Marylinne Robinson: ‘People are very inclined to take as truth what allows them to be condescending’

Did God create the universe, or is it a product and consequence of the laws of physics? A question that seems resolved. However, Marilynne Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American essayist, has specialized in issues of literature, the environment, religion, and spirituality.

In his latest analyses, he has worked on the idea that he has called the “absent mind”, a topic that his latest book deals with, where he explains reasons why subjective issues such as ethics should not be left aside in the study of the brain or neurosciences. , charity, compassion, which, according to his account, also shape the brain. Born and raised in northern Idaho, she says that’s where her current ideas come from.

“It’s a beautiful place,” he says in an exclusive dialogue with Clarín. I think it helped me to be aware of the impact of the natural environment on people’s lives. I’m often asked if I had any trouble adjusting to New England, where I went to college. Not really. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention. Many of the interests that I have lived with all these years were interests that I had before I left Idaho: history, literature, theology.”

-We know that you feel especially sensitive on the subject of education. The contents of education are one of the most debated aspects today. What do you think about it?

I have spent my life trying to educate myself. It is an absolutely endless project. It’s hard to even make a start. It has been so important to me, impossible as it is, and such a source of satisfaction, that I tend to assume that other people would find it good and desirable too. My experience as a teacher has convinced me that this is generally true. The specific content of education is determined differently from one period or culture to another. There is an element of arbitrariness in any canon or curriculum, and this must be taken into account. This is true in part because the world has created so much to be considered, praised, and criticized that an inevitable narrowness afflicts any curriculum. But any education that recognizes this also prepares an educated person to correct deficiencies as he sees fit. Learning supports and accelerates further learning. There are utilitarians among us who want to see a one-to-one relationship between learning and practical application. This is a very false view of education.

-Why is the classroom, the classroom, so important to you?

When I read about very early cultures and the skills they had, navigation for example, it seems clear that there must have been a lot of teaching and learning to maintain and refine these skills. I consider these to be two bilateral conditions that are deeply rooted in human instinct. Teaching and feeling that something that is worth demanding the attention of students is being taught well is a physiological pleasure, a rewarded behavior. The room may not be physical, but it is that space where this exchange is possible.

– The globalized world has become somewhat localized in a different way. Closed groups have been created with other geographies. Before they were the inhabitants of a neighborhood, now they are fans of Proust from hundreds of different places that will never be physically seen. What do you think of this phenomenon?

I think it can be wonderful. It would be a strange neighborhood that could hold a conversation about Proust (laughs). He is an example of people finding new ways to educate themselves and each other, just for the hell of it. If the relative importance of the neighborhood decreases, there are real capitalizations that exceed the virtuality.

– By granting so much authority to certain narratives of science we have displaced the appreciation of other values, such as what you call “the mind as a felt experience”. Could you expand on this idea?

My main objection to these narratives is that they are bad science. For its exponents it is as if the 19th century never ended. It is not possible to base a good thought on this pile of rubble. The most consistent tendency of this school of thought has been to discard interiority. We all live day and night with our conscience. We know its intricacies firsthand. And we also know that they rule the world. Simplifying and generalizing as anthropology has done has gotten us nowhere.

-Why do you think that beauty became synonymous with frivolity?

I suppose this happened because it was subservient to ostentation. And this made him a commodity. Beauty itself is a great enigma, a stimulant to the most subtle senses. Beautiful products can be purchased by people who do not respect beauty and who surely could not create it, but they acquire status by mere proximity.

– You coined the concept “the practice of condescension”, to describe our feeling that our ancestors are less than us. Could you explain that?

People are very inclined to take as true anything that allows them to be condescending. I hate to say this, but I believe it. Historically, people have been given, and taken over, permission to condescend to one gender, a number of continents, entire races, castes, classes, religious groups, national groups; sometimes there is an awakening to the fact that these attitudes and the loss and evil that result from them are unfounded. The belief that everyone was crude and morally ignorant before, say, the late 20th century stifles the best impulses in our history and drives them away from our traditions. This is a high price to pay for this ungenerous and indifferent satisfaction.

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Marilynne Robinson (1943) received her doctorate from the University of Washington. She taught Literature and Creative Writing in Iowa for twenty-five years, while publishing her first novel, Housekeeping (1980), and the Gilead series, Home, Lila and Jack. In addition to fiction, she has published essays on literature, the environment, politics, and religion, and has contributed to Harper’s and The Paris Review. She is considered one of the great living writers of the English-speaking world.

Marylinne Robinson: ‘People are very inclined to take as truth what allows them to be condescending’