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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: confrontation between art and technology

Schmerl, Rudolf B.
[Editorial comment: who's afraid of fantasy?],   pp. [176]-[183] PDF (9.3 MB)

Page 180

to the next until, indeed, in
That Hideous Strength, immortality is
conferred upon him. The methods of
fantasy, in the hands of the responsible
fantasist - the writer concerned with the
real world - reveal that world to
the attentive reader, not as it appears
to be but as it appears to be evolving.
To put the matter another way, fantasy, by
presenting a future in the past tense,
can illuminate present processes
in ways simply not available to the
writer of realistic fiction, who must write
about events as if time were always
coming to a stop.
In 1932, when Aldous Huxley published
Brave New World, it seemed important to ask
what democracy was aiming at. By
1949, when Huxley published another
version of the future, Ape and Essence, and
when Orwell also published 1984, it
had become apparent that the question
was futile unless democracy was going to
continue to exist. The events of the
intervening years had demonstrated
that it was not a question of what democrary
was aiming at but what it was coming
to. In the eyes of C. S. Lewis and
180     Rex Warner, it was at least threatened by
corruption and ruin; in the eyes
of Huxley and Orwell, it was coming to
disaster. "The essence of democracy,"
Zevedei Barbu wrote in Democracy and
Dictatorship (1956), "is human dialogue."
Dialogue is possible only when there are
a number of common assumptions, when
there is an underlying similarity between
the bases of two points of view.
But when the moral fundamentals of one
party are regarded as absurdities
or weaknesses by another, there is
nothing to discuss. In an essay called
"Reflections on Gandhi," also published in
1949, Orwell pointed out that Gandhi's
assumption - "that all human beings
are more or less approachable and
will respond to a generous gesture"-
may not be tenable "when you are dealing
with lunatics." And what are our
criteria for determining rationality?
"Sanity," Aldous Huxley had said in
Proper Studies (1927), "is a matter of
statistics"; but as Orwell asked in his essay
on Gandhi, "is it not possible for one whole
culture to be insane by the standards
of another?" To ask the question is to
answer it. I want to illustrate its
pertinence, and to delve a little more deeply
into the differences between scientific and
literary fantasies, by examing the
racial situation.
Some time ago I heard Lerone Bennett,
the historian, writer, and editor of
Ebony, criticize American social scientists
for their obsession with studying black
Americans. The Germans, Bennett pointed
out, studied the Jews; in retrospect,
it is only too clear that it wasn't the Jews
who needed studying. The more I think
about Bennett's point, and the more
I see of officialdom's reaction to the
crises in our cities, the louder Orwell's
question reverberates in my mind. I don't
mean to imply, as I'm sure Bennett
didn't, that the parallel is exact.
To prove the inferiority and culpability of
the Jews, the Nazis established a
"Forschungs-abteilung Judenfrage"
in their Reichinstitut fur Geschichte
des Neuen Deutschlands, and published
nine volumes of ostensibly scholarly
treatises to give their racial theories the
immense respectability of German
Wissenschaft. I am reasonably certain that
the motivation of the hordes of social
scientists now invading the ghettoes with
their questionnaires, their sampling
techniques, their computer programs, is
quite different. But the means determine the
ends. The implication is that the
Negro is ill and in need of diagnosis,
and true to the Parkinsonian laws that
govern the scientific enterprise,
one diagnosis always leads to another.
More research is needed: more interviewers,
more samples, more data. Commission
reports may bulge up to the rafters,
but proposals to add to them continue to
flow to Washington. In the meantime,
ladies in Dearborn, persuaded that they are
about to be attacked on their
well-cultivated lawns by swarms of black
Detroiters, are attending classes in the
use of firearms. Who is ill? Which is the
culture that is insane by the
standards of another?
It happens that we do know something of
the fears and fantasies that must dominate
a place like Dearborn, a town of
110,000 people, including, at last report,
exactly one Negro family. (Dearborn's
mayor, who has been its mayor for
a very long time, claims that that family
got in by mistake.) We don't need
complicated analyses of social mobility,

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