Friday, April 6, 2018

A Swi-IIIING and a Miss: Lit Crit Edition

So, in the wake of meeting Stephen R. Donaldson at the ICFA, he had -- as I mentioned -- given me his contact e-mail. I waited a week and a half or so before emailing him; since he seemed genuinely interested in my work, I also sent the longer version of my article on his feminism and the issue of gender violence, currently under the review. A very pleasant exchange followed, which warmed my cold bleak heart. I considered writing that article, at a time when I should have been transforming my dissertation into a book, as a sort of homage for a set of books that just haven't received enough of the right kind of attention, at least not for the virtues I've always seen in them. So it's quite nice that he appreciated my remarks. . . . although, granted, if he had been irked by anything, I suspect his natural courtesy would have prevented him from saying so.

Anyway, concerning this blog's title: Rollo May.

As I was doing background research, I did some reading on Rollo May, an American existential psychologist who was big around the 1960s an 1970s. In particular I was struck by the resonances between his 1972 book, Power and Innocense, and Lord Foul's Bane. I wondered, quite naturally, if there might have been some influence. Alas, it was not to be -- while SRD admitted to having heard the name, he had no idea why.

At any rate, just to preserve my brilliantly insightful (almost) connection for posterity, I'll include my May/SRD footnote here below:

As radical feminist therapist, Bonnie Burstow is in a good position to know. Among the social sciences, existentialism has seen its greatest influence in psychology—both emphasize the individual to an unusual degree. Indeed, when it comes to existential psychology, I suspect that the American psychologist Rollo May might have been a great unacknowledged influence on Donaldson. Although May’s best known for Love and Will (1969), his book Power and Innocence (1972) has a number of uncanny intellectual resemblances to Donaldson. Like Donaldson, May holds that power is “a fundamental aspect of the life process” (Power 20). Even more importantly, he critiques the notion, which he calls innocence and attributes to the Counterculture, that “removing all power and aggression from human behavior” would lead to a better society (39). As a Conscientious Objector who objected to the Vietnam War, May’s discussion of power and aggression would have greatly interested Donaldson. He employs May’s unusual definition of innocence, for example, in The Wounded Land, combining it with his own ideas on power and guilt. Speaking to Linden Avery, here is Dr. Berenford’s description of Thomas Covenant’s latest novel:

If you had a chance to read Or I Will Sell My Soul for Guilt, you'd find him arguing that innocence is a wonderful thing except for the fact that it’s impotent. Guilt is power. All effective people are guilty because the use of power is guilt, and only guilty people can be effective. Effective for good, mind you. Only the damned can be saved. (23)

Furthermore, May’s opening in Power and Innocence might have served as a mission statement for The Chronicles. “As a young man,” May says, “I held innocence in high esteem. I disliked power, both in theory and practice, and abhorred violence” (Power 13). Convalescing from tuberculosis, however, May explains that he soon realized from watching the “apparently innocent patients around me in the sanatorium that passively accepting their powerlessness in the face of the disease meant dying” (14). Ironically, Covenant initially learns powerlessness in a sanitorium—although his sanitorium treated leprosy rather than tuberculosis. Nonetheless, Covenant eventually comes to conclusions similar to May’s.

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