That Elusive Quest for Objectivity

Marilynne Robinson is the author of Housekeeping, one of my favorite novels  which was also made into a wonderful movie with the same title. In a recent interview with the New York Times she revealed the same elusive quest for “objectivity” that has always eluded me and will always do so:

Every period is trapped in its own assumptions, ours, too, so I am always trying, without much optimism, to put together a sort of composite of the record we have made that gives a larger sense of the constant at work in it all, that is, ourselves. The project is doomed from the outset, I know. Still.

Just as has been the case with myself, she has never allowed this quest to be debilitating. She learned as I have that we can never be “objective” but we can realize…and feel…that this objectivity eludes us and always will. And we can surrender to and be humbled by the awareness. Adrienne Rich once said, “We can never know ourselves until we are aware of the assumptions that tyrannize us.”  When we gain awareness of one set of “basic assumptions” that tyrannize us, we will discover another!  But that is merely the human predicament and if we realize it we can be more tolerant of others who are subject to a similar tyranny.



5 thoughts on “That Elusive Quest for Objectivity

  1. architect of the jungle

    Very nice. I love Housekeeping.

    Maybe this is why I feel my work drained of truth each time I complete it. I am publishing things that are no longer true, to me…that’s the thing, the work reveals so much we cannot possibly keep up with the pace of its revelations. We are humbled by the process, and so lucky just for that.


    1. literary lew Post author

      t s eliot—And what you thought you came for
      Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
      From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
      If at all. Either you had no purpose
      Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
      And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
      Which also are the world’s end, some at the sea jaws,
      Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
      But this is the nearest, in place and time,
      Now and in England.



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