Friday, 30 March 2012

Adam Phillips on William Empson

LRB, 3 August 2006: 'God, Empson intimated, was a figure of the man without conflicts who, by the same token, was a sadistic megalomaniac -- the attempt to eliminate conflict being the very thig that makes people most cruel. The "God whose only pleasure is gloating over torture" knows what to do with those who disagree: he might indeed want them to disagree so he can enjoy torturing them.' This is a very striking idea; monolithic of course, but appropriately so since the topic is precisely monotheism (polythesisms, such as the ancient Greek pantheon, can avoid this problem by having the different gods bickering amongst themselves). Phillips goes on to suggest that 'it is his conflict about the nature of conflict that makes Empson such an unusually subtle and provocative critic. Though he could acknowledge, again in Ricks, "how dismal quarrelling is", he always knew that the alternative was worse.' This is a sentiment that speaks profoundly to me, I must say.

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