‘And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?’ ~ A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
[Cont’d from The New Censorship: A Defacement] … The fad of skewering old manuscripts, some of them classics, continues. The question is, where does it stop? How many authors and artists and other figureheads must fall before the madness subsides?
We know that Plato, for example, was a man living in a male-dominated world. Do we reject all his writings because they were the product of an ‘offensive, dated’ society?
We know that Thomas Jefferson had a slave, Sally Hemings, with whom he had a child. Do we reject his legacy because of it?
We know that Joseph Conrad wrote about colonial times. Are his books irrelevant in the post-colonial era — vectors of nasty stereotypes that are best expunged from the annals?
It’s a tricky affair, to assault past writings. Strike through an author for something controversial or questionable, and the field’s wide open.
Joan Didion, for example. She wrote a bunch of essays criticizing the American South’s racism and bigotry. She also wrote an excellent book — among others — on grief and bereavement, trauma and coping.
But she also wrote a glittering essay about John Wayne, myth of the West, symbol of Americana: the character who glorified America’s frontier, whose archetypal swagger and grin was an inspiration for so many Americans — unless you were non-white.
If you were non-white, you took offense at John Wayne’s whitewashed gun-slinging, and justifiably so.
And yet Didion wrote a glowing elegy about him. She was white. Her essay upheld a white(washing) stereotype, or failed to take one down.
Do we reject Didion because she wrote from a privileged point of view? Dare we strike some of her essays from the libraries because they perpetuate dangerous white stereotypes?
You see where this is headed. Once the censorship starts, there’s no stopping it. Our knee-jerk reactions and the wrath we apply to everything that irks us says more about ourselves than the writings we reject.
Past writings are part of history. Our libraries need them, and have space for them.
There are exceptions, of course. Some text is simply hateful, intended to do harm. Much of it is political, or becomes so. Discrimination toward women, children born out of wedlock, homosexuals. Violence toward dissenters. Nazism, fascism, racism, jingoism, religious exceptionalism …
Would we better off without such texts, or the segments in question? Definitely.
But prohibition is a poor choice. Education is far better. Educate people and the hateful texts become quaint and obsolete, phased out by readers themselves.
Censoring old books is not an option. Altering the past is not progress; it’s Bolshevism — a sanitized way of burning books. All those who say otherwise are saying exactly what book burners have been saying for millennia, and it is they whose words must be stricken through, but not erased, so that we may remember and recognize what Bolshevism looks and sounds like, no matter how may years pass or what guise it puts on.
From your history-aware Spin Doctor,
Eyes open, mind sharp.