Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Would you drink tea made by a paedophile?

Just reading an interesting piece on the BBC magazine section on the call to withdraw music books written by a convicted sex offender. Brian Davey was a music teacher convicted last year of a string of sexual assaults against children.

The BBC says that he "wrote books on the recorder that many tutors regard as among the best textbooks for children" but that one victim of of abuse claims, quite feasibly, that "they were written with one aim - to get to children" and therefore should be withdrawn.

I suppose there are a number of questions to be asked here. Is Davey still in a position to profit from these books, either sexually or financially? The former seems unlikely, the latter appears quite possible.

Can the product of a person be seen as something completely separate from them once it is produced? Is it necessarily tainted by the hand of the producer? Heidegger wrote some very fine philosophy and was simultaneously a card carrying Nazi. Not only that but he was not above using his position as a university professor to undermine and expel Jewish academics.

It's possible to draw parallels with Heidegger's existentialism and fascism - but you have to go out of your way to do so. I think it's worth reading Heidegger and trying to crowbar some sense out him - it's difficult but rewarding no matter what the crimes of the man himself.

It seems unlikely to me that there is any subliminal abusive content in Davey's books on playing recorder. In fact it appears we are meant to turn away from these books because of their association with someone of the most reprehensible character. I'm not sure that this is entirely appropriate.

I'm assuming we're not calling for the work of Leonardo da Vinci to be withdrawn nor the works of Andre Gide, Walt Whitman, Michelangelo, or Byron. Yet all of these figures were known to engage in sexual relations with children. Where are we to draw the line? Is it the fact that these were recent offences that should make the books beyond the pail? If so can we reprint them in thirty, forty or fifty years time?

The article points towards the artist Eric Gill (pictured, right) who, it appears, was a truly vile human being - but produced wonderful works of art, many of which were for the Catholic Church. Whilst the church refused to remove Gill's work from their buildings many worshippers found the idea of praying in front of works he had produced highly abhorrent. i find both sides understandable, although in this case because of the specifically "moral" nature of the works I'd certainly side with the worshippers against the Cardinals.

For me the case would be cut and dried (the works stand on their own) but for one thing. The feelings of the victim who described the banning of the books as a "marker of his abuse, a tangible, public statement that we find what he has done horrendous". This is a difficult statement to ignore but one I think we should resist, as sensitively as we can.

Currently we have a set of useful, educational books. Not the greatest contribution to world culture for sure, but a step forward none the less. We can burn these books as a public statement against the author (who is in jail for his crimes) or try to understand that whatever monstrous acts individuals commit they are still complex human beings for all that. Good, evil, interesting and banal by turns - not devils who can taint everything they touch with evil.

(See August last year for more thoughts on this)


capel-y-ffin said...

There are many things said about Eric Gill that were true.
And his sex exploits seem to be the subject that draws some people to write about him, but to call him a paedophile I think is stepping over the line when I have not read anything about him having an interest in children and if you were to do some research in Ditchling. Capel-y-ffin.and Pigotts.I do not think you would find any evidence to substantiate your clam.

Jim Jepps said...

Well I didn't actually say what Gill did or didn't do - just that he appeared to be a truly vile human being.

However, the BBC article I link to says "he regularly had sex with two of his daughters, his sisters and even the family dog. These encounters he recorded in his diary."

It also quotes an opponent saying "He abused his maids, his prostitutes, animals, he was having sex with everything that moved - a very deranged man sexually." and "Gill's behaviour was obviously reprehensible. He was a child abuser and he did completely renege on his Catholic principles"

I mean I could do some extra research on this if you want - although I'm not entirely sure I want to... what is clear is that there *are* claims that he was a child abuser out there.

Louisefeminista said...

Eric Gill wrote about sexually abusing his sisters and daughters in his diaries in great detail. It was only after the publication on Gill's life by art historian Fiona MacCarthy that the abuse was made public.

I used to like Gill's work but when I read about what he did I found appreciating his art difficult and problematic but I suppose this is all kinda subjective 'cos on the other hand I like Rodin, Cezanne, Degas and Renior. But.....Their behaviour over the Dreyfus affair in France smacked of anti-Jewish racism and was utterly reactionary.

Knowing this does it stop you appreciating and liking their work?

The Dreyfus Affair split Impressionism down the middle. Monet, Cassatt and Pissarro were supported of Dreyfus. Friendships were destroyed over Dreyfus.