A few somewhat related notes

It’s been brought to my attention that one statement in my post from yesterday was perhaps, hoom, a bit too hasty. 

No work of art is under any obligation to be widely representative or inclusive.

I don’t intend to recant this statement, only to place it in better context. I still think it is true, for the most part. Think of a painting of a landscape containing a hill with a river and an oak tree. It could be realistic, impressionistic, cubist, whatever your favorite style. Should this work of art be condemned for not being multicultural in representation? Obviously not. That was never its creator’s intent, purpose, nor the scope of the work itself. I’d even go further, and say that even though humanity was never the painting’s subject, it shouldn’t even be criticized for not being more widely representational in terms of other types of landscapes (deserts, rainforests, savannahs, etc.). Again, none of those other landscapes were ever its subject, nor wide geographical representation ever its scope. 

All that, I believe, holds true of Tolkien, as well as the other works I gave as examples (Jane Austen, Murasaki Shikibu, etc.). Obviously this would not be true of a painting of, say, a crowd of people in New York City featuring only white people. In that case, some might say, the subject and setting demand multiculturalism. But again, that’s too simplistic. What if the artist’s intention was to make a social point by only including white people? One can imagine dozens of themes underlying such a hypothetical image, some admirable, some not, many unsettling. So artistic intention comes into the question as well, not just setting and scope. 

This is by no means all that could be said about the subject, and I don’t intend to say all that could be said. My only intention is to give a vague illustration to the effect that my statement was perhaps too hasty, too simplistic. But still everything I said about Tolkien’s work specifically still remains true. 

While I’m on the subject, someone wrote a long reply to the post, including the remark, “The criticism of Tolkien’s work isn’t about multiculturalism, it’s about the representation, erasing, and Othering of people of color from a Western perspective.” To this I respond that this person is deliberately trying to hijack the original post by shifting the subject. My subject was never racism in Tolkien; I’ve dealt with that elsewhere. I was specifically addressing the criticism of multiculturalism and Euro-centrism that I’ve been seeing addressed in the #tolkien tag recently. The idea that the two are the same subject is egregiously simplistic, much more so than my rash statement quoted above. 

I also take issue with the person who dismissed those who are concerned with social justice as idiots. Tolkien was a Catholic and a Christian, and I myself am a Christian, and no one who rightly understands the religion, and takes it seriously, and tries to make a real effort to apply their lives to it, can dismiss social justice. It’s something I am very concerned with. Can many people concerned with social justice be accused of being highly misguided in the way they pursue it? Absolutely. Can they be dismissed as idiots? Only by someone who is blind, intentionally or not, to the world and its depravity. 

 

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