Passive Gentleness vs. The Goodness of Being Able to Act in the World

From Lee Siegel’s review of the Harry Potter books:

Harry and his friends Hermione and Ron Weasley are good kids, but they are not angelic, Wordsworthian kids. They usually do the right thing, and they always feel bad when they do the wrong thing. But they pass through a spectrum of hurtful impulses along the way, some of which they act on. This means that their goodness is not only a passive gentleness, easily wounded by the world. It is also the goodness of being able to act in the world. Since they are built with the potential to do harm, Harry and his friends are also built to endure harm.

This really nails the moral makeup of ethical people who are able to make positive change in the world.

I read the review in Siegel’s 2006 collection Falling Upwards: Essays in Defense of the Imagination. The more esoteric lit crit is over my head at times, so I did skim and skip a bunch. Siegel is nevertheless one of the most interesting writers alive to me in terms of his powers of insight and style of writing. (He’s also super super jaded.)

Here’s a paragraph I came across in the book in his review of the TV show Sex and the City:

The show sublimates actual sex into ideal-sex-in-an-emotional-vacuum in the same way that sitcoms from the 1950s sublimated actual family relations into ideal family relations.

I still laugh out loud when I read Siegel’s self-defenses that he posted in a pseudonym….

3 Responses to Passive Gentleness vs. The Goodness of Being Able to Act in the World

  1. James Parker said it nicely in the Boston Globe: “the Sprezzatura postings were nothing more than the untreated splurge of the authorial Id: I am great! You’re all fools!”, although I preferred Alexandra Jacobs telling us telling us how the web turned us all into schmucks in her sort-of review of Siegel’s book Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob.

    I admire Lee Siegel’s writing, especially his social criticism. He endeared himself to me when he wrote in his essay, The Unexamined Life:

    This is insightful, besides being a perfect description of the productions (ego-driven shit) of the “advance men for the web” (the Malcolm Gladwells) and the sleazemeisters of social media (the Ryan Holidays); they really might as well be Paris Hilton shilling a new handbag line.

    I knew Siegel spoke my language when he called the Coens’ stylish movie No Country for Old Men “pointless”, and said that “John Updike’s impersonation of an American Jewish writer named Henry Blech…is the WASP version of blackface.”

    • That was supposed to be:

      James Parker said it nicely in the Boston Globe: “the Sprezzatura postings were nothing more than the untreated splurge of the authorial Id: I am great! You’re all fools!”, although I preferred Alexandra Jacobs telling us telling us how the web turned us all into schmucks in her sort-of review of Siegel’s book Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob.

      I admire Lee Siegel’s writing, especially his social criticism. He endeared himself to me when he wrote in his essay, The Unexamined Life: “To a large degree, writing a book has become just another form of producing and selling, another project of the entrepreneurial or egotistical American self. That makes most books being published social, not cultural, events.”

      This is insightful, besides being a perfect description of the productions (ego-driven shit) of the “advance men for the web” (the Malcolm Gladwells) and the sleazemeisters of social media (the Ryan Holidays); they really might as well be Paris Hilton shilling a new handbag line.

      I knew Siegel spoke my language when he called the Coens’ stylish movie No Country for Old Men “pointless”, and said that “John Updike’s impersonation of an American Jewish writer named Henry Blech…is the WASP version of blackface.”

  2. Very interesting, keep on going, more of this stuff ;-)

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