Lowell and Othering (or not)

Upon reading the first chapter’s meditations upon anthropology, and the difficulty in turning analytical tools upon non-exotics belonging to one’s own tribe (howsoever that may be defined), I began to wonder if that’s part of the reason I find it more comfortable dealing with those who are safely dead. I am socially conditioned* for tact—at any rate, I am socially conditioned to consider it a good thing, and tactlessness (in myself or others) registers as a failure or outright rudeness—and so I can appreciate the desire to simply not talk about certain things, like the private lives of colleagues. I can see the virtue in such decisions, even as I appreciate the problematic aspects.

But if the people one studies are safely dead, they can hardly take offense at what one says about them. Aspects of a living colleague’s private life, perhaps relevant to understanding something about his or her professional endeavors, are things that one might hope said colleague would reveal, putting the cards on the table as it were, so potential biases, blind spots, and interesting perspectives might be more efficiently assessed. (Never mind, for the moment, the problem of honest self-assessment, where fuzzy and subjective are the best possible outcomes.) But if they’re dead—safely dead, beyond living memory dead—then you’re almost performing a service, doing the psychoanalysis they would perhaps do, alive and subscribing to current theories of What Is Important™ about private lives. And even if you remove the aspirational public service aspect, you’re still beyond the statute of limitations for tact.

* In my case, I think it’s a triangulation of the expectations of “good girls” (meek, polite, deferential, confrontation-averse), perceived and actual ineffectiveness in combative situations (that not liking to work without a net thing), and a weird sort of class consciousness (informed most strongly, I think, by working class Liverpudlians via a subset of grandparents, all of whom added a distinct English/Welsh/expat flavor to my upbringing).

Which is, admittedly, a somewhat odd thing to write on a blog that can be read by anyone in the world.