November 13, 2009

Following Behind with the Bucket

A comment at Corrente caused me to laugh heartily (it wasn't the first such comment there in recent days), in large part because it contains a rather significant element of truth (about a lot of men generally, that is, not necessarily about a particular man). You need to start at the top to get the context (and the speech that Lambert cites looks quite fascinating; I may well have some thoughts about it in the next several days); this is the particular observation:
a feminist's perspective [this shouldn't automatically be attributed to the commenter; Lambert had asked for a feminist's perspective on the subject of the speech, so the commenter offered what might be one]

short version: men broke everything and now lambert wants women to take the lead in fixing it all.
There's more to that comment, and there are now additional comments in that thread about feminism, and the "waves" thereof.

This puts me in mind of a scene in The History Boys, a wonderful play and, subsequently, a wonderful film. I wrote about the film (and play) in the second half of "Passing on the Sense of Wonder."

Here, several teachers are preparing students for their upcoming interviews for university admittance. I'll give you a fair bit of the scene, primarily because so much of it is delicious. Hector, Irwin and Mrs. Lintott are the teachers, "pretending to be the examination board"; Dakin, Timms, Lockwood and Rudge are the students:
HECTOR: Dorothy. Have you anything you'd like to add?

MRS. LINTOTT: I hesitate to mention this, lest it occasion a sophisticated groan, but it may not have crossed your minds that one of the dons who interviews you may be a woman. I'm reluctant at this stage in the game to expose you to new ideas, but having taught you all history on a strictly non-gender-orientated basis I just wonder whether it occurs to any of you how dispiriting this can be? It's obviously dispiriting to you, Dakin, or you wouldn't be yawning.

DAKIN: Sorry, miss.

MRS. LINTOTT: Women so seldom get a turn for a start, Elizabeth I less remarkable for her abilities than that, unlike most of her sisters, she did get a chance to exercise them. Am I embarrassing you?

TIMMS: A bit, miss.


TIMMS: It's not our fault, miss. It's just the way it is.

LOCKWOOD: "The world is everything that is the case," miss. Wittgenstein, miss.

MRS. LINTOTT: I know it's Wittgenstein, thank you. Tell me, just out of interest, did he travel on the other bus?

HECTOR: Bus? Bus? What bus?

IRWIN: On the few occasions he went anywhere, yes, I believe he did.

MRS. LINTOTT: You can tell. Because "The world is everything that is the case" seems actually rather a feminine approach to things: rueful, accepting, taking things as you find them. A real man would be trickier: "The world is everything that can be made to seem the case." However, je divague.

Can you, for a moment, imagine how dispiriting it is to teach five centuries of masculine ineptitude? Why do you think there are no women historians on TV?

TIMMS: No tits?

HECTOR: Hit that boy. Hit him.

TIMMS: Sir! You can't, sir.

HECTOR: I'm not hitting you. He is. And besides, you're not supposed to say tits. Hit him again!

MRS. LINTOTT: I'll tell you why there are no women historians on TV, it's because they don't get carried away for a start, and they don't come bouncing up to you with every new historical notion they've come up with ... the bow-wow school of history.

History's not such a frolic for women as it is for men. Why should it be? They never get round the conference table. In 1919, for instance, they just arranged the flowers then gracefully retired. History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket.

And I'm not asking you to espouse this point of view but the occasional nod in its direction can do you no harm.

There is a silence.

MRS. LINTOTT: You should note, boys, that your masters find this undisguised expression of feeling distasteful, as, I see, do some of you.
Wonderful stuff, that.

For purposes of our little historical review, I should add this bit of dialogue which immediately follows. The teachers begin their preparation of Rudge:
IRWIN: Rudge?

Rudge is interviewed.

MRS. LINTOTT: Now. How do you define history, Mr. Rudge?

RUDGE: Can I speak freely, miss? Without being hit.

MRS. LINTOTT: I will protect you.

RUDGE: How do I define history? It's just one fucking thing after another.
After this, perhaps I ought to mention that The History Boys was written by Alan Bennett, who is, indeed, a man. And perhaps I ought to add to that that Bennett is gay, although it appears from the "Career" description here that, while his primary relationships have been with men, he also has a considerable dose of bisexuality. That may be one of the reasons (although not one of the more important ones in itself) I feel such an affinity for much of Bennett's work. I'm rather that way myself.

Well. When we have time, we must attempt to work our way through all this, including the effects of the more personal perspective. We ought to put our shoulders to the wheel, employ all our exertions to organize it into a coherent whole. Well, perhaps not. We might always fall back on Rudge's formulation. Our lives often seem not unlike history in that respect...