. So presumably, since Britain has assisted the US in the Stan and Iraq, if the Professor came home to find a "terrorist" had blown up her street, and killed her family, she would give a serene smile and admit that, yes, they had it coming. And then, perhaps, she would complete the justice by committing suicide.

Ah, Cambridge.

A.Hitler said...

Hi Brit,

Just dropping by to say that I love your blog!

Willard said...

The greater outrage is that she seems to think there's something wrong with Kris Kristofferson.

Man of Steel said...

"Hi Brit,

Just dropping by to say that I love your blog!"

really? what's so great about it then?

A. Hitler said...

The cupcake recipes. They are sehr cool mit sexyfunk, as we say in Austria.

Gadjo Dilo said...

I have to come clean and state that I was inclined to Lefty Anti-Americanism and couldn't wait until they'd stopped singing "The World Stopped Turning" and we could start making jokes about 9/11. I'm fairly contrite these days, and I've also left academia. Beard sounds like a silly cow, but the media is partly to blame (rant rant) in encouraging us to think that words like "wickedly", "pampering" and so forth have wholly positive connotations.

Recusant said...

Surely you know the standard rule, Brit? Everything that comes before the 'but' is bullshit.