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Rowling Essays and theories archived here from HPfGU et al

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Sep. 21st, 2006 | 09:41 am

Read and comment if you want - I've just collected it here for easy access.

Abstemiousness with truth - the careful fantasy world of Potter
#43358 on HPforGrownups

In all situations in my own life, I have found it both easier and more rewarding when the context that obtains is one of open communication and transparency, which by extension, creates the kind of equality between involved parties that results when little is hidden, when information, or knowledge, cannot or is not owned, or held as a private possession. A far cry from the so-called magical world of Harry Potter.

The hardest thing to accept about the apparent magical world of Harry Potter is that, in spite of Dumbledore's reticence regarding the reason Voldemort wants Harry dead, in spite of "the restricted section," which, I point out, contains information essential to the so-called heroes' quest, in spite of so many characters being mysteries, as they say, to other characters, as Black and Snape, for instance, are, or Neville is to the trio, signs both of intransigence, in the first case, or betraying every sign of Rowling's unravelling of facts on a "need to know" basis - that is, in the context of her literary career, in terms of making the series "make sense" at the end of it all - as is the case with Neville, in spite of Hermione's secret use of the Time Turner, a secret that proved quite dangerous, in particular to Hermione, and a secrecy that had to be pierced in order to complete the given quest, all of these ignorances involving core aspects of the story, Harry and the trio can still succeed.

How is this possible? Are we to assume fate, a grossly misunderstood concept in my opinion, being myself something of a secular calvinist, declares that Harry and the trio will succeed whether or not those around them attempt to keep them in the dark, to impose, in a way, ignorance upon them? Do we really believe Harry's successful encounters so far have been written beforehand, and the outcome assured? His response to the 2nd task seems central here. His success depends upon some inner quality, which may or may not be connected to his so-called magical qualities, that makes him stay. He goes through no internal debate. His staying was not quite a decision; rather, as he later reflects, it was an action, the right one, we agree, made in ignorance. A bit of pathos.

Let me try to demonstrate my reading of Rowling like this - The so-called magical world of Harry Potter is, on one level, on perhaps the most fundamental level, unequivocally nothing more than the extended antasy-world of an abused boy stuck in a closet. I cannot state this strongly enough. Whether the boy is in fact adopted, or is imagining that he is adopted, taken from his so-called real parents, whether he attends a regular school or isn't even allowed to do that, it is his fantasy world to which we are exposed. And the abstemiousness with truth characteristic of that world is the signal, the flashing lights, as it were, of the guard towers, of the circumference of Hogwarts' famous ancient magical protection - read, the constricted limits of the abused boy's knowing. That protection, I submit, is directed inwards as much as it is directed outwards. Even the widespread anti-muggle charms appear to me to be defenses against the reality of sustained punishment. There is also mention of some similar sort of ancient magical protection regarding the Dursley's residence. This too, in my reading, seems as much an inwards pressure as an outwards one.

Do we agree with Dumbledore's assessment that Harry should grow up away from what we are supposed to believe are the horrifying and dangerous consequences of fame, and be, rather, reared by people who hate what he represents, mistrust and abuse him? Of course not. So we must accept that Dumbledore's assurance about the safety of the Dursley's house is true - otherwise, he's just being a stupid old man who assumes family is more important than human rights. This so-called safety certainly looks like the rationalization of someone in a hopeless and helpless situation to me. And for someone deprived of information, of ways of obtaining it, someone for whom the paths to knowledge are closed, ignorance might seem strength. In a real way, however, for such a person, ignorance would surely be some measure of protection. Ignorance about one's actual hopeless and helpless situation, the extent of it, or rather, intensity of it.

I'm not sure how much of this line Rowling is conscious of when she writes. I have no intention in this post of addressing that particular moot area. Rather, this is my reading, and as it seems both a general response to the digests I've been getting, on one hand, and an idea that has been an acute difficulty for me since I first read the books, I thought I'd post it in a new thread, see if perhaps this one gets past the Ministry of Moderators.

"The truth is not a crystal that can be slipped into one's pocket, but an endless current into which one falls headlong." Robert Musil


The first Harry we meet is Potter, the one in the books, with the mark, but he is not First Harry. Before him there was Harry, a kid JKR knew. Perhaps she had seen him hustled into the house one day by over-bearing parents, who looked around suspiciously to see if anyone was watching them. Perhaps he had spoken to her a couple times about some Cavendish-like book. Perhaps, based on some things he said, she had guessed at physical abuse.

"No, no. There WAS a kid she turned into Ron Weasley, not Harry."

Snorkack droppings, I say. Ron is simply everyman, the "mate" chorus. There was a kid, known to JKR, who was First Harry, or, if you insist, Real Harry. The one in the books is Second Harry, the one about whom we ostensibly read, Fictional Harry. He so-called lives in two worlds, the muggle and the witch wizard ones - he is nearly nothing in one and nearly saviour in the other. And for him, the not quite distinct worlds interact, generally in a way such that much of what happens in the muggle world can be explained, directly or indirectly, by what happens in the witch wizard world. His knowledge of the muggle world is enhanced and enriched by his knowledge of the witch wizard world. His situation is explained and justified by the witch wizard world. But there is another, a shadow, a shape of darkness, the eyes between the house and the fence that raises the hairs on the back of his neck, a silent and watching Harry, Lost Harry, if you will, necessary but not completely parsed, who we shall
call Third Harry.

Third Harry is a kind of triangulation based on the other two. Third Harry is what JKR made of First Harry, the meaning of both seeing First Harry and his situation, not ignoring her response to this seeing and her feelings about his inferred situation, and of understanding "the other" in some fullness, in a second of time, all at once, when she was younger - a moment of sight, of expanded consciousness, or whatever it is people talk about when they use such terms, the dawning of self-consciousness, which is also consciousness of the other. This happened the way she claims to have later ideated the whole of Second Harry on the train, the Hogwarts Express of her imagination, as it were, between Manchester and London. What happened on the train was that she remembered that moment of "universality" and THEN thought of what could be done with it, what could be done to parse it. And because this remembered moment, this dawning of self and other consciousness was heartily compassionate, she began to reel Third Harry (now Universal Harry) in, not completely, but enough that Second Harry (Potter) could take form.

Potter is sandwiched between First and Third Harry, a kind of compromise, or rather, the words used to communicate !Harry. (That's why he's Second, he's in between, even if he came much later than Third Harry.)

The question is, is Third Harry the distance, the height, or the angle? My idea means that Third Harry gets more important the closer we are to First Harry, so that could mean First Harry is the height, representing the vertical (the real?), Second Harry the distance, representing the horizontal (the telling) and Third Harry the angle, representing the diagonal (the reading). The angle changes as Second Harry (HP) moves between muggle and witch wizard world, for one thing. Generally speaking, we'd need Third Harry (angle) to determine Second Harry (Potter) in RW application. Also, depending on your percieved position, that would mean Third Harry is wider or narrower (more acute?) when Potter is in either the muggle or witch wizard world.

So, what does this all mean?

For one thing, in triangulation, the angle is generally either known or calculated "here," so we are always in the same spot as Third Harry. It means that JKR is flying the kite, as it were, of her triangulation, just as we are flying the kites of our reading. It means if one of the Harrys was not represented, we would probably have to invent him.

It means Third Harry is like "the room" in the Department of Mysteries. It means JKR has introduced Luna because Luna relates almost directly to Third Harry. It means Third Harry accounts for the fan fiction, this list, and Nimbus2003.

There's more, but this should be adequate for now.

I give you ANOTHER HARRY: A Necessary Obscure Third Harry Evokes Rowling's Humanism And Readers React Yearningly


Let me, as the the theorist of BIC LIGHTER (Boy in closest, lives imagining great heroism, turns everything 'round) and ANOTHER HARRY, point out that, in my presentation "eons ago" regarding the boy in the closet, that I never stated, or implied, that Rowling would ever say "and he woke up and it was all a dream." That is clearly a misreading of the theory.

This is a reading of Rowling, not a "guess" at the end of the series. It IS the series, from the start, right now, and in the future, in a manner of speaking. What originally lead me to this reading was the peculiar, particular and problematic role that knowledge plays in Rowling. This theory has been developed, in more recent, post-OOP posts, to include the idea of liberation, not through some alchemical manipulation, but through the practice of a clear ethical imperative, "self-sacrific", as one recent poster has it, though I wouldn't call it that. Just as Wang Wei, on his way home from shopping, saw the tanks at Tienamen Square and stood in front of them, so Harry, for example, in the very centre of the series, in the centre of the middle book, in the centre of the Triwizard, decides to save the other "most valuable" people in the lake, not because of some moral reasoning, nor philosophical premise, but because it's "what needs to be done", in Harry's eyes.

The movie Whale Rider is another good example of this ethical imperative at work. But the greatest magic there is not talking to whales, but that the society honors such behaviour as Paikea performs. Astounding! Generally, it is unappreciated, or even seen as dangerous, or, in Harry's case, as "thick."

Now that Harry ostensibly knows the prophecy, and Dumbledore has ostensibly come clean, rather more dirtily than the simplest reading could have imagined, has this reading changed? Has the problem of knowledge been addressed? Has it been altered?

The greatest addition to the theory is, in my estimation, the introduction of Luna. Partly, perhaps, she is a creation aimed at the so-called new age, but she is also, I take Rowling at her word here, the anti-Hermione. She relates directly to the Harry that has so rarely appeared in the series, the purely imaginary, outside the books Harry, third Harry, as I call him, liberated Harry. In OOP, for instance, Harry's contact with her, at the end, supplies us with the only real moment of openess, of opening. The door opens a crack. Strangely, in that other world, the Witchwizard world, this flakey kid Luna looks right at us, as if she can see us. Her gaze is purely of this world! How is this possible? Yet, it is so.

Luna has been introduced because, somehow, she is essential to the liberation of the boy in the closet - and remember, this closet may be an actual closet, it may be spiritual, it may be emotional, it may be intellectual, but the boy is definitely in it.

My guess, if I have to have one, is that the boy will be liberated from this closet almost without our knowing it, somehow almost a side effect of the series resolution. But the theory doesn't require any ending at all. The reading exists from page one of book one. It is a complete misreading of my theory to even connect it with some "ending".

Why Luna represents a real world person, like Harry does

To explain this, I guess a small description of what I percieve as the so-called Potterverse is required. And, in some measure because of the caricature being done in the series, or, as a current thread or two has it, stereotyping, the circumference of Potterverse has always seemed to me to be the RW, us, from the line-ups at midnight to the Great Patriotic War, from beach balls to batons, computer games to Krasnoyarsk. The reflection of that world, the hyperbolized RW, the magicless one, would be the muggle world, which affects and is affected by the witchwizard world. This last is Erised, in a way. I said a while ago that a naive reading of the books stares into Erised, while a more critical one just wants to. I have also previously, in ANOTHER HARRY, triangulated a third Harry (neither the RW boy upon whom the character is based nor the book Harry, but a Harry who will be liberated, as JKR is liberated, from the closet, a purely imaginary, for the most part philosophical Harry, the Harry that the RW Harry *might* have become), and in the same way the three components of Potterverse are a kind of triangulation. By presuming that Luna is another RW character for whom JKR has triangulated a possible future, I am responding to, not only what made me pose the two questions I asked a week or two ago, but a sense of internal necessity that I get from OOP in particular.

There are a couple things to mention regarding this. In some ways, I wondered why was Luna from Ravenclaw - is it only because JKR couldn't bring in a Gryff at this stage, or is it part of the evolving plot? These and other considerations always seemed less important, however, than the function Luna serves in the stories. For a long time on this list, there were discussions (of which I was a part) regarding Harry's lack of curiousity, or rather, the fact that he didn't seem to ask many questions, or "make moves", as it were. Partly, no doubt, because not asking questions was "the first rule" of living with the Dursleys. Luna's function, at the end of OOP, is as the object of Harry's curiousity - rather like, to use a RW example from my own life - the strange kid who bounced a ball against the wall of the public school I attended all recess and lunch hour, alone, every day for years, who I approached one day and started talking to. The conversation that ensued is not the point (though I can perhaps be convinced to go over it briefly, if anyone is interested). The point is, that it was relatively easy for me to talk to this ostracized person - it was a situation in which, on reflection, I had a rather unbalanced measure of so-called power.

What stuck me at the end of OOP is the absence of the abuse of that power by Harry. He was talking to an equal, even if the pity he felt at the start of the encounter demonstrated, in some small way, the potential imbalance of power. But, even more striking, was the fact that, at that point, the internal necessity for a character like Luna suddenly came clear. The Quibbler was necessary in terms of plot, but somehow Luna herself was necessary to advance the psychological story - Sirius could only go so far(not very) and no further. In most cases, in fact in all cases, JKR has hidden the internal psychological Harry from us - perhaps from herself? At any rate, this is no longer entirely the case. And it is by this act, this scene, that JKR signals the RW Luna, I submit. As Harry acknowledges the other, the other exists in that acknowledgement. This has been hinted at with Neville and his folks, with the Weasley's and their apparent low-income status, and in other ways, but it has not broken free of Harry's closedness. When it does, in that late OOP scene, Harry is aware of - his own feelings, regarding Sirius, regarding Luna, regarding Luna's feelings, just as Luna is aware of hers and Harry's, even the initial pity, as it were. It is, I suggest, an encounter between Third Harry and Third Luna.

Void at the Heart of the Story
#87696 on HPforGrownups

It is refreshing to read Potter theory in which the personalities, boundaries, relationships of the central characters maintain a coherence with canon. There is a wide highway of the passive-aggressive that running through the HP story, but it is self-limiting. Rowling might suggest the psychiatric, but she neither inhabits nor parses it.

In part, the Potter story attacts fill, or, rather, there is a hole, an absence at the core of the telling. In my reading, the emptiness, like a flashing VACANCY sign, is the space between the boy in the closet, the Real World Harry, and the telling, a negative space that surrounds, for example, the Hogwarts Express and the School itself. Thousands of readers peer into that space and attempt to fill it up, but the vacancy remains, given shape by that failing, they way scientists identify black holes, for example. For us, it is a real space, and no matter our education, reading skills, personal vision, if we read the books, we become aware of that space. If we get hooked, it is perhaps partly because the narrative resonates in a similar space within ourselves, a salient, as it were, of the vacancy Rowling so carefully maintains. The space in Potter is a space in ourselves. To a large extent, this void, while many readings try to fill it up with words or theories that come too easily to hand, or to bridge it blind, without understanding the nature of the story itself, echoes the desire that, at heart, accounts for the yearning at the heart of the story - which, in my reading, is the desire to be free of the closet's limitations, the desire for freedom, as it were.

Vanish into that absence. Many want to do it, and theory is just such an attempt. I advocate a maintenance approach, which preserves the space and that which constitutes it.

In a significant way, if Rowling trangresses at all, it is in loving this stasis, this void at the heart of the story. That is why attempts to fill it often seem so paltry, even tawdry. Rowling is radical, but by a careful exclusion that refuses adamantly pat answers, refuses attempts to fill the void with emotional trinkets, or with mystery for the sake of mystery, and answers for the sake of closure.

Rowling's Anodyne Assault
#101727 on HPforGrownups

At some point, reading Rowling, not always closely, but with a level of passion that belies any remonstrations the serious reader of her work might make about the books being simply "good" or "well written," becomes the desperate act of people who have been cast adrift from the apparent significance of what could be called their own social, political, cultural institutions or constructions.

Indeed, people who have lost the ability to maintain a static, inane gaze through the constellations of sense and of meaning that characterize the contemporary mainstream seem to be drawn to her work. Not just drawn to reading her works over and over, but to expounding upon them fanatically, becoming "involved" in the richly interpretive meanings that squirt from her Harry Potter novels like stinksap, if you start poking around in them a bit.

It's not, I think, the lack of character description that makes her books ambiguous for those who read them with more than a casual critique, nor is it merely a plot device, but rather, it is her level of comfort with ambiguity. Possibly, this comfort with the unspoken, with the enigmatic, arises from the fact that the story, according to her, is, in its essentials, long finished. She knows where its going, if not what it will mean. It is also, though, a gentle, non-judgemental, contrived but still easy touch with her characters.

From so-called "reality" TV (a contradiction in terms that apparently has cachet because it's a contradiction) to the lingering, persistent, mostly unspoken belief in so-called objectivity (as clearly witnessed in the silly criticism directed at documentary film-maker Michael Moore, who's most striking merit, that he was honest enough to admit he was partisan, became the sin of not being objective, according to mainstream critics, particularly from networks for whom such an admission as Moore made would not only be true, but entirely unthinkable), the world in which Rowling's project intrudes is long past prevarication. It is quite possibly a world where the vocabulary to even speak of prevarication at all no longer obtains. When is a contradiction not a contradiction? When there are no words to describe what is not.

Rowling does what she does by positioning, within that magical world of Potter, all the meanings we so readily identify, not just on the evening news (which doesn't, in fact, change every day, in some very significant ways), but in the very quotidian exchanges in which signifiers of power and persistence spread among us, a kind of viral common sense. While Minister for Magic Fudge becomes every politician who fudges this way or that with policies, he is also the agent of every judgment made from positions of power, which are most often, but not always, judgments from ignorance. The immovable in Fudge, the intransigent denial in the face of evidence, will stand for implacable law. And this law, which comprises a significant part of our social identity, though often, I admit, negatively, is then a kind of fudging itself, a kind of hedging. It doesn't really matter if the current policy is hedged slightly in our favour or slightly out of it. We dwell, Rowling seems to say, in a thick, sticky social substance with the consistency of soft confections. Here we have one subversion in which, apparently, Rowling rollicks.

Where a standard reading sees Defense Against the Dark Arts as a stay against chaos, against anarchy (even if, by some accident or coincidence it works out to in fact be the opposite), at least officially, the adult reading of Rowling sees DADA for what it is: a recognition of the significance of facing, and embracing, the abrupt, the convulsive, the anarchically sudden, very much like the historic DADA movement in art. DADA is then, in another of Rowling's subversions, a stay against a greater evil than chaos, its stated target, ever was or could be. It is a stay against banality.

Rowling can freely limn the stagnant weight of institutional banality for us because she hides her subversive thesis with a patina, an invisibility cloak of magic, by which method the reader is removed from the Dursley House of their daily grind. In that Dursley House, we may be closeted, abused, imprisoned, but with a flick of the page, we are transported into her work like Ginevra and Harry into the memory book of Riddle. Many contemporary writers talk about the weight of this banal social construct in which we plod, but few talk about it while, at the same time, providing a space to play with the idea, the exciting possibility, of working beyond it, of removing oneself from its more deleterious effects. Perhaps this is what attracts us to Rowling's work.

And what does Rowling talk about, then, in this place we read from behind the invisibility cloak, if not the world about which those newscasts remonstrate? We see hatred, prejudice, horrible crimes, political machinations, but also acts of bravery, compassion and all those other great things. But we must stay hidden, we mustn't be seen. We can only witness. Is it because it is not our world, our time, that we are relegated to the status of observer? I say not, because it is our world, our time, seen through the lens of genre. It is because we can only witness, we can only read. Rowling, I submit, is in some sense always writing about the limits of knowing, and the need to engage. It is, finally, her most subversive thesis.

There is disagreement on what genre Rowling's work occupies because, I think, edges of the cloak are always being turned up; a head shows through here, a shoe there. And always, there are those who will see right through. I posted a couple years ago the idea that Rowling refuses to let Harry break down because, if he did, we, in our reading, would find ourselves falling straight back into our social confection, into the deadly banal. This still holds. Her work communicates the huge, hidden, ubiquitous impulse to be, but meted carefully, and never without reference to the Ministry and its minion, and to the equally abrupt and convulsive impulse to power. And behind it all is just us, our internal Harry, our cupboard of unknown self.

When I talk about the boy in the closet (BIC LIGHTER), that is what I am talking about. The reading demands that somewhere, probably right where we are, the boy remains tightly locked up, for now.

To read Rowling critically, I am saying, as we adults do is to submit ourselves to what is truly the most difficult test there is - sitting under the Sorting Hat. (From Grindelwald to the Sorting Hat in the space of a few pages. Did I catch an unsettling echo there when I read Philospher's Stone?) And was the test about which our heroes were so apprehensive in fact a very fundamental one? We chose our readings. We think its easy to do so. But if I am correct, and Rowling is presenting us with a multi-facetted, subversive thesis of anarchy and chaos, then chosing a trivial reading is a choice that means ignoring everything we do know about the social confection. It means giving up all readings to the banal.

Rowling's writing is then anodyne, in providing the patina, the invisiblity cloak, behind which, we are not expected to act. However, it does so only in order to better conduct a frontal assault on that which is deadly banal.

There's Something About Harry
#105203 on HPforGrownups

I'd like to draw attention yet again to an article on The Boston Common website by Michael Bronski, "There's Something About Harry."
If you haven't read this article, I strongly encourage you to read it. (here)

In it, Bronski states that "the Harry Potter books celebrate a revolt against accepted, conventional life, against the world of the Muggles, who slavishly follow societal rules without ever thinking about whether they are right or wrong, if they make sense or not.." She uses the term queer, in its larger sense, to describe the series - or more particularly, those in the series with whom the reader will most readily identify, meaning Harry and his friends at Hogwarts - not Harry's dim-witted relatives. By setting up muggle life, as Harry experiences it, as the Dursleys, it is clear what Rowling considers "dull, unexciting, unimaginative, and deadening."

Bronski also points out that, though the gist of Order of the Phoenix, and really, the series, since the introduction of Riddle and the Death Eaters, the central theme, is "a clear attack on racial purity," that theme is rarely discussed - even though it is really at the very heart of the story. Does it slip below the radar of adults? Bronski wonders. Are parents even aware of how subversive the books are? Or that the subversion exists on this fundamental level?

Here I quote Ms. Bronski: 'If Harry Potter presents children "and the rest of us" with a tantalizing vision of Misrule and the world turned upside down, let's try to understand why we don't like parts of the world in which we live now. If we don't want to be Muggles "at least not all the time" maybe being queer, in the broadest sense, might be a lot more fun. This means, on a very basic level, reconceiving the very structures of what we call society, civilization, and freedom.'

The significance of this particular aspect of interpretating Rowling's books cannot be downplayed. In the books themselves, even in Philosopher's Stone, Rowling makes it pretty clear that she would consider sitting in front of the books and daydreaming away before our "deepest desires" something that will bring no truth, no enlightenment. That is, Dumbledore's Erised speech is a fairly precise meta-theme that attacks the simplistic, the sentimental, the wistful. She is asking us, in a way, to go along with Harry - he has to eschew such daydreams, and we must as well, if we are to make the journey with him. It is in this sense I take her oft-recited disavowel of any belief in magic. Magic is what we do in our heads to see a way clear, to envision a way toward our goals, to deal with this or that contingency. It is not something we do with wands or spells.

Rowling, I have stated a number of times, seems to be amoral. The questions posed in the books deal entirely with ethics, with the satirical and with something far below, and above, any discussion about this or that question phrased in moralistic language. During the Second Task, when Harry saves not only his own but also Fleur's "thing that would be missed," he acts without falling prey to rationalization. He acts. (In the past I have identified this unconscious acting as a kind of secular Calvinism.) What is clear, though, is that Rowling did not provide any moralistic this or thatting on the subject. None. She instead refers to Harry's embarassment over discovering the lack of real danger in the situation. (Of course, I think there was real danger in the situation - the danger of falling prey to rationalization. Harry, of
course, passed the test, and we love him for it.) Later on, this will become what is jokingly referred to as his penchant for "saving people."

How are we to take this joke? Is it the same thing that led to the "Rescue Mission" at the Ministry of Magic? Or was that situation contaminated by Harry's rather idealistically framed personal connection with Sirius? A connection that again is thematically rounded, in the book, with a two-way mirror phone? That is, was
Erised at work? Was Harry's idealistically framed relationship with Sirius the problem, and not his "penchant for saving people?" And was this idealistically framed relationship a result of Sirius manipulations as well, at Grimauld, for instance, when he seemed to want to appear the best advocate for Harry, and where appearing so was rather important to Sirius? I think so. In fact, that entire relationship was based on the desire to have a deep connection - not on any real connection. Harry is oversensitive when Sirius modifies his favourable comparison of Harry with James. Sirius, in spite of his assurances that Harry's best interests are at heart, is too often motivated almost purely by revenge.

So, in a sense, it is that unconscious acting, that humanist ethic that is at the very centre, physically (middle of middle book) and thematically in Rowling's Harry Potter series. And, if my reading of Rowling is correct, all the really important questions will shrug off petty moralism like so much dust.

Morality in Potter - ugly and boring and stupid and useless
#129753 on HPforGrownups

Our friend Hans wrote in a different group that Harry Potter contains no moral message.

As you know, I take the same stance, but for a different reason. Nevertheless, it's good to hear someone else say it clearly, so I cannot pass up the opportunity to post something on this group about it.

Now, Hans is always talking about liberation in a spiritual sense. I am so not new age, or whatever the term is, not so religious at all. But listen: is there a space for each individual each person, as it were, to find their own set of beliefs or symbols... what I mean is, I look at Scientology (to pick one example), and as weird as it first looks, isn't Xenu with his Cineplex mind trap clearly fulfilling the standard, universal demon role, the bringer of false images, and auditing the process of freeing oneself from illusion! Isn't this the ultimate legilimens? We can cast hither and thither, and find such imagery, yes, in popular and obscure religions! But what of us
critical folk, us questioners, us freeloading, non-tithing secular humanists? What is our freedom, our liberation? What is the status of our deeper appreciation of Rowling?

Secular humanism doesn't have the same special protections as official "churchs" - the language of television, of commerce and so forth has occluded the truly powerful so-called spiritual element of secular humanism.... So, when Rowling is reclaiming some of that language as truly capable of addresses the deeper, the so-called spiritual concerns, it is possible that the message is lost. The sidetrack dialogues become the whole, and the centre is lost.

I remind again the centre of the entire series is the second task. The acting without philosophy, without moral debate. Acting in the moment, on gut instinct, that Harry's gut tells him to take the path he took. Not the fact of gut instinct, but what he actually in fact really in reality in action does on gut instinct. This is essential, or what I am talking about, and have talked about ad nauseum when I used to post lots, won't make a bit of sense.

The type of secular humanist I am is, uh, Calvinist. Meaning - I believe that enlightenment can come from studying ANYTHING at all, where Calvin believed that, whatever we learned would bring us closer to god. I also, like Calvin, believe there are things operating in us, as individuals, that we cannot entirely parse, and are often only noticed when, for instance, we have to act, pretty much without thinking (like Harry at the Second Task). I can't explain why Harry did what he did in the lake, nor does Rowling try to explain. She gives some internal dialogue, but it doesn't amount to explanation. As I've said before, people who do extraordinary things, like save lives at risk to themselves, that hid Jews during the Second World War and so forth, have never explained their actions in terms of some morality, ever. Never. It doesn't happen. They give some internal dialogue, but nowhere do these people explain anything.

Rowling has not explained these things. A comment or two about love.

I have a take on Rowling's genius that is this - I think she is writing for her life, in a way, and that the sense of importance in her work comes from this. It's personal, for her, let me put it that way. And, if I am right, than someone who writes from this life and death stance in such a personal way will strike big chords with their art. In that past I have claimed this life and death position had to do with a glimpsed horror, an atrocity, something quite real that struck her personally and deeply - in the way that I have described those who act without thought or morality are struck in those moments. Perhaps, like the narrator in Camus' The Fall, Rowling didn't do all she could, and HP is her penance. Perhaps she acted as much as she could, but was stonewalled, stymied or stuck.

But there is a debate going on in the novels, not just between characters and their organizations, but between Rowling and herself, and between writer and reader.

Just because the books are written from life and death doesn't mean they can't be fun, funny and even silly, at points. In fact, the humour is more wonderful for it.

If not morality, I have said, there is ethical dialogue. No argument is going to save a drowning person, no idea will make a difference. The books, I say, are about that as much as anything. The books are a kind of ethical dialogue, internally for Jo and for the readers, a kind of ethical test, question and response, feeling its way through this world.

In my more judgemental days, I really think most of the people who read the books haven't got the foggiest idea what they are reading! Those are my cranky days - when the plot pickers and student counters and class calendar derivers just seem to be talking like tax auditors, or days when, goodness, when I happen to read a bit of fan fiction.

I don't want to go too far with this right now, but a cursory read of the fan fiction, or an hour of posts on HPfGU, kinda tells all.

People seem to interpret Rowling in a very personal way - possibly because of the elements I claim are there - absence of any moral claptrap, absence of intellectualization of acts, an appreciation that life is bigger than any fool's claim of what it is.

I have no conclusion. I do not hold to any organized belief system. I seem to always live here and now, with only some experience, and some internal ethical compass to go on. That compass is not going to be set askew, that much I know. Why isn't this enough for people? What is wrong with knowledge? Why do they want others to agree with them? Are we always in child mode? Why do people kill? Why do they have to find others who think the same way they do? Why are racists racist, what brings them to that? Why do people get angry about a statement, and idea, an image in their heads, a rumour, a too loud breath? Thank goodness Rowling or HP isn't a religion.

These are the real question's Jo is dealing with, at any rate, in every book, all through the books, on every page, while still telling a bang up story, that some people have dreams and fantasies around, that some find tap into the deepest of all stories, and so forth.

For the rest, as Giradeaux said about poverty, "ugly and boring and stupid and useless"

Hogwarts: A History | tell me something | Share

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from: woman_ironing
date: Sep. 29th, 2006 09:37 am (UTC)
Hogwarts: A History

I've been wanting to respond to these collected posts since I first saw them last week, and now, at last, have a few minutes after the morning rush to think and scribble. I really enjoyed reading them, and they gave me much tasty food for thought amidst the cleaning, shopping and shouting at children. Sirius represented hope for Harry, and the possibility of home, and Harry was so grateful for what Sirius suffered and endeavoured on his behalf. Your post made me think on how close Sirius is to Snape, both defined by their childhood and schooldays, both halted by the events of 31/10, and both - perhaps - sharing the delusion that Harry is James. It was sad that Sirius let Harry down in OotP - I'm thinking of the pantry scene - and telling that it was acquiescing to Dumbledore that led him to do it, and that caused him to descend to such a poor psychological state.

This brings me to anarchism and free will, I guess. (About which I know only the beginnings of the rudiments.) In the end Harry is always on his own and has to decide and act for himself. JKR relentlessly shows us the deficiencies of just about every support structure Harry encounters, but - I've come to realise, mellowing in my cynicism! - though they are deficient they, or some of them, do help Harry. Perhaps the most obvious (if rather mysterious) example is in CoS where Harry bravely confronts Riddle and the basilisk and death, but his bravery is supported by DD, via Fawkes.

I've always thought that Harry demonstrates that human beings are innately good. Harry is a sort of noble savage - living with the Dursleys being the equivalent of living beyond civilisation - and he naturally, spontaneously takes responsibility for himself, exercises free will and does the right thing to the good of all. Of course, though, there's also Tom Riddle, who also came out of the wild, who quite spectacularly takes responsibility for himself and exercises free will, and the result is evil. So I'm a bit stuck now! Is it perhaps a question of growing up, that either impulse is natural - the impulse to good, the impulse to evil - or maybe right and wrong (because stabbing the diary was not necessarily good though it was right) - but the important thing is the point at which one way is consciously chosen rather than instinctively followed? (OotP had Harry being instinctive to a CAPSLOCK degree, while in HBP he was required to be pragmatic, even manipulative, sometimes in tune with his instinct, sometimes not.) Is this where love comes in?

Anyway, that's enough for now. (Though I'm still thinking, particularly about what you say about the second task.) I hope you enjoyed reading this, clumsy and unsubtle though it is compared to your posts. I'm intrigued by your secular Calvinism. Doesn't Calvinism deny the existence of free will? I'd love to know more!

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from: darkthirty
date: Oct. 4th, 2006 05:46 am (UTC)
Hogwarts: A History

See the discussion about a previous attempt at a general theory of Rowling, with particular emphasis on Secular Calvinism here - http://darkthirty.livejournal.com/24981.html

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