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Ironically, it was the Victorians, often dismissed as prudish and uptight, who led the way to an open-mindedness and engagement with ambiguity that stands in stark contrast to the impoverishment of contemporary thinking about religious doubt and belief. In fact, that explosion of religious doubt developed into a powerful cultural force. For the first time in history, doubt became a serious, widespread concern.
- Dragon Compendium, Vol.1 (Dungeons & Dragons).
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It galvanised cultural debate and scientific inquiry. It inspired sermons, plays, and articles. It even rose to the level of a popular philosophy. In doing so, it upended almost everything the Bible had taught the Victorians about the world. The Victorians lived through times at least as tumultuous as our own, when their deity seemed to have abandoned them, traditions appeared to be losing their grip, and fundamental questions loomed about the well-being of the country and the future of the world.
Every aspect of British social and cultural life was being questioned, and the country came as close as it ever would to publicly debating its religious beliefs. The conversation eventually included whether belief in God was necessary, or even possible, after scientists, philosophers and a host of writers had argued otherwise.
Conversation With Dale Brown on Buechner and writing from the spirit - Explore
As the country struggled to establish exactly what it did believe and why, the doctrines and beliefs that it had used to define itself imploded, under immense duress and opposition, leaving something closer to our present secular culture than had ever existed before.
By the s, with freethinkers and agnostics publishing extensively in the United States as well, doubt on both sides of the Atlantic had become a cultural power that writers, philosophers, theologians and politicians had to reckon with. Were the miracles described in the Bible credible or meant to be seen as symbolic? When the history of Christianity was fully examined, did its monotheistic arguments blend imperceptibly with the pagan beliefs that had preceded it? And, a critical issue for many Victorian believers and scholars, more urgent than before but by no means easy to settle: what was the precise ratio of God to man in Jesus of Nazareth?
Fifteen years before Darwin published On the Origin of Species , the Scottish editor, writer, and publisher Robert Chambers anonymously brought out a book called Vestiges of the Natural History of Creatio n In it he argued that the progressive evolution of species was fully compatible with God-given laws.
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Do we really need to be online for 27 hours a week? This is the latest figure for teenagers, but it grows crazily with each year that passes. Do we need the internet in our pocket at all times? Do we need it resting by our pillows at night? Do our seven-year-olds need phones?
Zadie Smith: ‘I have a very messy and chaotic mind’
Do we wish to pass down our own dependency and obsession? It all has to be thought through. What poems do you know by heart? He makes the kids memorise poems and they manage it but I never do. In the brain space where memorised poems should be I have a large collection of rap couplets. What does London mean to you creatively and how does it influence your work?
The people, the humour, the variety of place and circumstance are all endlessly interesting to me. A lot of things that happened in England over the past three centuries can be found in north-west London in miniature: enclosure, industrialisation, suburbanisation, immigration, gentrification…. Author of The Gender Games. I am delighted to be all these things and everyone, no matter where they are from — if they really think about it — will find themselves with a similar plurality of communities.
But the whole debate can fall into a kind of trap. I am all the things I am — and also an author. Do you have any secret techniques for overcoming self-doubt? In the end, you just have to write and doubt simultaneously. What is your unrealised project, your dream? We know a great deal about the unrealised projects of architects, but almost nothing about those of artists or writers.
Doris Lessing once said that besides the unrealised, there are also those projects that we self-censor, those which we do not dare to do.
I began a speculative fiction thing. But every time I sat down to write it I thought of Ursula Le Guin turning the pages with a look of pained disgust in her eye and I grew fainthearted and put it away again. We were having kids when 1D began is that the accepted abbreviation? My attention has been elsewhere. It makes me want to lie down and give up on life.
What song lyric best describes you? Publisher of new inclusive imprint Dialogue Books. How has it felt for you, from such a young age, to be viewed as a mouthpiece for race, gender and culture because so few others have been invited to have their stories heard?
I never conceived of myself as a mouthpiece. I think of myself as thinking about all sorts of things, on the page, in public. Or I can read Edouard Louis and know something of what it means to grow up in extreme poverty in contemporary France — I mean, how the world might look to a person who has been formed by such experiences. People have radically different minds, in my view, and I want to be exposed to as many of them as possible.
I think there can be almost as much difference, experientially speaking, between you and the person next to you on the bus as there is between me and my pug. And if, as too often happens, publishing houses choose only writers they recognise, from their own milieu, their own backgrounds, class, perceived community etc, well, then you get far less variety in this pool of minds and we all miss out. Writers principally — but readers, too. Is there anything that sears your heart for the younger generation?
What are the hardest things for them in modern life and the most hopeful and magic too? The best thing about being young is the sense of being profoundly misunderstood by older people. I miss that feeling. You must be under some pressure to be agreeable, to agree with the right opinions.
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But I notice that you think through things, rather than just agreeing to them. How do you defend that space of independent thought? Like everybody, I am often guilty of some version of all of the above, but I do think the job of writing is to at least try and minimise that sort of thing as much as you can. Creative freedom seems very important to hold on to right now, especially for our cities.
Who are the emerging art and fashion heroes for you in the UK? Any recent instances?