In support of Banned Books Week (September 21-27, 2014)

 

Supposedly Thursday afternoon, somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard, a woman stares at her monitor with a furrowed brow caused by pain and confusion . . .

Reblogged from the Huffington Post:

Banned Books Week: How One Person With A Pen Taught Me All About Censorship

by Claire Fallon

When I was a college student, I majored in English literature, which meant that I got to read a lot of novels for class — and my course reading could be purchased for a song. Unlike my STEM classmates, most of my class syllabuses were filled with paperback novels and epic poems I could buy used for five bucks apiece at the campus bookstore.

When I bought a copy of The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides for a Contemporary Fiction class one semester, I applied my usual procedure: I grabbed a relatively clean-looking copy from the stack, flipped through the pages to check for excessive scribbling, and dropped it in my basket along with the 20-odd other books I was purchasing. A successful prelude to future learning, or so I thought.

When it came time to dig into the novel several weeks later, however, something went awry. As I read through the first few pages, my vision was suddenly assaulted by several dark, black scribbles covering lines of text. I was as viscerally shocked as if the book had, unaided, leapt out of my hands and whacked me over the head. I read on — and it happened again. More words covered by heavily, thoroughly crosshatched ballpoint pen. Having purchased many used student copies of novels before, no intrusive notes in the margin, underlining or aggressive highlighting would have been new to me — but this, this was new. I strained to see what words lay beneath the pen marks, but in vain; the scribbles were so firm and uniform that the pen had also imprinted bumpy, wide furrows into the page.

There was no getting around it: Someone, perhaps even one of my classmates at college, hadn’t wanted the future owners of this volume to read those few snippets of text.

virginsuicides

Unfortunately for that person, the year was not 1807 — it was 2009, and I had a way to find out those obliterated words right at my fingertips: Google. So it was only a few minutes before I found myself facing the revelation that the words my book’s defacer had objected to were: “‘Fuck the Holy Mother’ [...] ‘Fuck God'” and “telling God to fuck Himself all over again.” I couldn’t resist a bit of a chuckle — though I understood not everyone was comfortable with such language, even coming from the mouth of a fictional character, this was apparently the only thing the amateur censor had objected to in a book about the sexual objectification and gruesome suicides of five young girls.

virginsuicides2

In fact, only a few paragraphs before the first pen marks, Eugenides gently tweaks such unthinking primness, characterized in the staidly faithful Mr. Buell, who blames a girl’s suicide attempt on the lack of a picture of Jesus in her home: “Otherwise he persevered, and always gently corrected us when we took the Lord’s name in vain.” Mr. Buell’s faith, Eugenides reveals, hasn’t cured his shoulder injury, and his fixation on faith leads to unthinking cruelty in the form of blaming a family for their suffering. His focus on the town boys not taking the Lord’s name in vain seems to be a superficial effort toward their betterment at best. But only a page later, a reader had mimicked his blanket silencing of curse words, as if the complexities of Eugenides’s narrative hadn’t registered at all. The threads of religious propriety and faith continue to weave through the text, making those words part of a greater tapestry that the previous reader had chosen to partly obscure.

Thanks to the efforts of organizations like the American Library Association, I’d grown up with fairly free access to reading materials — including, yes, sometimes books that were somewhat too old for me or that weren’t worth reading (which, fortunately, never caused any damage, lasting or otherwise). This incident, as minor and absurd as it was, reminded me of how fortunate I had been to learn in such a free environment, but also that censorship, even for a rule-following, straight-laced type like myself, only stokes the desire to read the controversial material.

The ballpoint expurgation of my Virgin Suicides served less to shield me from its obscenities than to highlight them, perversely. I may have skipped lightly over those words had they not been scribbled out, barely noticing them; instead, I dedicated 10 minutes just to finding and reading them, as well as thinking about what could have compelled someone to blot them out, and as a result I can remember them easily years later. The scribbler took those despised words and made them the most visible elements of the book by deeming them unfit to be read.

Though I don’t believe those words should have been the most memorable in such a searing, stunningly crafted novel, which contained so much meant to provoke thought, I do think it’s right that we pay closer attention to those words and ideas people try to hide from view. Though some words may seem dangerous and worthy of hiding, confronting them is the only way of effectively combating them. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” Sometimes, the light merely shows us that our fear was always misplaced.

This Banned Books Week, here at HuffPost Books, we’re grateful for all the books that have startled us, unnerved us, and even angered us — and we’re glad that the ALA and others are working to ensure that readers in America will continue to be able to engage with groundbreaking, if sometimes upsetting and even offensive, texts that will keep people engaged with the difficult work of learning and growing.

                   

Music by Paolo Nutini, “Don’t Let Me Down” (Beatles’ Cover)


Related articles:

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc . . .

Berthe Morisot Fall Colors in the Bois de Boulogne 1888

“Fall Colors in the Bois de Boulogne” (1888, watercolor)
by Berthe Morisot


Two for Tuesday: Post hoc

Tuesday afternoon. Cloudy and cooler, 66 degrees.

It’s a “West Wing” kind of day . . .

Josh Lyman: Someone give me a river to forge, a serpent to slay.

C.J. Cregg: What’s his problem?

Donna Moss: He’s been drinking from the keg of glory. We’re to bring him all the muffins and bagels in the land.

Toby Ziegler: We heard.

Well if every week were to begin with a Monday like my yesterday, I doubt I would ever leave my bed. Let’s just say that it was a day worthy of Finagle’s Law of Dynamic Negatives: Anything that can go wrong, will—at the worst possible moment.

All three of my children were in crises, and I was in the midst of a massive migraine brought on by stress and lack of sleep. It was a mixture of illness, stress, bills, and life. Somehow we all muddled through and managed to take care of a few pressing issues. And somehow I was able to sleep last night, short bursts of sound sleep, interrupted by my dogs’ incessant need to wander into the back yard in the middle of the night and look around, sniff the air and . . . just stand there as if they had all of the time in the world.

Anyway, I talked to Corey last night, and he seemed to be in the midst of his arm of the Murphy’s corollary, with things not going all that well for him either. Sometimes, sleep is the only answer.

                   

Edvard Munch Elm Forest in Autumn 1919-20

“Elm Forest in Autumn” (1919-20)
by Edvard Munch

After All This

After all this love, after the birds rip like scissors
through the morning sky, after we leave, when the empty
bed appears like a collapsed galaxy, or the wake of
disturbed air behind a plane, after that, as the wind turns
to stone, as the leaves shriek, you are still breathing
inside my own breath. The lighthouse on the far point
still sweeps away the darkness with the brush of an arm.
The tides inside your heart still pull me towards you.
After all this, what are these words but mollusk shells
a child plays with? What could say more than the eloquence
of last night’s constellations? or the storm anchored by
its own flashes behind the far mountains? I remember
the way your body wavers under my touch like the northern
lights. After all this, I want the certainty of hidden roots
spreading in all directions from their tree. I want to hear
again the sky tangled in your voice. Some nights I can
hear the footsteps of the stars. How can these words
ever reveal the secret that waits in their sleeping light?
The words that walk through my mind say only what has
already passed. Beyond, the swallows are still knitting
the wind. After a while, the smokebush will turn to fire.
After a while, the thin moon will grow like a tear in a curtain.
Under it, a small boy kicks a ball against the wall of
a burned out house. He is too young to remember the war.
He hardly knows the emptiness that kindles around him.
He can speak the language of early birds outside our window.
Someday he will know this kind of love that changes
the color of the sky, and frees the earth from its moorings.
Sometimes I kiss your eyes to see beyond what I can imagine.
Sometimes I think I can speak the language of unborn stars.
I think the whole earth breathes with you. After all this,
these words are all I have to say what is impossible to think,
what shy dreams hide in the rafters of my heart, because
these words are only a form of touch, only tell you I have no life
that isn’t yours, and no death you couldn’t turn into a life.

~ Richard Jackson

                   

Anne Redpath A Borders River Landscape, Lyon and Turnbull, Edinburgh

“A Borders River Landscape, Lyon and Turnbull, Edinburgh” (nd, oil on board)
by Anne Redpath

The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray. When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

~ Stanley Kunitz

                   

Music by Great Lake Swimmers, “Moving Pictures Silent Films”

“September: it was the most beautiful of words, he’d always felt, evoking orange-flowers, swallows, and regret.” ~ Alexander Theroux, from Darconville’s Cat

Mark TObey Orange Leaves sumi ink on paper

“Orange Leaves” (1965, Sumi ink on paper)
by Mark Tobey


“Perhaps my life is nothing but an image of this kind; perhaps I am doomed to retrace my steps under the illusion that I am exploring, doomed to try and learn what I should simply recognize, learning a mere fraction of what I have forgotten.” ~ Andre Breton, from Nadja

Saturday, late afternoon. Mostly cloudy, 77 degrees. Make that Saturday night, 74 degrees.

So this is how my day began:

Dreaming: Nooooo. Make it stop. Make it stop . . . (pounds something imaginary then bolts upright)

Thinks to self: No. Wait. What was that? Seriously? Did I just dream that?

Says out loud to dogs: Whoa. You know it’s time to make yourself get up when Kris Jenner enters your dream.

Dog 1 to Dog 2: Is she having weird dreams again?

Dog 2 to Dog 1: Obviously. She’s already talking to us, and it isn’t even noon yet.

Seriously? Kris Jenner? Whyohwhyohwhy?!? Those K women are already everywhere, so I certainly don’t need them intruding upon my dreams. Of course, the result was . . . wait for it . . . a migraine.

Surprise!

Anyway, I spent most of the afternoon reworking a poem I began yesterday. I was going to post it, but I don’t think that I’m ready. Instead, let me share some truth is stranger than fiction facts with you:

Source: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I can’t decide which person I am gladdest that I am not—the person who destroyed the moon landing footage or the financial analyst who advised the honchos at Yahoo to pass on buying Google.

More later. Peace.

Music by James Vincent McMorrow, “We Don’t Eat”

                   

The Motive for Metaphor

You like it under the trees in autumn,
Because everything is half dead.
The wind moves like a cripple among the leaves
And repeats words without meaning.

In the same way, you were happy in spring,
With the half colors of quarter-things,
The slightly brighter sky, the melting clouds,
The single bird, the obscure moon—

The obscure moon lighting an obscure world
Of things that would never be quite expressed,
Where you yourself were not quite yourself,
And did not want nor have to be,

Desiring the exhilarations of changes:
The motive for metaphor, shrinking from
The weight of primary noon,
The A B C of being,

The ruddy temper, the hammer
Of red and blue, the hard sound—
Steel against intimation—the sharp flash,
The vital, arrogant, fatal, dominant X.

~ Wallace Stevens

“We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.” ~ D.H. Lawrence, from Lady Chatterley’s Lover


“Lift up your dark heart and sing a song about
how time drifts past you like the gentlest, almost
imperceptible breeze.” ~ Jim Harrison from “Cold Poem”

Wednesday night, late. Cooler temps.

Woke up with my left wrist and hand completely numb. Waited most of the day for it to get better. The most I got was tingling. So no real post today.

Anyway, I think the Campbell quote is particularly apt for this point of my life, don’t you?

More later. Peace.

Music by Jon Black, “There Is A Love We Can Find”

                    

For the Children

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us,
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

~ Gary Snyder