January 14, 2003

Arrogance, Thy Name is Scholarship

Arrogance, Thy Name is Scholarship

From this article about the recently "discovered" writings of Tolkien on Beowulf:

A common opinion among modern scholars of Beowulf is that Tolkien misunderstood the poem, despite studying and teaching it his entire life and drawing heavily on it for his own fiction, referring to the poem in letters as "among my most valued sources." For example, Frodo's relationship with Sam in the Rings trilogy mirrors that of Beowulf with his companion Wiglaf in the poem.

But modern theorists believe Beowulf is best understood as a study in iconography, rather than as a tale of moral struggle. Its greatest insights, they say, are about how we describe the heroes of the past, not about how we triumph over evil.

Riiiiiigghhht. And all that stuff at the end, about Beowulf's eventual decline and the results of greed leading to sorrow and death is merely an Anglo-Saxon version of our posthumous deconstructions of historical figures like Jefferson. Hey, modern theorists? You Can Bite My Fat White Ass. Study the time period. Take a moment to research the ancient tropes of the warrior code. Now re-read the freaking poem. Notice anything, like, oh, I don't know, Judeo-Christian morality? Now pull your head out of Derrida's ass and listen to me:

Just because "modern scholarship" has declared certain subjects "unfashionable" or "simple-minded" does not mean that these subjects do not, in fact exist, or that anyone who dealt with them before you must be wrong, due to his or her unfortunate situation in the timeline. Tolkien was not a moron, and neither is anyone who finds moral themes in this poem--know why? Because they're IN the poem. You don't have to be a christian to recognize the content, people, and mentioning it in polite society does not make you some sort of religio-fascist.

Modern theorists and scholars are so concerned with "making their mark" on the discipline that they have completely lost sight of, well, reality, not to put too fine a point on it. Stop trying so hard to be revolutionary and to prove your intellectual superiority, and focus on the damn task at hand, which is reading and understanding a great literary work. There's enough there to keep any intelligent person busy for quite some time. Yes, it's been done to death--but so what? It's not like the world as a whole has suddenly reached the limit of knowledge re: Beowulf. See those freshmen? They've never read it. You want their only encounter with Beowulf to focus on your cynical deconstruction of morality to the detriment of the poem itself?

Oh, wait, what am I saying? Of course you do. Beowulf isn't nearly as morally complex as, say, Amiri Baraka. Hey theorists? On second thought, I retract my ass. You can bite Beowulf's instead.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at January 14, 2003 10:09 AM