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….

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