January 30: leaping between magisteria

Fiction is a practice which creates a space where you can explore issues without taking moral responsibility for the views expressed there. Macbeth commits many crimes against humanity, such as killing another man in his sleep, but the writer Shakespeare cannot be seen as culpable for the events he portrays. In the real world the police and the law should arrest us if we behave like Macbeth. The world of fiction and the world of the law are thus two non-intersecting fields of authority or magisteria in a non-theological sense. They can only intersect, it seems to me, in two ways. The first is that certain texts or films are not made accessible to people below certain ages. This is difficult to impose, but, in theor,y a twelve year old should not watch a film with a 18+ indication. This is because children need to be protected against material they are perhaps not ready for. The second exception might be when words have attained a magical quality which makes them able to leap from one field to the other. Some commentators may reject this, and I may be one of them, but the cultural weight of a word like the so-called n**** word is such that even in context in a fictionalised narrative they have the magical power to transport from the fictional world to the actual. This magical exception is dangerous to recognise as it is the thin end of a wedge that annihilates the sacred realm of fiction.

peoplearerubbish.com

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