I haven’t really been looking forward to writing this post, because it’s been a rough week on the internet and I prefer to stay out of trouble. But this time it’s a bit close to home, and people have been asking me for my views.
So here goes. Seatbelts on, everyone: I’m about to express Opinions.
For those not on social media, which probably includes most people who read this, there’s been an almighty row this week about an article that was published in Antigone Journal. As you might know, I’ve written for Antigone in the past, and I recommend its articles regularly in my weekend reading posts. That’s one of the reasons why I can’t sit this one out.
This particular article was about Apuleius, and was written by an American professor who is not a classicist. To be precise, it was written for Literary Review first, and reprinted in Antigone Journal. Feel free to read the article if you like – there’s nothing particularly offensive about it (well, there are a few things, but more on that later).
The offensive thing is that the author is well-known in the US (although much less well-known in the UK) as a eugenicist, and has publicly argued for decades in favour of ideas which are deeply upsetting to people with disabilities.
So let’s get to the Opinions. I’m furious about this. There are plenty of classicists in the world with important things to say: so why did Antigone have to go outside Classics to acquire an article from such a controversial (to put it mildly) individual?!
I expressed my Opinions – which may have crossed the line into a Rant – immediately (but privately rather than in public, because that’s my preference), contacting somebody from Antigone directly and setting out how I feel, as a member of the disabled community, about the author’s views. I was not the only person to react strongly. Twitter was boiling for days, and rightly so. Many disabled people interact through Twitter, and this is not something they ought to be quiet about. This blog post from Alicia Matz puts the case eloquently.
Some people have stated their intention of boycotting Antigone. They are refusing to share or recommend Antigone articles. They feel betrayed. They are horrified that this author has been given a platform in Classics. They have been demanding an apology, a retraction of the article, and that the mostly anonymous editors name themselves.
These are all fair responses, but I don’t share them. I have further Opinions on these things.
I won’t be refusing to read articles in Antigone, because I don’t want to. I find them interesting, and many of the contributors are wonderful writers. I value my freedom to read what I want, even if it angers me. So I’ll continue to read and recommend Antigone articles – but as always, it’s your choice whether you follow my reading suggestions or not. One of the reasons I’m setting this all out here is so that you can make an informed choice that fits your own views and principles.
Do I feel betrayed? Am I upset that a publication in Classics, one which I have been associated with, has exposed me and other people to such personally offensive ideas?
Well… no, to be honest. Nobody has betrayed my trust – I didn’t trust them to begin with, and anyone who does trust an anonymous volunteer editing team ought to think very hard about the wisdom of that. I didn’t trust them to represent my values, because they made no commitment to do so. This doesn’t really bother me. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the range of viewpoints showcased by Antigone, and I’ve been enjoying even more the intellectual playfulness which has shone through from time to time. I’m capable of enjoying these things without needing their providers to be moral leaders too.
Do I want an apology for what I see as a significant – although perhaps inadvertent – misjudgement? Yes please: that would be nice. But that is the editors’ decision, not mine, and I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen. Do I want the article to be withdrawn? No. Withdrawing the article won’t withdraw the author’s book on Apuleius, or his articles in other publications or his platform as a high-profile professor at a leading university. I would prefer to see Antigone hosting or even commissioning a counter-article, in the spirit of debate.
Do I want the editors of Antigone to name themselves? No, definitely not – I feel quite strongly about this one. They’ve made a choice to be anonymous. That makes people suspicious of them, but that’s something I’m sure they’ve decided to live with. I seriously considered making this website anonymous when I started it. I decided not to, in the end, because it didn’t suit my personal approach, but I’ve regretted it a few times. There’s a safety in public anonymity which I wouldn’t judge anybody for choosing.
Am I horrified that this author has been given a platform in Classics by Antigone Journal? No, I’m really not. It certainly wouldn’t have been my choice, but it has its benefits. For one, he’s made himself look remarkably silly by being a bad classicist in a Classics publication. This guy manages to make Apuleius fit his own views about animal rights by simply cutting out all the bits of Apuleius’ work which don’t fit. It’s startlingly bad scholarship, and people are starting now to respond to the holes in his argument (with the winning response for the week coming from Neville Morley, who applies the same treatment to other ancient writers). The Antigone article has pretty much guaranteed that nobody within the Classics community will buy this book on Apuleius – not just because of its author’s reputation, but also because it looks like a really awful book!
My artistic interpretation of The Discourse – heavily influenced by Tacitus, of course!
Well, now that I’ve spoken my controversial piece, here’s something a bit less controversial. The folks at Edinburgh University are looking to set up a postgraduate qualification in teaching Classics. It would be a really great thing – but they’ve run into all kinds of administrative obstacles. They need people who might someday consider getting a teaching qualification (maybe just as a very distant possibility!) to fill in an online survey and show that there’s a market for such a qualification. It only takes a couple of minutes and you don’t have to give your name or contact details. So if you have a moment to do so, filling in the questionnaire would be a really helpful thing! You can find it at https://www.ed.ac.uk/education/graduate-school/taught-degrees/pgde/secondary ; scroll right to the bottom of the page for the survey itself.
This week from around the Classics Internet
Don’t underestimate archaeology – The Past
Hobby Lobby sues Dirk Obbink – Artnet
Punic tomb in Malta – The Art Insider
Promoting Colchester Roman circus – Gazette
Impasse over the Torlonia marbles – The Art Newspaper
Classics at Princeton – The Daily Princetonian
Images from Classical Studies Memes For Hellenistic Teens
Comment and opinion
Flattening the palaestra ground – Ancient World Magazine
African blog takeover – Classical Reception Studies Network
What are statues for? – A Don’s Life
Democracy and oligarchy – Greek Reporter
Building a Classics department from scratch – Working Classicists
Grief and Antigone – Working Classicists
Why the Romans conquered the Balearic Islands – The Collector
Women’s fashion in Greece – The Collector
The Vitruvian Man – Antigone
Textiles, loss and lockdown – Antigone
Learning from Socrates – Antigone
Podcasts, video and other media
Victory in Greece – Casting Through Ancient Greece
The Sea Peoples – The Ancient World
The archaeology of early Rome – The Partial Historians