This Dumbledore thing

Like many, I’ve been following the reaction to Rowling’s “outing” of Albus Dumbledore with bemusement and some wonder. It seems to be a social event of some signficance and one worth thinking about from many angles. I expect I’ll be doing that for the next little while, because I can’t possibly contain the various tracks in a single blog post. A lot of questions arise from this event: the role of the author, ethics, education, parenting responsibilites, values, etc.

Maybe the best place to begin would be to make as clear as possible my understanding of what actually happened. Here’s how Publishers Weekly described it:

 In answering a query about whether Professor Dumbledore had ever fallen in love, she said, “I always saw Dumbledore as gay,” causing screams and a standing ovation. Noting the reaction, she added, “If I had known it would make you so happy, I’d have announced it years ago.”

The setting was New York’s Carnegie Hall at the end of a week long book tour in the United States.

So is it a big deal? Even those who deny that it is seem to think it is. “Calm down!” is the excited imperio of frequent commentors on blogs where the issue is being discussed. Here’s a posting from The Lede, in the UK I believe:

Imperio! Everyone- Just calm down.

Rowling was asked a question; she answered. Writers develop full lives for their characters…not everything makes it onto the printed page. Don’t want to know that Arthur and Molly Weasley are into rubber? Don’t ask.

As far as “uncomfortable conversations” are concerned, if this small revelation causes a bustle in your hedgerow, buckle up for the future. Flip the situation. Parents can use Dumbledore as a perfect example of discretion and good behavior in the Romantic Arts.

— Posted by Loam

A bit preachy for someone who wants us to neutralize. Then Loam goes on to show precisely why some people think this is such a big deal.

Whether it provokes an emotional explosion in everybody’s chest, there seems to be no question but that people recognize that something significant took place. At least in terms of peoples hopes and fears.

Andrew Sullivan was ecstatic. It was a glory day for gays. Dumbledore is gay! Dumbledore is gay!

On the other hand, people who hold to what are sometimes derisively called traditional values are suffering angst.

Why? There seems to be a sense that a cultural barrier was breached, that a taboo was broken. Christians have argued for, what, ten years? about whether Potter is wholesome fare. We were wondering primarily about Rowling’s use of witchcraft, which I have felt was naive on Rowling’s part, maybe foolish, but, I thought, not sinister. Many Christians defended Rowling from the attacks of their naive brethren, arguing that she had been presenting the Christian worldview in her writings.

On the surface, at least, that argument would seem to be in tatters. Only in the Anglican communion (I don’t know how the Church of Scotland, of which Rowling was a member last I heard, relates to the Anglican communion) can one call oneself a traditional Christian and still support and defend homosexuality. Christianity has always made sexual purity and fidelity a central pillar of their ethical system. To engage in sex outside of the marriage covenant has always been forbidden by Christian teachings. So, it should be pointed out, has withholding sex inside the marriage covenant.

So the multitudes who hold to the Christian ethical tradition, especially the many, many Christians who defended Rowling, may well feel betrayed. The muultitudes of tolerators regard these Christians as hopelessly naive.

On the other hand, a growing number of global citizens believe that an individual should be able to do whatever he wants sexuality, usually as long as the partner consents. Christians regard this notion as hopelessly naive and the means to a cultural meltdown. They don’t want their children left unprotected in a world that lives that way, feeling that they will be placed in horrible positions.

 In a preceding blog, I wrote about grammar and the war between nature and convention. Grammar is an intellectual area where this war occurs. The conflict over homosexuality is the crucial moral area. If sexuality is defined only by conventions, then nobody has the right to deny the rights of homosexuals. On the other hand, if sexuality is defined by nature, then nature itself may well deny them these rights.

Rowling has come down determinedly and decisively on the side of what she calls tolerance.

This is a very big deal.

Nature and Convention and the culture wars

RV Young puts it this way:

According to the reigning heterodoxy, absolutely nothing is “for all time”; and works of literature do not bespeak the “soul of the age,” so much as they conceal, even while embodying, its ideological and economic imperatives. Hence the clamor from powerful forces within the academy of the”opening up” or dismantling of the “canon” of “classic” works, for the abolition of the very notion of “great books.” Should this view prevail, then the question, “Why we teach what we teach?”, would be no longer moot, but merely meaningless. Although pretexts for teaching this or that text would abound, there could be no reasons, since rational discrimination among the “products” of deterministic cultural hegemonies is impossible. If a work of art, literature, or philosophy is not intrinsically valuable, is not great on its own merits, then it can only be of interest as an event or phenomenon, exercising more or less influence over the course of history…. As Cicero points out, “All the arts, which pertain to humanity, have a certain common bond and are joined together among themselves as it were by a certain kinship.” It is this element of common humanity that is crucial to curricular decisions and is, indeed, the only basis for the integrity of university professors as scholars and teachers.

At War With the Word

The literary departments of our universities do not, generally, believe that humans share a common nature that can be refined by encounters with great works. Instead they argue that all artists need to be deconstructed to show their ideological convictions and how they were parasites on the powers of the day.

Shakespeare was neither “the soul of his age,” nor, “for all time” because that would require that an age have a soul and that human nature transcends an age. The truly great radical relativists are perfectly aware that their criteria apply to them as well. They realize they write because of their will to power. They make no apology, therefore, for their assertions of control.

In literature, as in grammar, we can see that unless we are governed by nature and nature’s law, we are necessarily either tyrants or slaves. We cannot be free people. That is why grammar and rhetoric are the necessary arts of a free people and why they must be taught according to nature and not merely according to conventions and usage: because grammar and rhetoric have a necessary and unbreakable link to politics. Human nature dictates it.

In short, if we are governed merely by conventions we are slaves. If those who govern us and we ourselves submit to nature, then, and only then, can we be free people. For to be free people, we must not only be free, we must also be people.