Further Musings

Beauty smote his heart, he looked up from the forsaken land & hope returned to him

Archive for July 2013

On Listening

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Malcolm Gladwell has me thinking about listening this week and passage from by James C. Scott has me thinking about listening again.

“They key condition for charisma is listening very carefully and responding.  The condition for listening very carefully is a certain dependence on the audience, a certain relationship of power.  One of the characteristics of great power is not having to listen.  Those at the bottom of the heap are, in general, better listeners than those at the top.  The daily quality of the lifeworld of a slave, a serf, a sharecropper, a worker, a domestic depends greatly on an accurate reading of the mood and wishes of the powerful, whereas slave owners, landlords, and bosses can often ignore the wishes of their subordinates.  The structural conditions that encourage such attentiveness are therefore the key to the relationship.” pg 25-26.

“The larger and more authoritarian an organization [or state], the better the chance that its top decision-makers will be operating in purely imaginative worlds.”  Kenneth Boulding quoted on pg. 29

From Two Cheers for Anarchism by James C. Scott.


Written by furthermusings

July 11, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Posted in Political Science

The Casual Vacancy

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the-casual-vacancyI’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be wise.  One method of becoming wise is to listen to those who already are.  In that spirit I read The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling this weekend.  This novel is her first outside of the world of Hogwarts, which I loved for its imagination, wonder, engagement with the wider world, Englishness, and redemptive themes.

In contrast, The Casual Vacancy is a gritty debut.  It grapples with difficult people and gritty themes with none of the glow of Hogwarts.  The story is set in a small English village near a group of council flats (housing projects) which various factions of the village government dislike.  They dislike providing services for people who don’t seem to care and they dislike the grimy, undisciplined, and foul mouthed children going to their schools.

The book opens with the death of Barry, one of the city councilors.  His death causes a “casual vacancy” to occur and from there the story unfolds as residents of the small town debate who will run for his seat and what effect that will have on the town… and the issue of whether or not to keep the council flats in their jurisdiction.

As the plot moves along, a dozen or so central characters, none of which are particularly likable or sympathetic, cycle through the book: teenagers and friendships, adults and marriages.  The marriages and friendships are full of unspoken and unrealized desires, some of which are as innocent as being loved and some of which are as petty as theft, and the characters, more often than not, punish each other for their unfulfilled dreams. The lower class characters punish with fists and vulgar language.  The upper-class does it passive-agressively with snubs and cutting comments.  The story builds, the characters become more complex and interwoven, and then the most desperate desire for the best thing generates the tragic crescendo.

While reading the book I told a friend that I found none of the characters redemptive.  Everyone despises someone else, everyone holds unspoken grudges and politely concealed hates some of which generated by spectacular brokenness and they express these by either the mean, quiet gossip of the educated or the spectacular explosions of the underclass.  By the end several of the characters change and heal a bit, and that helped heal over the gritty raw emotions of the first 400 pages.

But after talking to my friend I realized the book is more redemptive than simply the repentance of the various characters.  There is only one unambiguously likable character in the book, and he dies in the first two pages.  He remains through the rest of the book via the relational holes he leaves.  The council would have been more compassionate.  Gavin would have had a friend to listen to his problems.  Krystal would have known who to run to when the worst things happened.  In that way, the book to quite Christian.  The main character dies at the beginning and for the rest of the time everyone else is learning to live, for good or for ill, in his aftermath.

In the end, Rowling didn’t disappoint with this first novel for adults.  While it’s a vastly different book, and a vastly different read, than any of the Harry Potters I’m thankful I read it.  The characters are richly complex: families, longings, wounds and physical realities.  Her narration of the inner lives of the characters and the relational ecosystem they create is vivid and insightful.  She opens a window up to life in the projects and a mirror to those who can control their tongues, if not their hearts.

Worth reading.  I hope she writes another.

Written by furthermusings

July 8, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Reviews