“For whatever sedates us is shuffling us off towards the greater sleep of death. Art, on the other hand, is a persistent wake up call, the setting off of a quiet siren in the heart.” Steven Heighton
In Reynolds Price’s introduction to James Salter’s novel, A Sport and A Pastime, Price alludes to the famous Grove Press lawsuit against the NYC postmaster. In 1959, Grove Press re-published unabridged editions of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The postmaster was confiscating mailed copies of the books. Grove won the suit, paving the way for a new freedom with respect to sexual content in American publishing. Price says this:
While slow degrees of freedom had previously been gained in the manner of sexually candid prose, Grove’s early-1960s victory became a significant milepost for serious American writers. At last we were free to publish what we wished, or needed to write in the description of human desire and its various enactments”
All hail freedom! I haven’t read Lawrence in a long time, but what I remember of his sexual prose seemed timid compared to Salter. (Much less to, say, any episode of reality TV shows. Paris H., you still have my number, right?) Salter fills his text with ‘big C’ words (cock, clitoris and cunt, among many others) but his sexual scenes are hardly pornographic. They are wonderfully written and full of imaginative drama. Characters are having graphic sex right there on the page in beautiful, literary images. Thank the muses that we live in an age of such freedom of expression. We retain unfettered access to language and the expression of…What? I can’t say what? Who is this? I can’t say clitoris?
Court Merrigan recently forwarded this article to NC about the removal of unabridged copies of The Diary of Anne Frank’from libraries in Virginia. The offending passages come from the ruminations of the teenaged diarist as she tries to understand the anatomy of her genitalia. The word ‘clitoris’ apparently upset enough parents of Virginia high school students that libraries began removing copies of the offending books.
The saddest part about posting this article on NC is how common such censorship is today. Listen to Bill Maher’s humorous take about the new publication of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In the new editions, the clearly offensive but still artist-intended word, ‘nigger’, is removed from Twain’s original text. Two-hundred and nineteen times. (Read a longer article here from the University of Virginia newspaper.) One wonders what other words will eventually be erased from other books, or how such redactions will trickle into the already entertainment-saturated bloodstream of our sedated, consumerist culture. A cultural sedation, by the way, which Steven Heighton warns us about in his essay “The Admen Move On Lhasa.” (Quoted above and referenced several times on NC by yours truly, including here.)
Freedom of expression, sadly, remains as tenuous and threatened today as it was fifty years ago.
In a final, hot-off-the-presses example from today’s (Jan 19th) L.A. times, Smithsonian director, Wayne Clough, has come under fire for issues of censorship. Clough recently pulled a video by artist David Wojnarowicz (see video at bottom of post) from a gay-themed exhibit set to go on display at the National Portraits Gallery. Clough relented to governmental pressure over a perceived anti-Christian bias in the work: ants can be seen crawling atop a crucifix.
In spite of the progress artists have made over the centuries, censorship continues to plague the free and honest exploration, exchange and expression of ideas. From Salman Rushdie to, apparently, Anne Frank. As publishing houses fall and media conglomerates merge (As we speak, NBC and Comcast are being fused) it’s hard not to wonder what the future holds for works by the likes of Twain, Lawrence, Frank and Salter. Or perhaps we should all endeavor just to let go and watch American Idol? Who needs books anyway?
— Richard Farrell