Sunday, October 25, 2009

h. mantel on doing justice.

from a riveting interview aired today on NPR's weekend edition between liane hansen and booker prize winning author hilary mantel:

LH: was it difficult to provide a certain amount of suspense when many people, anecdotally, know the outcome?

HM: what we’re doing here is unlike what a historian does. we’re behind thomas cromwell’s eyes, and we’re moving forward with him through history. he can’t have hindsight. he doesn’t know what’s going to happen. he’s just blundering on, in the half dark, as we all are—the way we all move through life, with imperfect information—and he’s only able to guess at what will happen next. of course we all know what happened, and we can’t entirely forget that. but there are two questions: how did it happen? and also, most vitally for a novelist, how did it feel to the person concerned? how did history feel from the inside?

LH: are you attracted to historical characters that need some kind of rehabilitation? i mean, in 1992 in your book A Place of Greater Safety, you made robespierre sympathetic.

HM: i'm not so much attracted to rehabilitation as i'm attracted to justice. there is something in common with robespierre and thomas cromwell, in that they’ve both been given an extremely bad press. and it's very difficult to get back beyond reputation, back to the real man, back to the sources. because a lot of the history we're taught, it's just packets of prejudice handed on from one generation to the next, and the packet is never opened and examined. we just carry it unquestioningly and hand it on ourselves. and i suppose i’m the kind of perverse person that, if you tell me someone’s a saint, i'll go looking for his feet of clay. but if you tell me that someone is a scoundrel, and a villain, and there's nothing to be said for him, i start asking, “now why would you want me to think that?' so it's not that i feel i have to redeem these people in any way, it's that i think the facts will redeem them if the facts are ever examined.


Drew said...

I'm going to comment on the two back-to-back posts (how rare) in the order in which they appeared. That is, as of this writing, I have not yet read the "I've Got an Attitude" post.

That is beautiful. And I'm persuaded. But I still don't think I can justify it to another person. And that's because metaethics remains. What kinds of facts are they? I don't think that they're analagous to any other facts; and whatever you might suggest would, I think, reduce to something which is disanalagous. (Seriously!) I think that, again, a Mackie-style value skepticism stubbornly hangs around. (This reminds me of an idea Brandon once had about some kinds of philosophical moral beliefs as pseudo-religious.)

Anthony said...

Fun fact: Dworkin doesn't think there's metaethics! That is, he think that we'd have to justify even Mackie-style skepticism to one another in terms which appealed to value concepts. And since he thinks the discourse is basically what the normative consists in, that belies any claims to deny it.