Thursday, March 01, 2007
PC or TC
I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago when the protests against the Vietnam War were at their height, and what's now called Second Wave Feminism was just beginning. Heady times, frightening times, it all depends on where you were, what you wanted, what you saw. After Kent State, the rest of the graduate students appointed me to go to the department chair to ask for an extension of final exam week so we could take part in the national cycle of mourning and protest. He refused, we argued, and then he said, "I am not insensitive, Ms. Paretsky: you can read in the New York Times how sensitive I am." (I won't name him because I have a lot of affection and admiration for him and this was a small coment in the middle of hot times.) But his remark made me laugh and it's always stuck with me: we all believe we are truly sensitive, and that's why we're always taken aback when someone questions it. Of course, we can't all point to the New York Times to vindicate us.
Recently, Kevin Guilfoile told me about a review in the Wall Street Journal of Patrick Anderson's Triumph of the Thriller; the Journal called me "left-leaning," which shows Journal reviewer Micah Morrison hadn't done his homework: there's nothing to my left for me to lean on. But aside from all the pros or cons of Anderson's book, it's interesting to me that someone with left or liberal or progressive politics is labeled, even excoriated: we ride under the banner of political correctness, while it's not easy or acceptable to criticize discourse on the right. I just turned in the manuscript for a new novel, set in the part of rural Kansas where I grew up. My editor called me to say that it was hard to believe in the mean-spirited Christians I describe, and readers would find it a hard hill to climb. I hope not, but I do wonder whether the author of a book that shows mean-spirited feminists would get a similar editorial phone call? I can't speak from personal experience, but if you've dissed the sisters, or African-Americans, or even the ACLU in your work, what kind of reaction did you get from your own editor before you went to press? Do we have to be theologically correct even when we're proud of our political incorrectness?