Thursday, February 23, 2006

Idiot originally meant someone concerned with the private sphere.

It was freely applied to women by Greeks who invented the word. Part of the implication is that idiots, women, are disqualified to think about public policy because they think about the effects on individuals of public policy.

I learned this from reading Frances Donaldson's biography of the humorist P. G. Wodehouse.

P. G. Wodehouse is really good at what he's good at--setting up and working out complex farcical situations and writing felicitous sentences describing them.

Some very good writers have compared Wodehouse to the best writers in English--Shakespeare for example.

Frances Donaldson, a woman, points out that none of the writers who praise Wodehouse to the skies are women. She says that nine out of ten Wodehouse addicts are guys. She thinks she knows why.

Farce, like Wodehouse writes, involves as part of the set-up "the sufferings of innocent characters," and women, much more than men, don't enjoy that.

She says, to give the quote a greater length, "Because of their greater imagination, women do not care for music-hall jokes, farcical comedy, or any humour that relies on total disregard for the sufferings of innocent characters, while, because of their need to involve themselves, situations of mistaken identity or serious misunderstanding merely arouse their anxiety. They are incapable of isolating the element of humour from other aspects of a situation, possibly because traditionally their range of experience has been so circumscribed."

Or possibly because they have greater imagination and are in an important way smarter?

I have read some Wodehouse and sometimes like it. He is so good at the lovely, easy to read, funny sentence that also moves the plot. No wasted motion.

But I do better with his short stories. I have often started, and then quit, on one of his novels because, essentially, I get anxious, which is not what I want from light reading. The set-up means a lot of these unreal, cardboard characters are going to suffer, at least briefly, and I can't take it.

So who should decide if we go to war? The people who tend to imagine the sufferings of individuals or those who are really good at cutting off the sufferings of individuals from other considerations--plot, policy?