On the enemies - Matthew Walther in NYT:
‘Americans have found themselves subjected to the vague inducement to read a “banned” book since 1982, when the American Library Association and other groups began promoting Banned Books Week, a cloying festival of liberal self-aggrandizement annually celebrated (if that is the right verb) by publishers and booksellers. This year it runs from Oct. 1 through Oct. 7.
Banned Books Week is, or should be, eminently mockable. Its proponents trade on the moral currency of defiance (“See how brave we are, inviting people to read these daring books!”) but in practice they are doing the opposite — attempting to reify a consensus.’
‘In zero cases since the advent of Banned Books Week has a local or state ordinance been passed in this country that forbids the sale or general possession of any of the books in question. They have not been banned in the sense that, say, many of the works of the historian Frank Dikötter, the author of “Mao’s Great Famine,” are banned in mainland China.’
‘Regardless of whether administrators wish to acknowledge it, libraries are beholden to the communities they ostensibly serve (and on which they rely for funding) and their prevailing values. When “parents’ rights” groups object to the inclusion of sexually explicit books in public or school libraries — while often noting, correctly, that these books remain available in bookstores and online — they are engaged in fundamentally the same activity as their counterparts lobbying for the inclusion of such recent classics as “Worm Loves Worm.” After all, making room on the shelf involves sacrificing something you value less. Libraries are restricted by considerations of physical space (as we are frequently reminded when they discard older books without regard for their literary merit). It is impossible for any public library to own every book, or even a majority of worthwhile ones. If the mere fact of a book’s being unavailable in a given library is tantamount to its banning, then virtually all of the many hundreds of thousands of books published in America each year have fallen afoul of a censorship regime.’
‘n a statement endorsed by groups as varied as the American Library Association and the Unitarian Universalist Church, the coalition has claimed that such removals from libraries “not only violate the rights to freedom of expression and information of all community members, protected under the First Amendment, they endanger the well-being of the country’s most precious resource: its youth.” Stirring stuff, no doubt. But where, one wonders, are the letters asking why in the library’s online catalog there are no copies of “The Power and the Glory,” no “Don Quixote,” none of Anthony Trollope’s novels? And why are the works of Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein, the two most influential philosophers of the 20th century, absent?’
‘This attitude toward reading — in which the only well-meaning response to a text is uncritical approbation, and anything else is tantamount to censorship — is not only disingenuous but ultimately, I think, also hostile to literature itself. If no book invites our disapprobation, what is the value of our esteem? Having renounced our ability to issue moral verdicts, we may find ourselves incapable of reaching aesthetic ones as well, and of exercising the critical faculties that both require.’
‘Is enjoying a novel or a biography an act of performative box-ticking comparable to flying the Ukrainian flag or wearing a MAGA cap? If it is, the enemies of literature have already won.’
Read the article here.
Sure, China is preferable to the US. But perhaps the stand of China is a low standard.
And why are Heidegger and Wittgenstein not considered being ‘banned’? They are apparently absent but not (yet) banned. Unworthy to be banned probably.
Censors are very good readers. Coetzee wrote an essay about that topic.
Also, morality as a performative and symbolic act has its disadvantages.
The banning of books and the outcry that follows in certain circles seems to be the continuation of marketing, according to this article. But we should leave the possibility open that some people are genuinely disturbed that there are still folks that take books seriously.
Also, I’m not sure of the parents belonging to ‘parents rights groups’ know what they are doing.
Well, let’s hope that something happens to Heidegger. That there is one library willing to declare Heidegger banned.
We know where this will end. Unhappy authors asking, why haven’t I been banned?