These notes cover the end of Part Two, Chapter Two, of Volume IV, Sodom and Gomorrah (in the Modern Library edition), pp. 381 - 514.
So on Wednesday night we started off with a casual, leisurely meeting... which ended in a philosophical shouting match!
What could be better?
This is no dull, by-the-numbers Proust reading group, that's for sure. We get right in there.
We raise our voices... Our cheeks flush... The veins bulge in our necks!
No need for any talk of finger foods tonight.
Let's leap right in.
1. Heather's Presentation: a Reading of Claude Ponti
To start us off, Heather read from the French children's author, Claude Ponti.
She felt that one of his stories in particular captured that fleeting quality of beauty which Proust emphasizes in his discussions of Elstir's work (for more on Proust's association of beauty with loss and time, please see our previous discussion, "What Is Art?").
The tale she read aloud (in lightly-accented French -- very impressive, Heather!) was called "Au fond du jardin." It features... a melon sitting on the floor of a forest. As the story develops this melon is gradually, quite accidentally, transformed by passing ants and a bird and butterflies into a face, which then vanishes as the living things scatter again.
The last line of the story struck me as containing the elusive quality of genius. After the insects and wild life have all gone away, the melon returns to being a blank, spherical fruit again: all rind, no personality. And Ponti has the melon wondering what face he will have tomorrow...
Don't we all wonder that? There is something very touching in that simple question, a sense of possibility, of hope, or endurance...
But Heather did not end with this dramatic reading.
Peering down into the glow of her iPad like a sorceress, she then began to explore some of the incidents and themes in the month's reading.
She mentioned, for example, how the Narrator seems very quick to judge the assorted guests at the Verdurins' party. In Heather's view, he demonstrates a very "cynical" and even "snarky" take on human nature. To support this she quoted a "general law" the Narrator cites when speaking of unrequited love:
"Although everyone speaks mendaciously of the pleasure of being loved, which fate constantly withholds, it is undoubtedly a general law, the application of which is by no means confined to the Charluses of this world, that the person whom we do not love and who loves us seems to us insufferable" (SG, 431).
Recall that the Narrator has previously observed that pity and love are opposites (SG, 313). Pity is something that he may feel for his servant Francoise (SG, 240), but apparently not for a rejected lover.
In a tepid counter to this, I noted that we also got some clues pointing the other direction in this month's reading: namely, that the Narrator may be learning to love in a more lasting way. For example, his devotion to his grandmother goes on, unabated. Twice, in this month's reading, he mentions her.
First, when he hears the sounds of distant waves traveling up the cliffs from the sea he remarks:
"I thought to myself that my grandmother would have listened to it with the delight that she felt in all manifestations of nature or art that combine simplicity with grandeur" (SG, 402).
And then later, at the party, confronted with the duplicity of Morel (who asks the Narrator to lie on his behalf to hide his low social standing -- and then shuns him once he does so), the Narrator comments:
"But inasmuch as I had inherited a strain of my grandmother's nature, and enjoyed the diversity of other people without expecting anything of them or resenting anything that they did, I overlooked the baseness, rejoiced in his gaity when it was in evidence... and above all I was enraptured by his art [i.e., his skill in playing the violin]" (SG, 420)
Are these unbidden thoughts of his grandmother not an indication of a a genuine and lasting love? For what is love but to cherish someone with no hope of gain or advancement?
2. The Verdurins' "Bad" Party
The conversation moved, then, more generally to the awkwardness and pettiness that the Narrator observes between the various guests at the Verdurins' party.
We talked about the conflicting, and outright incompatible, status claims of the various guests at this party... ranging, as they do, from the aristocratic owners of the house, Mme and M. Cambrember, to the haute bourgeois Verdurins, to the social climbing son of a valet, Morel, to the professionally acclaimed Parisian doctor, Cottard, to the pompous, very high-born and very fey Baron de Charlus, to the Princess Sherbatoff, an aristocratic Russian lady exiled from her own land.
It's a hodge-podge, you might say.
How can a party go well when the guest are all have different status claims and live by different norms? Nothing can cohere; no one knows the score; everyone is off his or her game. So perhaps, rather then think poorly of the Narrator, or the petty, judgemental, quite patently insecure behavior of the guests, we should simply write it off as a bad party?
(We've all been there, haven't we? When you climb into your car at the end of the night and you feel worse off than you did when you parked on that same street a few hours earlier? And you can't even put your finger on exactly why?)
Our Francoise (not the Narrator's) mentioned at this point how relieved she was, as she reached the conclusion of the party, finally to get out of there: that is, to sit back on the (velvet? silk? upholstered leather?) seat cushions in the waiting carriage and make an escape along with the Narrator.
She noted, however, that despite the failure of this party we should keep in mind that the Verdurins are on the right side of history. Proust is no doubt documenting the ascendancy of this new haute bouregois social set over the Cambremer and Guermantes of the world. By showing this party as a failure, he may be pointing out to the reader that historical change is clumsy and dull when it arrives... not clean, not obvious.
In the little passing exchanges at this party (e.g. the Baron de Charlus to M. Verdurin, following a dispute over the seating arrangement: "I could see at a glance that you were out of your depth" (SG, 464)), we are, Francoise suggested, witnesses to a kind of verbal sparring over who is rising and who is falling. It reminds me of the dynamics of a cold war; outbreaks of conflict can surface anywhere at any time; advances and retreats must be sleauthed out of the phrasing of public pronouncements.
(If you think about it, only a few years later an actual war would erupt in Imperial Russia... And soon the equivalent of the Guermantes there -- the Sheremetevs and the Golitsyns, for example -- would be labeled "former people"... rounded up, shot, or made to dig ditches and fill them up again. Perhaps, then, this threat of possible bloodshed lurks in the background even at the Verdurins' party and gets sublimated into snarky comments over the colors of the new drapes?)
3. Class Distinctions in Turn-of-the-Century France, as Transposed to an American High School
As a more light-hearted aside, I mentioned here a different kind of comparison. It struck me, as I was listening to the conversation, that the contrast between the Guermantes scene and the Verdurin scene reminds me of the contrast, in an American high school, between the "popular" scene and the "theater nerd" scene (or substitute for "theater nerd" any subculture -- the school newspaper, the debate club, etc.).
In my experience, both have strengths and weaknesses...
The popular kids (the Guermantes) are of course (by and large) wealthy, unapologetic, witty, full of verve, taking full advantage of social and sexual opportunities whenever they can. They are also often a little vacuous and conceited.
The theater nerds (the Verdurins' "little nucleus") are status-conscious too, but they go about it in a different way. They are more intelligent and observant, and also, to their credit, more willing to act the fool and push against convention. On the flip side, though, they can often be pretentious, acerbic, ruthless in the judgments they make on one another...
This comparison made me feel closer to Proust's Narrator.
I mentioned that all the way through high school and college I felt torn between these two social scenes. My interests naturally aligned me with the theater nerds -- I was always angling to be one of the "faithful," I suppose. (That is, to talk about Brecht or Beckett, late-night, lying on our backs on the stage of a dusty black box theater after a long rehearsal.) But who really wants to go only to Verdurin parties, when you might drink fine wine and nibble on roast duck and possibly make out with the gorgeous and self-assured Mme de Guermantes? (That is, when you can drink Jager bombs -- Jägermeister shots dropped into a foamy beer, remember those? -- with some confident and funny blonde at a beach party?) Like the Narrator in Proust's novel, I felt myself drawn to both, and so an imposter, in some sense, to both.
Jaimey, arriving late, entered as this monologue was wrapping up. Having been my roommate in college for a year, he chuckled and asked, "Who was I then?"
"You were Elstir," I responded. "Focused on your work."
4. Gay and Lesbian Stereotypes in Proust's Time
Next, I believe, we talked about the rampant stereotyping that the Narrator (and Proust behind him?) applies to the Baron de Charlus, and gay men generally. And how outdated these stereotypes seem to us now.
The Narrator describes, with an unfortunate undercurrent of derision, the Baron's "endless simperings and wrigglings of his hips" as he responds to the question of whether he has partaken of a glass of orangeade...
No, he says, I preferred its neighbor, which is strawberry juice.
It is a hilarious phrase, it must be acknowledged. And this is where the Narrator really goes in for the kill:
"Perhaps the people who deduce, from a man's way of saying: "No, I preferred its neighbor, the strawberry juice," a love of the kind called unnatural, have no need of any such scientific knowledge. But that is because here is a more direct relation between the revealing sign and the secret. Without saying so to oneself in so many words, one feels that it is a gentle, smiling lady who is answering and who appears affected because she is pretending to be a man and one is not accustomed to seeing men put on such airs. And it is perhaps more gracious to think that a certain number of angelic women have long been included by mistake in the masculine sex where, feeling exiled, ineffectually flapping their wings towards men in whom they inspire a physical repulsion, they know how to arrange a drawing-room, to compose 'interiors'" (SG, 498).
That whole "interior designer" thing? Really, Proust, you're going there? (No doubt Hollywood would cast Nathan Lane as the Baron de Charlus.)
This got the group speculating about how the rise of sexual stereotypes and the increasing acknowledgement of a "gay" or "lesbian" identity during Proust's time may, in fact, have limited the behavior rather than encouraged it. For we could imagine that the outing of some prominent individuals, like Oscar Wilde, and the emergence of gay and lesbian scenes in urban areas, may have actually inhibited some men and women from youthful experiments they may have otherwise taken...
I mentioned a review I had read only a few days earlier of the publication of Willa Cather's letters in the New York Times Book Review section. The reviewer quotes Cather (1873-1947, born two years after Proust but living 25 years longer) writing to a friend, without a hint of self-consciousness, about driving "a certain fair maid around the country with one hand, indeed, sometimes with no hand at all" (hint, hint). In her later years, however, as the reviewer notes, while continuing to have lesbian relationships Cather refrained from commenting explicitly about her sexual liaisons in her letters... Something changed in the culture around her to make her more circumspect.
Jaimey mentioned in this context how Foucault highlighted, in his History of Sexuality and other works, the way in which Victorian frigidity and moral reproach, quite to the contrary to the superficial view, in fact signaled an intensely sexualized society.
Talking about sex, talking about gay and lesbian relations, even in terms of abuse, suggests not indifference, of course, but rather that the associated libidinous energy is being rechanneled, concentrated. According to Foucault, Victorians thought about, and engaged in, sex so incessantly... that they could talk of nothing but stamping it out! So it is not so simple to say that sexual liberation in a culture, in public, means more acting out of sexual desires, in private. It may actually lead to the dilution of sexual energy.
5. The Quiet Contemplation of Nature vs. the Noisy Social Whirl
Renée brought us back, halfway through the meeting, to that quote referenced earlier, about the sound of waves drifting up the side of the cliff.
She insisted that, in addition to being a touching remembrance of the Narrator's grandmother, this passage strikes her as having something in it, some secret fragment of code, which, if cracked could help us to understand the fundamental difference between the Narrator's outlook and that of the other characters in society.
She read aloud to us from where the Narrator has just commented on the "beautiful" view to the Princess Sherbatoff:
"She professed that she too loved this spot more than any other. But I could see that to her as to the Verdurins the thing that really mattered was not to gaze at the view like tourists, but to partake of good meals there, to entertain people whom they liked, to write letters, to read books, in short to live in these surroundings, passively allowing the beauty of the scene to soak into them rather than making it the object of their conscious attention.
"I opened the window; the sound, distinctly caught, of each wave breaking in turn had something sublime in its softness and clarity. Was it not like an index of measurement which, upsetting all our ordinary impressions, shows us that vertical distances may be compared with horizontal ones, contrary to the idea that our mind generally forms of them; and that, through they bring the sky nearer to us in this way, they are not great; that they are indeed less great for a sound which traverses them, as did the sound of those little waves, because the medium through which it has to pass is purer?" (SG, 402)
We tried to press Renée further on what exactly she thought this fragment of secret code might be telling us in this passage.
And like usual, she came through when pressed! She said that she was struck by how the Narrator's relationship with nature is an active one; he is seeking to direct his attention, quite self-consciously, to the larger sensual world around him. Whereas the others have merely a passive relationship with nature; they inhabit the spaces in which they move but do not directly confront them.
For the Narrator, then, the scenery is the action; for the others it is just a setting for the more important actions of the human beings in front of it.
Walden spoke up here to say that it occurs to him that the Narrator has two alternating modes of observation: in the first, he is cutting and scornful of others; in the second, he is entirely confused and therefore quite deferential. He seems to flip back and forth between these modes. Don added that he has detected a third mode of observation, as well: an ecstatic state of appreciation.
Jaimey pointed out that one of the aspects of Proust's genius is the way that he moves effortlessly between so many wildly different registers. His Narrator may be urbane and bored in one moment, then naive and enthusiastic in another. Proust may write aphoristically in one sentence, summing up all men or women with a sweeping generalization, and then in the next he will describe some specific encounter in minute detail, making it seem like nothing that had ever come before. What makes the novel work so well, what is its secret in many ways, may be exactly this invisible and expert technique by Proust.
6. "Primate Pragmatism" (for Lack of a Better Name! "Naturalism"?) and Its Enemies
It was getting late at this point, and we probably should have called it a night. But I guess it was not too late for one last spirited debate...
I spoke up to say that I wanted the group to consider one aspect of Proust's novel that I think may be too easy to overlook: it is couched in a cultural construct that is, ultimately, false. It venerates the artist -- the Narrator as a proxy for Proust himself -- as a kind of secular saint. Yet it has no basis for doing so except that the writer is under the sway of the "auratic/sacred," as Jaimey (following Benjamin) would call it, borrowed from religion.
We are so accustomed to the idea that a fine artistic sensibility -- genius! -- offers some means of transcendence, some path out of our grubby world. So it is hard for us to resist the appeal of Proust's building case for the superiority of his Narrator, as Artist, over the other characters.
Certainly in the West, from the Romantic era on, we have come to think of great artists as being privy to some great truth that regular, workaday people are not. Lord Byron symbolized, to readers in his day and ever since, something more than a poet; he was a heroic figure, pushing against the conventions of his day. Indeed, Walt Whitman truly represents a kind of secular saint in American literary culture. And it continues to this day in our popular entertainment complex; from the fan cults around everybody from John Lennon to Jack Kerouac, from Kurt Cobain to David Foster Wallace, from -- I don't know, who comes to mind today? -- Jay Z to Lady Gaga?
Proust seems to be heading this direction in his novel: he seems to be leading us to a rejection of the enervated existences most people live in favor of the more holy and meaningful life of the artist.
"I want to throw down a marker here," I said. "I want to assert that this view is, in fact, based on a misconception that the artist is made of purer stuff, somehow, than everybody else. It has been held that way by our culture for about 200 years. But there is, in truth, nothing special about doing art. We should keep in mind that it really is just one more activity, which (if carried out successfully) establishes a status claim for the artist, with which he or she can accumulate and consume resources, as we all aim to do (whether we are conscious of this or not)."
"Well, Tom," Jaimey said. "That's fine if you want to reject the very premises of Modernism. You are entitled to say that art has no special value. But I disagree."
"Don't get me wrong, Jaimey. I like art myself! But I am pointing to a philosophical incoherence in Proust's narrative arc. He seems to be hinting that some few brave souls, the avant garde (himself included?), can somehow transcend the muck of the world."
"Well, he is placing more value on the sensibility of the artist than the habitual hypocrisy and self-promotion of the Verdurins, yes... And you are defending them? Is that what you are doing?"
The group looked at me, wide-eyed, wondering how I could defend Mme Verdurin.
"Yes," I said. "I am defending the Verdurins, I suppose. Again, I like art and the contemplation of nature, myself. So I would much rather stand on a cliff with the Narrator and wax poetic about vertical vs. horizontal distances any day... But what I am saying is that, however much our individual tastes happen to align with Proust's and his Narrator's (after all, we are in a Proust reading group!), we should still recognize that the artistic sensibility, too, is merely a pose of sorts, a matter of a comfortable fit, based on personality type, resource availability, and the prevailing norms of our culture. All of us, from Mme Verdurin to the Narrator, from you to me... all of us are doing roughly the same thing: trying to retain enough social status to harness resources for our own use during our brief lives. We are also, each of us, desperately trying to find meaning in our brief lives. The Narrator does it by his "active" engagement with the beauty of the natural world and his piercing insights into human personalities. Mme and M. Verdurin do this by organizing a salon, maintaining a complicated collection of friendships, pouring enormous energy into impressing and pleasing other people. But we should not valorize (to bring back that word from our discussin a few month's ago) the artist over the socialite just because we prefer him ourselves."
Jaimey was looking fierce. He chuckled lightly, which I have known since our college days is always a sign that he is about to strike -- like a green bamboo snake hanging from a branch! (Nice image, no?)
"This is a kind of radical relativism that I reject, Tom," he said. "I would argue that, on the contrary, art represents a social good, far exceeding Mme Verdurin's limited social ambitions. Can you not even say that there are some social goods in the world?"
"As I say, I like art too. But is it a social good that far exceeds the ties of friendship linking together Mme Verdurins' 'little clan'? I'm not so sure. Certainly I do not think that art, even at its best (as in Proust's accomplishment with this amazing novel), presents the possibility of transcendence. I mean, let's not forget: we are all animals. We are all stuck with ourselves and the narrow band of our consciousness given to us by adaptation to the natural environment around us. I would suggest that what any single person does is not, somehow, mysteriously, intrinsically more valuable than anything any other person does. Though each person will rightly feel that it is -- which gives his or her life a sense of meaning."
This is where it started to get animated.
"What?" said Jaimey. "So you are not willing to say that great art, and rationality, and democracy, and the whole humanist tradition, the products of the Enlightenment -- you are not willing to say that these are preferable to other ways of living (say the Viking culture of pillaging, or facsism), in the sweep of history?"
"I am personally very partial to our own heritage in the Enlightenment (though you denigrate, perhaps too hasily, my grandfather's Norweigian ancestry -- anybody else been watching Vikings on the History Channel?). I too have stood in awe at Monticello. I would even, I believe, fight to the death to defend these values. But I understand that impulse in me this way: certain resource-rich communities, starting in the West, have managed to create collective projects, such as science, and the rule of law, and election-driven democratic politics, which allow for a closer match to people's individual needs and aspirations. Yes, I will acknowledge this has been good -- at least for the relatively few people who enjoy their benefits. But this is not because Westerners in the developed world, unlike other humans in history, have discovered some absolute social good. These collective projects are simply what our particular species of primate does when under a particular set of circumstances, given a spectacular amount of resources. When we are under conditions of scarcity, on the other hand, we do other things. Neither democratic capitalism, nor a failed post-Colonial African nation state now riven with murderous tribal loyalties, offers any hope of transcendence or superior meaning."
"I am astonished," said Jaimey.
Don chimed in too: "So your view collapses into a form of defeatism, then. You are saying that we are all just monkeys... all the same."
"No," I said. "Stop making it so binary, both of you. Get out of your religious-influenced mind-set, looking for heaven and hell, the straight and narrow path or nothing. I am not, by any means, saying that we are all the same. We are, each one of us, quite unique, based on our resources, our upbringing, our peer groups, our communities. We have strong convictions. We fight for them. But the flaw in your thinking (and most people's -- again, I see this as the common misconception of our time) is that there needs to be an all-purpose justification for your outlook, whether it favors art or human rights or sexual liberty or anything else held passionately as an ideal -- some justification that stands outside of your contingent experience and trumps everybody else's justifications for their outlooks."
"But see, Tom," said Jaimey, rising to his feet, "You are neglecting to consider that resources must be distributed according to some value system! If you were in government it sounds as if you would just throw up your hands if asked, for example, whether local art groups should receive tax-payer funded grants..."
"On the contrary," I said, rising to my feet also, just to keep up my side. "I would personally argue strenuously for increasing government funding of the arts! How many times do I have to say it? I really like the arts! I would also argue, off the top of my head, for more funding for early childhood education, for intensive, ongoing teacher training, for instituting background checks on gun sales, for science and research generally... I have my personal outlook of how the world should look, in which these things feature prominently. And it remains intact -- what would make it crumble? But, unlike you, I would argue for all of this while knowing, with full modesty, that my outlook is contingent on my upbringing, my community, my social standing, my predisposed taste."
"This is radical relativism, whatever you say."
"No. It allows for strong moral claims, strong positions. And unlike the claims of the Enlightenment (which by the way have contributed greatly to our culture, just as certain Bronze age religious myths have in their time) mine are not "nonsense on stilts" (Bentham), flimsy, held in the air by abstractions. My view is closer to the ground. It belongs, I suppose to the Pragmatist tradition. Richard Rorty is probably the closest to it. It has long stuck with me how he once said, in a lecture he gave while I was at Oxford on "Human Rights, Rationality and Sentimentality," that when addressing morality we should not ask, What is right? What is good? Rather we should ask: How do we want the world to look?"
"Why do you keep talking about us as primates? Is that from Rorty too?"
"No. What I suppose I am mixing in with the pragmatist tradition is the emphasis on our rootedness in our biology. We should abandon the idea of creating, discovering, proving some potential escape from ourselves. It isn't going to happen because it is based on a flawed Cartesian idea of the thinking self, separate from the body. In fact, we are always both, mind and body all mixed up. There is no perfect moral being, separate from his or her own biological urges. We will always accumulate and consume resources for our personal use, in one form or another. We will probably always care more about the immediate needs of our own children than the long-term needs of children who are strangers to us. We are, all of us, consistently willing to ignore some people's misery and endangerment (e.g. Third World garment factory workers in Bangladesh, China, India...) so that we can enjoy the products they make cheap for us at Target (Maybe we can change that?). Let's be honest with ourselves and start from there. You see? Once we acknowledge that we are animals, that we are not and never will be privy to some greater, purer path (be it meditating on a mountaintop or producing a work of art or dedicating ourselves to charity) -- once we acknowledge that and yes, reject the Enlightenment faith in progress, then we can begin to have an honest discussion about the trade-offs we currently face, the values we want to uphold individually or collectively, i.e. we can begin to ask, in earnest, how we want the world to look. I assure you, it will not be as bleak as the Pope and you think, Jaimey. You can let go of the handlebars of the bike and you will find that you are not suddenly falling; you will not suddenly find yourself a radical, relativistic sociopath scrambling through a scorched and valueless wasteland. You will find that you are, like most chemically-balanced people on the face of the earth, pretty kind and compassionate towards others, particularly when you see their faces or hear their stories. You want to be treated with respect, and you like to be surrounded by people whom you respect. You like consistency, truth-telling, good cheer. You recoil at cruelty or unfairness. In short, you are a perfectly good representative of a certain nearly hairless species of primate. But don't go fooling yourself, as I am beginning to suspect that Proust does, with the thought that you are going to arrange things one day so that you stop smelling like an animal. Desist from holding your own philosophy and inclinations -- the blue sea! the gold band of light on the curtains! the delicate phrasing in a poem by Baudelaire! -- as a higher good in some intrinsic way. Promote them, persuade your friends and family to give them a chance, but don't think that it is anything but your own way through this life."
"Okay," Jaimey said, glancing at the hallway, where some people were slipping out into the night already. "That's long and convoluted. Let me just ask you a simple question," said Jaimey. "Let's use the Original Postion of John Rawls as a thought experiment. Would you or would you not, if you knew nothing at all about your position, your talents, your circumstances, choose to live in this era, in a developed country, with social welfare and democratic norms in place, or in some other historical era in some other country?"
"No, no, no!" I nearly shouted. "That is a flawed thought experiment from the get go, Jaimey! Rawls comes out of the Kantian tradition, which is essentially religious. The noumenal field, and all that..." I had started so calmly, but now I was getting worked up. "That's my point! Without knowing anything about yourself you are precisely... nothing! There is no Cartesian thinking self who can stand in the Original Position and choose anything! He doesn't exist. When you decide something you are always basing it on your own contingent, culturally informed point of view, and the passions that are released from that! If I were an African villager from a thousand years ago I would likely choose my same way of life: the people, the rituals, the meaning I cherished. Would I not? And if I were myself, accustomed to the comfort of living in Berkeley in the 21st century, I would likely choose this way of life... You cannot ask the question in the abstract. Certainly, though, if this is what you are getting at... I would argue that there is not any more meaning in our lives today than in the lives of any people in any other era or country in history."
Ken spoke up to say, "Well, Tom, I'm sorry. I guess I am a moral absolutist on some issues. For example, female education. I believe that, regardless of when or where or what country or what resources are available, girls should be educated to the same extent that boys are."
"Ken, I personally believe that girls should be educated, just like I like art. From our perspective, why would we discriminate against them? That is ingrained in me because of my upbringing and experience. But how about... all people, young and old, rich or poor, dim-witted or brilliant, having a chance to be schooled in quantum physics -- you can imagine a society, only slightly different from our own, that values quantum physics very highly mandating this, right? In that society someone might say, I'm sorry, Tom, but I think that teaching quantum physics to everyone, young or old, rich or poor, stupid or smart, is a moral absolute. But of course it depends on the cultural construct around it, the opportunities available for people, through which they will accumulate and consume resources for their use. When you say all girls should be educated... the question, in a contingent (that is, in a real) society, is: educated in what? How should they be taught? What are their goals? What gives their lives meaning? These are the substantive questions. And they are of course complicated ones, which require input from many people in the community. Different people, different societies, will have different answers. We have ours -- which we hold strongly. It tingles us with a sense of moral righteousness when we state them. (I am against girls being held back!) But we should, even when doing this, recognize that we are not right in some absolute way. That is a residue of religion. It has taken over 150 years since Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Finally, though, I think, we need to adjust to his irrefutable findings. We are animals. We always will be. Even Proust, for all of his literary talent (which brings great pleasure to us!), is merely finding ways to scratch his way into the community around him, to shape the world he touches to his liking for a little while, before he dies."
At this point we were actually standing at the doorway. Some had left. Jaimey, unconvinced (but surely amused too, knowing that our dialogue will be life-long), ducked out into the night.