Teachers You Don’t Pick

Jun 4 2011 @ 9:32am

Over at TNC's place, Hilzoy advocates learning what you can from seriously flawed writers:

It would be a mistake not to read Naipaul. He's a gorgeous, gorgeous writer. … That said, he's also one of the best examples around of someone who is (imho) deeply worth reading, but whose treatment of both women and blacks (esp. blacks outside Africa) is just horrific. … I would have lost so much had I just thrown the book across the room and never looked at Naipaul again. And in saying this, I'm not being nice to him, or something; I'm being entirely selfish. He's one of the writers I learned the most from, I think, and I would hate to have been deprived of that.

Ta-Nehisi nods:

What Hilzoy is pointing to here is not an embrace of blindness or amnesia, but the crucial importance of not becoming a shallow reactionary. It's true that the The New Republic would piss me off when I was in college. But I read it whenever I could find the time, and I studied the people who wrote there, hoping to steal whatever secrets of the craft they brought to bear. And now I find myself somewhere even worse–studying the words of slaveholders.