Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Javanese sense of personhood is indeed at a far remove from our own, yet surely it is considerably more accessible to us than Mr. Geertz says it is. Doubtless if any of us were to see a friend respond to the death of his wife as the Javanese young man did ["greeting everyone with a set smile and formal apologies for his wife's absence and trying by mystical techniques to flatten out, as he himself put it, the hills and valleys of his emotion into an even level plain" — Geertz], we would conclude that he was in a state of severe mental pathology. But when we regard the Javanese behavior apart from the context of our own lives, we do not, I think, experience an insuperable difficulty in giving credence to the concepts on which it is based, and, what is more, for many of us it will be not merely comprehensibile but actually may have quite considerable charm.

— Lionel Trilling, "Why We Read Jane Austen," The Last Decade, 1979, 222.

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