« Amnesty Take 1,783: In Which I Am Puzzled. | Main | When Is It Right to Remove a President from Office? »

June 02, 2005

Comments

no mention of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries ?

Oh My God. They ARE afraid of books...Cleek, that deserves an update...thanks.

e

I think it goes back to the Garden of Eden eviction notice when the residents tried to read the fine print (fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil).
Knowledge is dangerous and leads to evil thoughts. Unquestioning obedience to the law and the lawmakers is the path to heaven.
I wish I were kidding.

To be fair, Edward, I'd say there's a strong strand of thinking to both left and right that believes that some ideas are too dangerous for people to read. (Just as there's a strong strand of thinking, to left and to right, that is opposed to censorship in principle and in practice.)

It's just that, for the most part (certainly in the West) conservatives are the ones with the collective power to have books banned! (There are odd examples, even so, of left-wingers calling for books to be banned - Huckleberry Finn is one, I recall, because of the use of the word "nigger".)

The one book I finished reading and thought "I could cheerfully see this burned" is 120 Days of Sodom - I started reading it because some writer I admired had written an analysis/introduction that I found fascinating - but I found myself absolutely repelled when I got into the book itself. (I finished reading it: I'm not sure at this distance of time why. Stubbornness, I guess.) I have read grosser pornography, but I've read nothing that disgusted me so much, before or since.

Nevertheless, because in principle I oppose all censorship, I would not want that book destroyed, however much it personally offended me and however disgusting I felt it was. I think that's the sticking point: will you stand up for a person's right to free speech, no matter how much it offends you? And that's a principle that the best of the left and the best of the right have in common.

I think it has to do with the principle found in Ecclesiastes 1:18: "For in much wisdom is much grief; and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow."

Stupid = happy, right?

it's not just books - we hear near-consant cries from the right for the media to stop reporting the bad news from Iraq. information is bad, m kay?

on the other hand, the face of music censorship in the 80's was Al Gore's wife, Tipper.

Who are you, and what have you done with Jes? ;=)

I think that's the sticking point: will you stand up for a person's right to free speech, no matter how much it offends you? And that's a principle that the best of the left and the best of the right have in common.

I wish there were statistics on this (google here I come). The Library Association's spokeswoman's note about the rise in bannings when the President is more conservative seems to argue that this is more of a conservative than liberal desire.

I recall the Huck Finn fiasco, but don't understand it. I've never been offended by a book in which a character is offensive, even when the author seems to like that character. The truth is, offensive people exist, and they won't cease to exist just because I stop reading about them. Lord knows there are plenty of books I've read that are beyond offensive toward gays.

OK, so here are the most frequently banned books of 1990-2000. The link goes up to 100, but here are the top ten.

1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
2. Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
8. Forever by Judy Blume
9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
10. Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

There are "conservatives" and then there are "right-wingers". Conservative and orthodox Christians who seem to be a different breed than there “right-winging/Fundamentalist” counterparts.

Although…Fundamentalism is becoming the mainstream in Protestant communities.

Reinhold Niebor, Paul Tillch, Karl Jaspers and many other Progressive Protestant theologians are becoming “the fringe”.

I think Jesusexlax is simply wrong - book-banning, while not unknown on the left, is very uncharacteristic of them, and a staple of the right.

The controversy over Huck Finn is invariably over its being an assigned text in junior-high or high-schools (i.e., ages roughly 12-17, for non-US readers). Parents object to their kids being forced to endure hundreds of pages of casual racism, and one of the main characters - the only significant black character in the book - constantly being referred to as a "nigger", or even as "Nigger Jim" (as if it was part of his name). (Defenders counter that the book is intended to throw racist attitudes into a critical light, but critics don't find this a sufficient counterweight.) The debate is not over whether certain books are allowed, but over what books should be assigned as required reading - and I have to say I am more and more sympathetic to black parents on this one. No one has ever argued that this book should be banned outright, or even kept out of school libraries - let alone burned, or banned from an entire state. And Huck Finn is virtually unique as a target of liberal critics.

The ALA site also has the ten most challenged books of 2004. It looks to me like most would have been challenged from the "right", but some mentions of racism and violence suggest that the "left" may have had some input as well.

Yeah, I wish they had hurried up and banned that damn Scary Stories book when I was in elementary school. I can still keep myself awake by thinking too hard about some of those illustrations. Why didn't anyone think of the children?

Other than that, I agree with Jes's comment. Banning books is stupid, regardless if its done in the name of political correctness or to protect people from allegedly harmful ideas.

This has always puzzled me, in both its left and right versions. As a kid who was always left to her own devices as far as reading, and who therefore read all sorts of things written from every imaginable point of view, I can't imagine thinking that reading some particular book would have this sort of odd effect on me, since if every book I read had indoctrinated me, I would have had to develop multiple personality disorder to deal with all the views I would simultaneously have held.

I think Slacktivist had something interesting to say about this, but alas I can't find it.

Also, I discovered last night from his Fresh Air interview that Tim Winter, head of the Parents Television Council (most famous for bombarding the FCC with complaints during Nipplegate), is a Democrat. But TV is different from books.

Most depressing about that list is that the second most scary idea for most book banners is the notion of gay parents. If anything argues for the need to expose people to more ideas rather than fewer, that's it IMO.

So, I want to go completely ape---- over this, having read "The Origin of the Species" and been corrupted, but
I already did over at Kevin Drum's site where I can make a fool of myself unedited. Here. I'm a fool with good editors. ;)

But it occurs to me that, following the Ecclesiastes verse, some conservatives view the world as a great big dinner table where certain things just aren't talked about in front of the kids. We're, all of us, the kids. Spreading the news, for example, that condoms are pretty effective in preventing transmission of disease is just a little bit too much knowledge that might be put to good use. Better that we are hushed up completely.

I wonder what they would think about condoms for books to prevent the transmission of ideas. I'm all for it. How about condoms made of kevlar for anything written by Ayn Rand, although the Gary Cooper movie "The Fountainhead" ain't half bad. But, I mean, that virulent selfish crapola has got to be bad for us. Especially the disgust I'm elicited to feel for the homeless as I step over them. I might catch socialism, although, as in the old joke, I think I gave it to myself years ago.

I wanna spray my kid with a protective gel every time he gets close to reading any column by drama queen Michelle Malkin in the local paper. Bad cooties there.

And for God's sake, keep Grover Norquist's simian eructations away from Slartibartfast. ;) He might like it.

O.K. Gotta go read every book on the forbidden list. Is there any sex in the Communist Manifesto? What page?

Hilzoy, I don't think many people believe that reading a book is going to immediately indoctrinate their kids, but surely you don't believe that reading those books had no effect on you at all. Are you exactly the same person you would have been if you'd never read them? I don't agree with the banners (although I'm not sure that's the right word, as Kevin suggests), but I think I understand some of their motivation.

i'm gonna go out on a limb and say that book banning is essentially a conservative action, regardless of who does it. the desire to limit exposure to unwelcome thoughts and ideas fits well with the non-partisan definitions of "conservative":

  • Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.
  • Traditional or restrained in style: a conservative dark suit.
  • Moderate; cautious: a conservative estimate.

saw away...

John, I don't know about socialism, but apparently you can catch homosexuality and other forms of sin:

She reached across the table and touched my hand. “I have to tell you, the spiritual battle is very real.” We are surrounded by demons, she explained, reciting the lessons she had learned in her small-group studies at New Life. The demons are cold, they need bodies, they long to come inside. People let them in in two different ways. One is to be sinned against. “Molested,” suggested Linda. The other is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. You could walk by sin—a murder, a homosexual act—and a demon will leap onto your bones. Cities, therefore, are especially dangerous.

Good comment, Jes.

I love "Huckleberry Finn."

The answer is not to ban, but to read more.

You could read the speeches of Martin Luther King as an antidote. And if blacks are really pissed off, and who wasn't, or isn't, read some Malcolm X or Eldridge Cleaver, or a biography of John Brown for that matter. If that's no good, read some Dinesh D'Souza or Charles Murray. Then take a bath and go back and read "Soul on Ice" again, because you'll need to.

Cleek, what if the books being banned are books that support "traditional values" and oppose change?

I'm one of those no-good liberal parents who allows his (now 14-year-old) child to read anything. I haven't seen any problems with it, though recommending Huck Finn (I don't trust liberals who want to ban it, they don't seem capable of thinking or understanding how culture changes over time) doesn't seem to have worked to get him to read it. He finds the writing style too dated. Instead, he talks me into reading Infinite Jest (completely misleading comparison for those unfamiliar with it: Catcher in the Rye for the turn of the century) something that would have been on the list of banned books if any of these reactionaries had bothered to read it.

KCinDC:

Yes, Colorado Springs the nasty city is 60 miles to the south of me. I never stray too far from the highway, for fear of book inspections. Just kidding.

Although I'm thinking of writing a book called "Reading Lolita in Colorado Springs", but I certainly wouldn't read it.

"Is there any sex in the Communist Manifesto?"

I think only Univ of Chicago students can use "sex" and "Communist Manifesto" in the same sentence and end up getting any (err...sex that is, although the occasional manifesto, communist or otherwise, has been known to show up in the course of such flirtations).

Outside of the more specific book-banning issue, Nat Hentoff has the excellent Free Speech For Me, But Not For The, detailing censorship efforts by both left and right; and there's another book whose name I can't recall, from within the last four years, discussing censorship efforts from both sides in school textbooks and testing material.

Also, unless it was a very amazing typo, I believe "Kevin T. Keith" violated the posting rules in his first sentence.

KCinDC: the reason I wrote what I did is that the idea behind banning books, I would have thought, is that certain ideas or themes are contagious. We can't expect kids to assess those books, decide for themselves which are the parts they like and which are the parts they don't, reject some books altogether as vile, and so forth. Since one of the effects of my reading was precisely to force me to become a critical reader at an early age, I don't get this at all.

And I have to say that the focus on the Harry Potter books, of all things, is completely bizarre: they are (imho) deeply moral books.

...what if the books being banned are books that support "traditional values" and oppose change?

any examples ?

i suppose one can always argue that since people have different traditions, banning a book always preserves someone's traditions.

To me, and to many readers on this thread, the idea that "it's just a book" is so noncontroversial, that it's difficult to understand how others don't see it that way. Here's a thought:

Does the urge to ban books stem in part from the Judeo-Christian focus on The Book as scripture? When your religion is built on the notion that there's a book that issues ethical commands, what to (not) do, etc., is it that much harder to accept the existence of books that don't "tell you" to do anything at all?

Is it that much harder for someone raised in the tradition of "The Book" to read (say) Sade while rejecting any notion that the exhortations of the author are safely & easily ignored?

(Because, I think it's safe to say, Sade really DOES want readers to adopt the beliefs he's expressing. Cf. "Philosophy in the Bedroom.")

Don't worry, John. They'll have you prayed out of the area soon, along with the other witches.

Wasn't there a long discussion about Jr. H.S. kids reading Naked Lunch on this board a while back?

When I was a teen, I used to read every book I could find that someone, preferably Falwell, had declared evil and in need of banning. (Though I never did get through Joyce's Ulysses.) Maybe declaring certain books off limits will encourage kids to read them.

I do worry about some books warping my kids.I worry, frex, about my advanced reader 8yo stumbling on porn and reading that. My worry is that what I consider sick attitudes (that sex is dirty, or that objectification is sexy) catching hold. What I try to do, then, is to "inoculate" rather than provide an antidote. I try to expose her to material which shows that the body is healthy and wonderful, that explains reproduction, that explains privacy, etc, so that hopefully, when she does stumble across porn (*does warding off gesture*), she'll be repelled rather than aroused.

Cleek, I'm talking about efforts from the "left" (in some sense) to "ban" books like Huck Finn because they believe they support racism or sometimes sexism, which would be "traditional values". I don't understand what's conservative about such efforts. Certainly most book banning comes from conservatives, but I don't agree that it all does (and that the "PC" book banners are closet conservatives). (I think I've used up my quota of scare quotes for the week.)

And I agree with Phil about Kevin's third-grade gratuitous insult. Not sure how I overlooked it before.

Also, unless it was a very amazing typo, I believe "Kevin T. Keith" violated the posting rules in his first sentence.

Hmmm...I missed that. Yes, Kevin, please confirm that was a typo or see the Posting rules. We seriously frown on such things around here.

"..I believe Kevin T Keith violated the posting rules in his first sentence."

Yeah, that wasn't very nice. And if it was a typo, what a typo. But, I'm curious as to who Kevin thinks Jes is, given the content of his post.

(Because, I think it's safe to say, Sade really DOES want readers to adopt the beliefs he's expressing. Cf. "Philosophy in the Bedroom.")

Posted by: Anderson | June 2, 2005 08:32 AM

If you get that from Sade, you missed the point.

He didn't care whether you accepted or regected his beliefs.

His nihilism was not to be proselytized...it was not political.

Cleek, I'm talking about efforts from the "left" (in some sense) to "ban" books like Huck Finn because they believe they support racism or sometimes sexism, which would be "traditional values".

you're right. that doesn't fulfill the "Favoring traditional views and values" definition.

and i'm not sure why, but that Huck Finn ban still seems "conservative" to me. maybe it's because telling someone that something is Bad and Shouldn't Be Read feels like a conservative idea, even when the reason behind the "bad" isn't. a Real Liberal would give everyone the opportunity to evaluate ideas on their own, and not make lists of what's approved and what's banned.

These people are nuts. Underlying their rhetoric is the notion of immorality as contagion, which spreads through contact. It's a truly weird and utterly arational picture of the human subject. Also, it speaks to the fragility of traditional (read: white evangelical) morality. I think that's why the Charlotte Simmons book struck such a chord with these people: the protaganist's moral code was so fragile & uninterrogated that mere contact with the impurity of others was enough to make it crumble.

... and let me add:

the morally-weak liberal who won't say X Is Bad, Y Is Good is a favored punching bag of conservatives everywhere. so, when a liberal makes a hard distinction about a book, it seems like a conservative thing to do.

time for lunch.. blood sugar at record lows.

Hilzoy--We can't expect kids to assess those books, decide for themselves which are the parts they like and which are the parts they don't, reject some books altogether as vile, and so forth. Since one of the effects of my reading was precisely to force me to become a critical reader at an early age, I don't get this at all.

But that is exactly the point. Critical thinking is not something that book banners (of any stripe) care about. A book banner is not at all interested in the fact that someone who once read Nietzsche and went through a nihilistic phase then went on to read Arendt later and came out the other side as a fairly well adjusted adult. Critical thought is unnecessary so long as the child is provided with the correct worldview from the beginning and never deviate from it.

That is why book banners do not care about process or method or net results. There are certain viewpoints that are just wrong, and to entertain them for even a moment shows a dangerous lack of judgement on the part of humanity. The fact that someone has read a book and grown out of it just raises the spectre that someone else could read it and never grow out of it. That is what haunts the book banner.

Neodude, why don't you think Sade wanted to "proselytize"?

From the Intro to "La philosophie dans le boudoir":

Jeunes filles trop longtemps contenues dans les liens absurdes et dangereux d'une vertu fantastique et d'une religion dégoûtante, imitez l'ardente Eugénie; détruisez, foulez aux pieds, avec autant de rapidité qu'elle, tous les préceptes ridicules inculqués par d'imbéciles parents.
Seems pretty straightforward to me, though he does omit the part about the red waxed thread.

remember that old hymn:

"'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free"

far too many evangelicals believe that certain ideas [e.g. homosexuality is normal] are so dangerous that any discussion of them must be banned.

It's astonishing that books like the Turner Diaries aren't on the list.

Although I'd like to think I scarcely have to say I'm thoroughly opposed to "banning" any books, and a lifelong defender of the First Amendment and the ACLU, I'd like to stand up for the notion that, in fact, books are dangerous. Good books can be highly dangerous. Good books contain ideas, and ideas are contagious, and that's most dangerous, indeed.

And that's a, uh, goldarn good thing! But let no one ever say that books and ideas and knowledge can't be powerful, society-changing, dangerous things. Look what Uncle Tom's Cabin did to slavery. Look indeed at the power of Marx's words, and Hitler's, and Thomas Jefferson's, and Thomas Paine's. And, yes, the Bible and the Torah and the Koran.

Books can be the most dangerous things in the world. And how empty and different our world would be were this not true!

"Why this draconian overreaction to ideas? How do ideas threaten them?"

How did Common Sense threaten British rule in America? How did the Declaration of Independence? How did samizdata help lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union? How did Keynesian theory change economics? How did Einstein change physics? Through the power of writing.

There's nothing more threatening to the world than ideas, than words. Not H-bombs, nor anthrax, nor bubonic plague. Words, ideas, knowledge, books: the most threatening and dangerous things imaginable.

Do you really want to argue that point, Edward?

Needless to say (but apparently not), if books, writing, ideas, and speech have no power, no danger, then we have no need for a First Amendment to protect them. If words are pointless, meaningless, things which change no one's mind, there is no reason whatever to value them, and banning them is as okay as forbidding smoking or chewing gum.

It's only because words are important, powerful, dangerous, that we must protect them, guard them, value them, defend them, and make them available.

To declare that books, ideas, and knowledge, have no value, no power, no danger, is to stand against the First Amendment and free speech. Surely this should be entirely obvious?

Seems pretty straightforward to me, though he does omit the part about the red waxed thread.

Posted by: Anderson

I stand corrected…I think.

When we begin to deal with nihilistic thought, “force of will” becomes the standard of truth. Not the conversion of the mind/soul through discourse. Pluralism and discourse are an Enlightenment pipe-dream, acording to modern Sadist.

Kind-of off the point, but it can put De Sade, James Dobeson and the NeoCons in context.

The negative discourses of the postmodern reflected a pessi¬mistic take on the trajectories of modern societies. Toynbee, Mills, Bell, Steiner, and others saw Western societies and culture in decline, threatened by change and instability, as well as by the new developments of mass society and culture. The negative discourse of the postmodern thus posits a crisis for Western civilization at the end of the modern world. This pessimistic and apocalyptic discourse would be reproduced in postmodern theor¬ists like Baudrillard. The negative cultural discourse of Howe, Steiner, Bell and others would also prepare the way for the neo-conservative attacks on contemporary culture in the 1980s.

[…]

Thus, by the 1980s, the postmodern discourses were split into cultural conservatives decrying the new developments and avant-gardists celebrating them. Postmodern discourses were proliferat¬ing through different academic fields and by the 1980s debates erupted concerning breaks with modernity, modernism, and modern theory. More extreme advocates of the postmodern were calling for ruptures with modern discourses and the development of new theories, politics, modes of writing, and values. While the discussions of postmodern cultural forms were primarily initiated in North America, it was in France that Baudrillard and Lyotard were developing notions of a new postmodern era that were much more comprehensive and extreme than those produced earlier in Britain and the United States. The developments in postmodern theory in France constituted a rupture with the French rationalist tradition founded by Descartes and further developed in the French Enlightenment. New French Theory can be read as one of a series of revolts against Cartesian rationalism ranging from the Enlightenment attack on theoretical reason in favour of promoting rational social change, through Comte and Durkheim’s revolt against philosophical rationalism in favour of social science, to Sartre and Merleau-Ponty’s attempts to make philosophy serve the needs of concrete human existence. As we shall see in the next section, French structuralism, poststructuralism, and postmodern theory constituted a series of attacks on rationalist and Enlighten¬ment theory. Yet these critiques built on another French counter-Enlightenment tradition rooted in the critiques of reason by de Sade, Bataille, Artaud, and others whom Habermas (1987a) terms ‘the dark writers of the bourgeoisie’. A French ‘dandy’ and bohemian tradition stemming from Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and others also helped produce the aestheticized, ironic, and subver¬sive ethos of French postmodern theory. In addition, the French reception of Nietzsche and Heidegger played a major role in turning French theory away from Hegel, Marx, phenomenology and existentialism and toward development of new theoretical formations that eventually produced postmodern theory.

From:
In Search of the Postmodern

http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/pomo/ch1.html

See also Jim Henley, by the way.

"If I'm missing something here, I'd be happy to learn what it is."

Have I helped at all, Edward?

fwiw: I did not mean to deny that books are dangerous and challenging and earthshaking; just the (to me) completely different idea that they just march into your head uncriticized and unquestioned and set up shop. Only some such idea, I think, could possibly explain the urge to ban Harry Potter. That is all ;)

All that to suggest Michele Foucault and James Dobson are both anti-Enlightened tyrants.

But it seems the religious anti-modernist/Enlightenment is eager to use the force of the State to implement their vision, while the a-religious are happy to keep their vision away from the government as long as the government stays away from them.

Perhaps this will help explain why social conservatives go batshit over Harry Potter. :>

I think 'dangerous' needs to be treated as a transitive adjective here, meaning dangerous to whom? As Gary elucidates, books are always dangerous to those who thrive on ignorance. . generally the authoritarians. However, the strong implication of the moral [sic] majority [sic] is that the books must be removed because they are dangerous to the reader. This is the idea that I believe Edward is askance at. And I'm inclined to agree with him. I've never seen any evidence, data or anecdotal, that reading any book has caused great harm to a reader, and on the flip side I have enormous anecdotal evidence that reading just about anything has enriched the reader.

Have I helped at all, Edward?

Always, Mr. Farber. ;-)

They ARE afraid of books

Very disappointing, Edward. I urge you to get back to your happy place and retitle this post.

Slarti...

what? did you miss the smiley face?

seriously though...if you can counter the ALA spokesperson's claim that bannings increase significantly when conservatives are in power, please do so.

re: Sade

Jes- Important question...when you say you "could cheerfully see [120 Days of Sodom] burned," does that include all copies of the work and does that extend to Sade's other writings?

NeoDude--Sade and Bataille are absolutely a part of post-structuralist and postmodern discourses. But that does not mean that they have been embraced prima facie but rather that they are situated as a response to other discourses (you know this, but some of the rampaging anti-postmodernist culture warriors miss this entirely). Sade is mostly read for his anarchistic utopian ideals and formulation of power rather than for his teenage satanist fixation on sexual cruelty. Also, there is currently some push-back from scholars of the early modern period against post-structuralism and postmodernism as "anti-enlightenment", arguing that they are more precisely anti-romanticist. I think these critiques are currently in flux and postmodernism is going to emerge from the crucible somewhat changed. At least that is how it looks from here.

"I've never seen any evidence, data or anecdotal, that reading any book has caused great harm to a reader...."

Say, would you like to take a personality test?

How about a nice read of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion? No harm ever came from that one!

Was anyone damaged by the ideas of Father Charles Coughlin and his "Social Justice"? Nah, they only picked up good ideas.

And these persuaded no one of nothing! Right?

And the words of Fred Phelps: only beneficial!

Should people be prevented from reading any book? No. Has no one ever gotten terrible ideas from a book, ideas which changed their life in a terrible way? Obviously, yes.

Edward, while I agree 100% with the premise of this post, I have to agree with Slart. It begs a question that is a posting rules violation: to wit, if one of us said "conservatives are afraid of books/conservatives want to ban books", it would be a generalization worthy of a warning.

Again, this is not to register disagreement with the premise, which I think is accurate: fundamentalists, social conservatives, and right-wing politicians have a far stronger track record of trying to ban ideas the find objectionable.

Well...I was just so...so unaware that I had this deep-seated aversion to the written word. Shocking, really, to a guy who's devoted a sizable quantity of wall space to bookshelves.

Oh, and as for the ALA's claim: laughable. Look, this is a school board voting to remove books from the curriculum, not the US Congress outlawing books. Is it your/their contention that the demographic makeup of the school district changes radically as a function of who's in power in D.C.?

Is it your/their contention that the demographic makeup of the school district changes radically as a function of who's in power in D.C.?

No, I think the argument is that the urge is always there, but when a more liberal government is in place the book banners feel less empowered and raise their voices less often.

By the way. You were right. The title was out of bounds. I'm sorry. It seemed sort of cute this morning, but as the day wears on, I can see where it may not come across that way.

Catsy.

Yeah, Catsy, I would have brought that up, but I've been in meetings all day long. And yes, I wouldn't have any issue at all with some case being made for some Conservatives being more likely to be in favor of banning books than some Liberals, but I'd still want to see the evidence.

Thanks, Edward, and in defense of the not-noticing-the-smiley: imagine if it were you; would you have even made it that far?

I'm sorry.

No worries, Edward. I actually was expecting a great deal more disagreement, and for the record I've been rather grouchy myself the last few days.

but when a more liberal government is in place the book banners feel less empowered and raise their voices less often

Sounds rather oppressive. 8p

I am not rabidly anti-postmodern, by any means...but I share Habermas's critique...that it has hi-jacked much of the left's energy.

Many activists focused on the "symbols of culture and power" and away from the "economics of culture and power". Wages and labor and became boring.

Many on the left began to resemble right-winging Christians....You know...focusing on Janet Jackson's nipple and Terri Schivo, while the economic rug is being pulled from under them.

How many young leftists spent as much time preserving labour rights as they spend on defeating the oppressive and tyranical gender-specific symbols on public restrooms?

Sounds rather oppressive. 8p

relative to the alternative, I'd say appropriately so.

Slarti--Sounds rather oppressive. 8p

We're all sworn to do the bidding of our evil overlords, the school librarians.

I, for one...ok, not really.

How many young leftists spent as much time preserving labour rights as they spend on defeating the oppressive and tyranical gender-specific symbols on public restrooms?

That characterizes a phase in the whole post-whatever dialogue, and just shows that young academics are just as vulnerable to getting carried away with things as paranoid PTA book banners. It's like taking Andrea Dworkin as representative of all feminists everywhere, or Phyllis Schlafly as representative of all evangelical women. There is much more to post-structuralism/postmodernism/post-colonialism than Habermas (or Sokol) would credit, and criticism are listened to and responded to. Post-(insert whipping-boy here) is not forever frozen in 1990's amber.

Post-(insert whipping-boy here) is not forever frozen in 1990's amber.

You got me there.

One thing that's missing from this discussion is the idea that children are not miniature adults, and thus aren't necessarily affected by books in the same way that adults are. Kevin above thinks that 17-year-olds need to be protected not just from a book but from a single word, and I have no problem disagreeing with that. But I'm not as comfortable dismissing votermom's concerns about her 8-year-old, especially since I'm not a parent. Of course parents can't shelter their children from everything, but perhaps it's not unreasonable for them to be able to shelter them from some things, sometimes -- preferably without having to move to a shack in the Montana wilderness.

perhaps it's not unreasonable for them to be able to shelter them from some things, sometimes

Jeez, d'ya think?? This is a silly thread -- first of all, the ALA uses the inflammatory word "banned", conjuring up images of book-burnings, when all that's generally on the table is what's available on the shelf in a school library. There are all kinds of books (and other media) that are "banned" in this sense, and rightly so -- even if a small percentage of parents embrace an "anything goes" policy, and even if their children generally turn out OK, it's not unreasonable for school libraries to accomodate the dominant parenting style in this country, in which children are protected from being exposed to certain material.


Thanks to Nous and Neodude for some interesting comments. My own, perhaps simplistic reading of Sade is that he's "anti-Enlightenment" in much the same way as Rousseau. Except that Rousseau imagined the state of nature rather differently than Sade did.

Attempts to turn Sade into a cunning ironist are, I suspect, fig leaves. "Yes, I read Sade, but only for the irony."

As for the "books CAN be dangerous," well sure, if their ideas are acted upon. What the censors miss is the notion that I can read Hitler without being motivated to become a Nazi. Indeed, Mein Kampf must be one of the least dangerous books in the world; any liberal on this thread could make Nazism sound sexier than Hitler does.

in which children are protected from being exposed to certain material.

hmmm...try reading the article KenB. Stay focused on the fact that the book in question had been part of the regular curriculum for years, teachers swore by it, and NOW the damn thing is being banned. Not moved from a shelf, but actually, literally locked in a vault in the principals office.


And if it was a typo, what a typo.

FWIW, my pseud is sufficiently long and complex that I tend to assume that any mispelling is accidental and without malice aforethought.

nous_a: Jes- Important question...when you say you "could cheerfully see [120 Days of Sodom] burned," does that include all copies of the work and does that extend to Sade's other writings?

Well, as I said: I really don't believe in burning books, and in fact I didn't even burn the copy of 120 Days of Sodom I had been given. (Not leant. The friend who gave it to me said emphatically that he didn't want it back.) I donated it to a charity in a stack of other books and thus put on their shoulders the problem of what to do with it.

And I've never read anything else deSade ever wrote, nor wish to.

But, principles about censorship aside (though I don't think they should ever be put aside) I could wish that 120 Days of Sodom had been thrown out with the trash from deSade's cell in the Bastille, and never, ever seen print. Does that answer your question?

KenB, I don't believe that "the dominant parenting style in this country" includes protecting children from Harry Potter or Huck Finn, unless I'm misunderstanding what you intend by the word "dominant".

So the real complaint is not that conservatives/liberals/people are "afraid of books", but that there are certain books that certain conservatives are trying to have removed from schools that you feel should remain. Is that about right? If that's all you're saying, I agree entirely -- it seems silly to me too to want to ban Harry Potter. But IMO, to refer to this as "banning", by people who are "afraid of books", is over the top.

"hmmm...try reading the article KenB. [...] ...NOW the damn thing is being banned. Not moved from a shelf, but actually, literally locked in a vault in the principals office."

Um.

"In fact, on April 14, as soon as Dr. Yarworth discovered that an overzealous underling had had copies of the novel stored in the school vault, he ordered them returned to storage in classrooms so it could still be read by students who sought it out."

It's probably a good idea to reread an article before instructing someone to reread an article. So I've found, anyway.

You know, when I first moved to southern California, right out of grad school, suddenly there were no guys at all who were not either married, or in a relationship that was the moral equivalent of marriage, or gay, or my students. In the first three years I was there, I met a total of three guys who didn't fall into one or another of these categories. One was completely, and I mean completely, silent; one was nice but I had no chemistry at all with him, and one ...

Well, he decided that the way to flirt with me was to go all cosmopolitan and all, and so he leaned over and said, in this oh so sophisticated way: have you read de Sade? No, I said, a bit taken aback. Oh, you should, he said; his La Philosophie Dans La Boudoire is a truly profound criticism of modernity, and I'd be happy to lend it to you. It's one of my favorite books.

It was all I could do to keep myself from asking whether, if he were trying to pick up someone who was Jewish, he'd come on to them by bringing up his admiration for Love Slaves of Treblinka, or something.

I should say that while I have not read any actual book by de Sade, I have had friends who have, and who have helpfully explained to me exactly why I shouldn't bother, and what's in them, so I had some basis for this reaction.

Edward and others,

You may want to check out, if you are not already familiar with them, “All that is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity” by Marshall Berman, “Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right” by Lisa McGirr, “What’s the Matter with Kansas” by Thomas Frank, and the classic “The Emerging Republican Majority” by Kevin Phillips.

In the wake of the failure of liberalism and social welfare policies to address the problems in America (think race riots, ghettos/housing/suburban sprawl, civil rights, consumer economy, etc. at the end of the ‘60s), Conservatives have turned away from the social science foundation that informed liberal policies (generally the period from the New Deal to the Great Society – and its failure (why John Maynard Keynes is on the list)) and turned toward faith, rejecting secular humanism and embracing moral absolutes (why Nietzsche shows up on the list: the replacement of God with science – if we can understand the world through science, there is no longer a need to lay its mysteries at the feet of God). Over the last couple of generations, with what they understand as the failure of science-based, liberal, social welfare policies, Conservatives are searching for “something solid” in an upsetting, complex, dynamic, modern world, and they are not too keen on suffering a continuation of previous approaches or anything which might compromise the certainty or solutions they are after.

It seems to me, the problems many Americans from all points on the political spectrum are trying to resolve have a lot more to do with the constant growthmanship of unregulated capitalism, corporatism, the infallibility of the free market as an article of faith, and the nature of America’s consumer economy. But that’s another discussion.

In re the list provided by cleek: What do many of them have in common? Most point out, at least potential, flaws in American institutions, policies, and ideas (Marx, Engels, and Mao have three books in the top ten – a communist, as it was used by many in the US, is most usefully understood as a euphemism for anyone who criticized the US) and thereby call into question the “solidity” that Conservatives seek.

“Silent Spring”?! Good God!

Phyllis Schlafly is one of the judges? Can’t the Conservatives do better? In the same breath she pretends to support the Constitution while bashing its system of checks and balances. How anyone takes her seriously . . .

"Should people be prevented from reading any book? No. Has no one ever gotten terrible ideas from a book, ideas which changed their life in a terrible way? Obviously, yes."

This is, roughly, the same argument put forth by those opposed to violent video games or movies on the grounds that -- even if most people are benignly affected -- people predisposed to violence will be sent over the edge into violent behavior. In that case it's quite clear to me that the blame is not with the material, it's with the sociopathy of the person inflamed by it. And by the same argument I maintain that no harm has ever been inflicted on anyone by a book (barring the occasional failure of a poorly installed bookcase).

That harm is inflicted on people by ignorance, fear, delusion, and samsara is a fact I would of course never argue.

The top three entries from Edward's post:

1. A collection of American folk tales
2. A tolerant appreciation of homosexual parents
3. An autobiography of black experience

Scary indeed.

BlondbutBright writes:

"I think it has to do with the principle found in Ecclesiastes 1:18: "For in much wisdom is much grief; and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow."

Stupid = happy, right?"

"Vanity of vanities; all is vanity." “Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry” (a refrain repeated three times in Ecclesiastes). Because tomorrow we're dead: “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.”

I wonder if the notion that the ideas in a book can “infect” a reader might be influenced by belief in “evil spirits”?

Hilzoy: It was all I could do to keep myself from asking whether, if he were trying to pick up someone who was Jewish, he'd come on to them by bringing up his admiration for Love Slaves of Treblinka, or something.

Expressing disgust for and a wish to violently abuse Jews is socially unacceptable.

Expressing disgust for and a wish to violently abuse women is somehow... not unacceptable.

while I have not read any actual book by de Sade, I have had friends who have, and who have helpfully explained to me exactly why I shouldn't bother, and what's in them

I'd read various political and literary discussions of de Sade's writing, but nothing had prepared me for the lickchop style of it: nothing could, except actually reading it.

Curiously enough, the one thing I know about de Sade besides his literary and sexual history is that he was invited to sit on a tribunal, after his release from the Bastille by the revolutionaries, but was expelled from it because he refused to condemn anyone to death. I understand the difference between what someone fantasises about and what their principles permit them in reality: but just the same, I have no wish to share de Sade's fantasies, not even at two centuries remove, no matter how well-written they may be.

Still, I do have a strong feeling against my wishes, and my feelings, being allowed to dictate what others shall read.

I had a right to decide that I wanted to judge de Sade's writing for myself. I may now wish I hadn't, but I'm entitled to make my own mistakes. I object to others deciding on my behalf what I may and may not read, and that is ultimately what censorship is.

Whatever the usual political label of the censor, it is a reactionary position to take: an intolerable degree of elitism and lack of respect for others to be allowed to make their own decisions. That is more usually a right-wing position than a left-wing position, perhaps, but I do see it happening on both sides - and being decried by both sides.

(Parents may have a general concern about the contents of school libraries, but I think that's pure parental overprotectiveness and refusal to believe their children are as mature as they were at their age - and that too is common to both left and right.)

The issue here doesn't seem so much to be a desire on the part of some to ban books from the public sphere, but rather who gets to decide what tools a teacher will use to teach children.

The tools in most other classes are pretty straightforward, numbers in Math, chemicals in Chemistry, saws in Woodshop etc. etc. These tools help the teacher teach two things: 1) Basic understanding of the course in question and 2) How to think about solving problems related to the course. Very few people will argue with the rational behind those teachers' decisions about which tools to use, except where a teacher may wish s/he had better equipment that the district can't afford. But the tools in English classes are different. IIRC, once a standard level of reading is met, English begins to become about how to think about a great many issues (not just history or Economics). The tools are books, about which everyone has an opinion, and one that is difficult to shout down with a degree in the way a Chemistry teacher might if provoked.

That's why this line from the article disappointed me, not with the article, but with the people involved: that reading lists made available to parents include a ratings system, plot summaries of all assigned books, and the identification of any potentially objectionable content.

Nowhere is there a place where the teacher describes why that book was chosen. If there were, perhaps that which may seem objectionable would be seen as necessary to make a point with the students.

any liberal on this thread could make Nazism sound sexier than Hitler does..

Sure, Hitler was a mediocre writer in a language that is seldom accused of being sexy. On the other hand, Hitler knew how to make a gesture and make the people into a big part of the show. He could persuade with oration that went beyond words. Every liberal could learn a bit about getting the base revved up from Hitler. Riefenstahl's film about the Nuremberg rally shows us spectacular theatre, theatre that is so timeless that Disney could redo it in Lion King sixty years later, and it was still effective, though attenuated by the animation.

"I think it has to do with the principle found in Ecclesiastes 1:18: "For in much wisdom is much grief; and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow."

I would imagine, the author of that passage is not promoting anti-intellectualism or even suggesting the infamous “Jerusalem vs. Athens” dichotomy.

Instead, the passage seems to suggest a humbling position concerning knowledge.

Many pastors would do well, to act with more humility when attempting to show off their perceived knowledge concerning scrpiture and hermeneutics…I could be wrong though, and he really is suggesting that “ignorance is bliss.”

Well, he decided that the way to flirt with me was to go all cosmopolitan and all, and so he leaned over and said, in this oh so sophisticated way: have you read de Sade? No, I said, a bit taken aback. Oh, you should, he said; his La Philosophie Dans La Boudoire is a truly profound criticism of modernity, and I'd be happy to lend it to you. It's one of my favorite books.

That is too funny, and a great scene for a movie. Would that everyone were so candid on a first date; those who are interested in such things could reciprocate, and the rest of us could run like hell.

(Has anyone read Mary Gaitskill's Two Girls, Fat & Thin? The "Hegelian" boyfriend comes to mind.)

Sure, Hitler was a mediocre writer in a language that is seldom accused of being sexy.

Heine is said to've had some success in that respect, tho I can't say.

Anderson asks:

"Does the urge to ban books stem in part from the Judeo-Christian focus on The Book as scripture?"

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us . . ."

"This is, roughly, the same argument put forth by those opposed to violent video games or movies on the grounds that -- even if most people are benignly affected -- people predisposed to violence will be sent over the edge into violent behavior."

Not so much the same thing, I think. Claiming that portrayals of violence, say, will lead to imitation is one thing (and something I'm utterly skeptical is statistically significant); noting that some historical ideas have had bad results -- such as those from Mein Kampf is really quite another, I think. Imitation is one thing; an influential social idea is another.

In any case, observing that ideas have consequences -- is this actually contestable? -- is entirely different from advocating the banning of ideas.

Anderson: the thing of it was, we weren't even on a date. He taught where I did, and was chatting me up while we were taking a speaker out to dinner.

Actually -- I hadn't thought of this person for some time -- the next time we spoke, which was after another lecture, while walking another speaker to another dinner, I tried to not talk to him, but was unsuccessful, and he asked whether we might get together on some specific evening, and I said, no, I would be preparing for class, and would be nervous. He said he was never nervous; I said I always was, because whenever I taught, however much (or little) I prepared, everything would fly out of my head right before class, and then I would open my mouth and magically, something coherent would come out, but I was never sure whether or not this would happen, since it did not seem to be in any way under my control.

"Ah", he said, "like worrying about whether one is going to get an erection."

(His actual words. Recall, this was the second (2nd) time we had met.)

This time I did say what leapt to mind, which was a rather chilly "Frankly, I wouldn't know about that."

I hadn't thought about that person for at least five years, what with no longer teaching at the same college. With any luck, I won't think about him for at least the next five.

"BlondbutBright writes"

Who? What? Where? Why?

Is Google paying you to make people go find obscure references? (Am I in violation of a new law against citing?)

:-)

Claiming that portrayals of violence, say, will lead to imitation is one thing (and something I'm utterly skeptical is statistically significant); noting that some historical ideas have had bad results -- such as those from Mein Kampf is really quite another, I think. Imitation is one thing; an influential social idea is another.

Ironically, I think that Mein Kampf is a textbook example of why banning even the most vile books is a bad idea. After all, Hitler very carefully described what his plans were if he ever gained power in Mein Kampf--if the leaders of Western Europe had simply read it carefully and taken him at his word, it would have been blatantly obvious that what needed to be done after the Nazis rose to power was to seize on the first significant violation of the Treaty of Versailles--either the German occupation of the Rhineland or beginning to rebuild the German Air Force--and use it as a reason to sweep in, slaughter the German Army if it put up any resistance, and hang Der Furher and all of the other Nazi leadership from the nearest trees. Barring such an obvious warning, such a step might have been excessive and a tad paranoid. In other words, even a pile of racist filth written by a homicidal would-be genocidal maniac had some potential value--the fact that Europe foolishly failed to heed it doesn't change that.

"In any case, observing that ideas have consequences -- is this actually contestable? -- is entirely different from advocating the banning of ideas."

Oh, sure. The disagreement now rests on whether the blame lies with the idea, or the book as its vehicle, or the mind receptive to terrible ideas when something bad happens. At which point it borders on a semantic debate and has the meat stripped from its bones.

But it raises the point that the best way to protect your children or citizens against terrible ideas is to instill in them a faculty to evaluate ideas and an ethos to evaluate them against -- certainly not to try to insulate them from all bad ideas, which is a sisyphean task if ever there was one. *cough*sex ed*cough*.

I hadn't thought about that person for at least five years, what with no longer teaching at the same college. With any luck, I won't think about him for at least the next five.

I don't know, I think you've got the makings of a good short story/memoir-essay there ... What a hoot (from the safe perspective of reading about it, if not from that of living it!).

Right here in the Seattle area people want to ban books. The latest was Huckleberry Finn because it had the n-word.

"Ironically, I think that Mein Kampf is a textbook example of why banning even the most vile books is a bad idea."

I'm not clear what's ironic, in the absense of anyone here arguing in favor of banning books.

"The latest was Huckleberry Finn because it had the n-word."

And still has it. :-)

I'm not clear what's ironic, in the absense of anyone here arguing in favor of banning books.

Ironic in the sense that the arguments for banning would seem to be strongest for something that actually did help to spread a vile ideology that ended up killing millions, yet when closely examined some very strong arguments for *not* banning it that are centered in that very vileness become obvious.

Now, if we were in a more Lovecraftian existence, I can think of a few books where burning with extreme prejudice might be wise lest they bring things that ooze and gibber crawling out of the darkness. . .

Isn't it obvious? Those wishing to ban books are not "conservative" at all. They are totalitarians. The range of Political opinion does not lie on a straight line -- it is a circle, and when you are at 180 degrees it seems there is a left side and a right side. But when youre at 360 degrees, the extremes are exactly the same.

Gary Farber,

In re: "BlondbutBright writes"

Who? What? Where? Why?

Is Google paying you to make people go find obscure references? (Am I in violation of a new law against citing?)

:-)"

Sorry if the reference was "obscure." The quote comes from BlondbutBright's post above - one of the first few in response to this topic. I assume we are all reading the posts, which is why I mention author before quote or otherwise provide website, book title, etc. Is there some protocol I am overlooking here?

Robb,

"Those wishing to ban books are not "conservative" at all. They are totalitarians."

I like the term "control addict" (borrowed from William S. Burroughs).

Otto says: "The quote comes from BlondbutBright's post above...."

Ah, at June 2, 2005 10:29 AM. My apologies; I simply missed that somehow, despite having done a "find" to check; my bad.

(On a separate niggling point, myself, I refer to posts as "posts" and comments on posts as "comments," but that's perhaps just me being a fussbudget.)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad