Thursday, July 07, 2011

The provincialism of sophisticates

I was reading an article in Slightly Foxed, an excellent English quarterly devoted to neglected writing, and I came upon this quote from Marghanita Laski's 1949 Little Boy Lost that both amused and chilled me because it is still so true:

"To him it was inconceivable that an intelligent man should be happy to live in a provincial town and talk about everything in the world with people less intelligent than himself. Automatically he found himself deciding that Monsieur Mercatel could not be as intelligent as he had supposed, that he must be a man who was good on his subject and negligible outside it."

Says something about the attitude that many at, say, the New Yorker still have toward "Flyover Country", despite such writers as Annie or Jim... condescension is something we all face.

(I should add that SF ran an essay on Q-the- book a while back, obviously having no such prejudices!)


Reid Farmer said...

Reminds me of an 2008 article I came across just the other day: The Disadvantages of an Elite Education.

It didn’t dawn on me that there might be a few holes in my education until I was about 35. I’d just bought a house, the pipes needed fixing, and the plumber was standing in my kitchen. There he was, a short, beefy guy with a goatee and a Red Sox cap and a thick Boston accent, and I suddenly learned that I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was his experience to me, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that I couldn’t succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work. Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League degrees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness. “Ivy retardation,” a friend of mine calls this. I could carry on conversations with people from other countries, in other languages, but I couldn’t talk to the man who was standing in my own house

Matt Mullenix said...

Steve I can't decide if this is an indictment of provincialism or intelligence?

Furthermore I'm not sure that being "good on his subject but negligible outside it" is such a terrible thing. It seems better than at least one alternative.

What am I missing?

Steve Bodio said...

Reid- my first reaction is fury, which I try to temper, but such people are utterly pathetic. How can I write this blog or my books, then go down to the Spur and actually have a good time? (Which talent has never served me well with the transient nuevo colony here, a tale for another time).

More pertinently, how did PLF become a beloved and protected member of an insular rural Greek community while writing those books?

Some will talk only to their kind; others will keep ears open...