On Reading Only Authors Bearded Like Me

Camille Paglia’s harrumph about Arcadian myths being “the kind of nonsense you get when you spend more time reading fifth-rate women writers than you do dead white males like Aeschylus and Shakespeare” does not go far enough. Given her devotion to the canon of the arts, by whomsoever created, I am surprised that she does not more systematically attack the idea that one read only the works by individuals who resemble oneself in some way. I call in evidence the bookshop whose staff took for granted that Stephen Saylor belonged under “gay lit” rather than being Roman detective stories of interest to everybody; and we all know the sort of women who refuse to read anything whose author lacks a vagina.

Suppose I were to take it a step further and confine myself to authors who had a beard like mine? Not only should I not read women writers, then, but I would eschew the works of all the Roman writers, as they were clean-shaven, as well as shunning the poetry of TS Eliot; I would be allowed to enjoy the bushy Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky but not the beardless Gogol or Bulgakov; I should be forever cut off from Goethe and the Enlightenment, as well as from most Asian and African authors. So too in music; I ought to listen to Brahms because he had a beard, but not Mozart.

It could be taken a step further still; suppose I were a scientist, I could challenge the theories and repeat the experiments only of the hirsute, and if a scientist shaved his beard, I could take no more cognizance of his work. So too with scholarship; before according credence to any historical source, I should have to research whether or not he had a beard; if a historian, this would pretty much limit me to the medievals and Victorians. Would such a situation really be any more ridiculous than a university-full of students refusing to read Dead White Males?

Done at Douala

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