Marilynne Robinson on ‘The Accidental’ as a Basis For Interpretation


In her book Absence of Mind, in the essay “The Strange History of Altruism,” Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Marilynne Robinson reviews some of the popular books about science. In the excerpt that follows, she makes an interesting observation about the consequences of two outlooks. I’m guessing most of my readers will agree with her point of view, but even those who won’t agree could see something valuable in her take:

“The comparison that is salient here is between the accidental and the intentional in terms of their consequences for the interpretation of anything. In the course of my reading, I have come to the conclusion that the random, the accidental, have a strong attraction for many writers because they simplify by delimiting. Why is there something rather than nothing? Accident. Accident narrows the range of appropriate strategies of interpretation, while intention very much broadens it. Accident closes on itself, while intention implies that, in and beyond any particular fact or circumstance, there is vastly more to be understood. Intention is implicitly communicative, because an actor is described in any intentional act. Why is the human brain the most complex object known to exist in the universe? Because the elaborations of the mammalian brain that promoted the survival of the organism overshot the mark in our case. Or because it is intrinsic to our role in the universe as thinkers and perceivers, participants in a singular capacity for wonder as well as for comprehension.”

Food for thought.

Meanwhile, Robinson has written an interesting analysis of Donald Trump for the Guardian.

Related:

Marilynne Robinson on ‘the felt life of the mind’ and beauty and strangeness

Marilynne Robinson’s Calvinism is an alternative to The Gospel Coalition’s Calvinism

 

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3 responses to “Marilynne Robinson on ‘The Accidental’ as a Basis For Interpretation

  1. “Because an actor is described in any intentional act…” Assume spell check too over and this was supposed to say “an action us described”. However, actor gives another interesting perspective .which did you intend?

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    • That would be “took over” of course. Spell check is not my friend.

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    • Hey Pat — I double-checked, and that’s what she says in the book: “… because an actor is described in any intentional act.” I think she means that an intentional act has to be done by a person. If there seems to be an intention, there must be an actor (someone who acts) who is intending something.

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