April 29, 2011

This Week In Censorship

Censorship does weird things to your mind. I’m not talking about the person being censored – of course that’s bound to mess you up. I’m talking about the censors themselves, or those with the censorial impulse. It just makes people go wacky. A couple of stories from (thankfully) overseas illustrate that wackiness.

William Burroughs is not what you would call an “easy” read. And I say that based on my only interaction with his work being the David Cronenberg film of Naked Lunch. After that he really went wild, writing a series of novels with a “cut and paste” technique that appears to me to work like music concrete: hack up a work (or several) and then reassemble it in, essentially, random order. I’ve heard music concrete. I can only imagine what damage the written equivalent would do to my brain.

But that’s an aesthetic observation and one everybody else is free to disagree with. But not in Turkey, where authorities are taking aim at the first of those novels, The Soft Machine* (via):
The court referred to a report written by the Prime Ministry’s Council for Protecting Minors from Explicit Publications that accused the novel, ‘The Soft Machine,’ of ‘incompliance with moral norms’ and ‘hurting people’s moral feelings.’
But wait, they don’t stop there:
The council also accused the novel of ‘lacking unity in its subject matter,’ ‘incompliance with narrative unity,’ for ‘using slang and colloquial terms’ and ‘the application of a fragmented narrative style,’ while claiming that Burroughs’s book contained unrealistic interpretations that were neither personal nor objective by giving examples from the lifestyles of historical and mythological figures. None of the above, argued the publishing house, constitutes a criminal act.

The council went further and said, ‘The book does not constitute a literary piece of work in its current condition,’ adding it would add nothing new to the reader’s reservoir of knowledge, and argued the book developed ‘attitudes that were permissive to crime by concentrating on the banal, vulgar and weak attributes of humanity.’
I’ve read a lot about book banning and the like. I’ve seen books banned for having too much sex or too much drug use. For teaching kids about witchcraft and for saying naughty things about God. But I’ve never seen a government censorial organ support an argument for a ban because the book just sucks. I think that’s what their literary criticism is getting at. As amusing as that might be, it’s still chilling that in the 21st century a member of NATO will tell you what you can and can’t read (and don’t even mention the Armenian genocide).

Back in the mother country, let’s hope William and Kate don’t want to boogie down to some 1970s kitsch pop. They might have to arrest the band (via):
A musician was arrested after a performance of the 1970s song [“]Kung Fu Fighting[”] at an Isle of Wight bar sparked an alleged racism row with a passer-by.

Simon Ledger, 34, of Shanklin, said he was playing the Carl Douglas hit at the Driftwood bar, Sandown, on Sunday when the man of Chinese origin took offence.
Get that straight – a keyboard player was arrested (aka taken to the station in cuffs) for singing a song, allegedly causing “harassment, alarm or distress.” Sure, he was released on bail, but the cops assure they will talk to him later. Hopefully to apologize and book the band for the next fraternal order function.

It's more about amusement and head scratching from our perspective over here when things like this happen.  But it's really pretty chilling that they happen at all.

* Yes, that is where the foundational Canterbury prog band got its name.

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