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Thread: Banning Books

  1. #1

    Post Banning Books

    I went to a selective private high school, and the greatest emphasis was on academics with particular attention paid to writing. Obviously, the English department was considered the most important and contained the best teachers. I still read the weekly school newspaper, the only weekly high school newspaper in the state. Last week, an anonymous parent of a sophomore sent out a letter to all the other sophomore parents asserting that the book "Plainsong" be taken out of the sophomore English curriculum because it contained several relatively graphic scenes of a sexual nature. When I was a junior, a parent wanted "Huck Finn" taken out. I was amazed then, and I am now.

    Art is art. We don't get to decide what is fit for art, nor do we get to decide what is appropriate for an entire audience. If they got rid of "Plainsong" because of the sex scenes, then they'd have to get rid of shakespeare. They'd have to toss out Homer because not only is there sex, there's violence, so toss out Sophocles too. In fact, get rid of everything Greek. And Virgil too. Then toss out "Huck Finn," the seminal work of American literature, the first serious American work to have any kind of impact on the world stage, toss it out because it's racist (and forget abotu placing writing in context). And Faulkner meets all three criteria. Then get rid of "Catch-22" because it's subversive; "Lord of the Flies" and "Catcher in the Rye" too. And let's just burn "Small World." In fact, get rid of the satire class altogether. Then head down to the library and put Kerouac in the shredder and toss Ginsberg out the window right next to Ferlinghetti and Borroughs . And at this school, this Catholic school, take a close look at the Bible, get a big black marker, and start redacting. So much for the Song of Songs. We can keep the puerile, the ordinary, the mediocre, image poets, the high modernists, the form and not the content, and the plays of Thorton Wilder.

    Just like history, just like science, we don't get to decide what is OK and what is not for academic study. There can be no intellectualism if we a priori determine what has value and what does not.

    I applaud the department for holding firm, and keeping "Plainsong" and "Huck Finn" in the curriculum.

    Are any others the would-be vicitims of literary gestapo?
    Last edited by harris; 25-Jan-2009 at 21:08.

  2. #2

    Default

    The problem is, someone has to decide what is OK and what is not in the case of art and literature. Is Borroughs (William, not Edger) just the insane ramblings of a Heroin Junkie, or is he a seminal writer that helped lauch the beat movement? What about Hunter S Thompson? Robert Anton Wilson?

    With Science, we can apply the tools of reason, mathematics and observation to determine what is truth. With history, less so. With Art and Lit? It's purely subjective.

    A judge or politician said once: "I can't define smut, but I know it when I see it." And herein lies the problem. An even bigger problem is the fact that some art challenges both viewer and convention.

    All that said, if a piece of content contains content that is "bad", censoring it does NOTHING, except make it more desirable to read the content by the same people it tries to protect. The way you counter speech which you consider inappropriate is by speaking about it, not by trying to suppress it.

    Besides, I'll bet that 90% of the student body at that school see FAR smuttier content on the TV every night. Usually trying to tell them booze.

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by harris View Post
    Are any others the would-be vicitims of literary gestapo?
    Yes. Knowingly or not, we all suffer when local morality/obscenity clauses erode our ability to examine a non-exploitative work and make the art/obscenity call for ourselves. I quite agree with your statement regarding acting on a priori determination; so much so that I demand and relish the experience if it's available. For example, something you cannot see in art books (and that surprised me) is that up close, some of the more frantic works have a considerable amount of texture from the oil paint; so much so that it's like looking at colored "stiff-peak" meringue.



    Quote Originally Posted by sissybecky View Post
    A judge or politician said once: "I can't define smut, but I know it when I see it." And herein lies the problem. An even bigger problem is the fact that some art challenges both viewer and convention.
    I think you're thinking of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. The quote, "I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see it," is typically ascribed to his ruling in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964).

  4. #4

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    Sissy Becky, the judge you are thinking of was Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. And that standard has become less a law then a problem to overcome when working with obscenity laws. I prefer another judge, San Francisco Judge Clayton Horn, who heard a case brought by the US Customs Bureau against Lawrence Ferlinghetti who published "Howl and Other Poems" by Allen Ginsberg, possibly the greatest poet of the twentieth century and a founding member of the Beat Movement whose writing and personal life became the first inklings of the hippy movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The poem dealt with drugs, alcoholism, insanity, the violence of the state, sex, and homosexuality. Judge Horn proclaimed that the only thing obsence in the case was the action the government had taken. He famously decided that Howl had "redeeming social importance." I prefer that as a standard of obscenity.
    Last edited by harris; 25-Jan-2009 at 22:15.

  5. #5
    Falkio

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    The reason I own and enjoy so many American classic books is because of the subversive nature of public education. Freedom of press grants us the right to publish and explore literature, yet we are denied total exercise of this right in school. Catcher in the Rye is a fantastic book, but says, "goddamn" so many times its been deemed inappropriate. Parents should be given the right to decide what their kids read. If they can produce a note, then they can check out whatever book is in question. I believe literature is the most important humanity; it is how we express ourselves and record our progress as a species.

    For anyone who has read Fahrenheit 451, we see where hedonism gets us. The society who bans books is tried by fire; but moreover, the knowledge in the books they burned could have saved them. If any child wants to read, let them. Why stop it? Kids don't read enough anymore. This is just another form of control and censorship - something our government is good at.

  6. #6

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    Wow.. Thanks for clearing that up guys (and I agree with Horns ruling as well.)

    Sex and Drugs are far easier to censor, then to actually have an honest conversation with your child about. I am pretty sure that is some of the hidden motivation for cases like this.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by sissybecky View Post
    Wow.. Thanks for clearing that up guys (and I agree with Horns ruling as well.)

    Sex and Drugs are far easier to censor, then to actually have an honest conversation with your child about. I am pretty sure that is some of the hidden motivation for cases like this.
    Yes, I believe that is the unfortunate motivation sometimes.

  8. #8
    Secret

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    A really good book on this topic is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury it was pretty interesting read, but I got the sense that the author was kinda full of himself.
    Fahrenheit 451 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  9. #9
    Peachy

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    Only in America...

    really, what say do the parents have in what should be in a school library? It's the state's school, not the parents', so the state should decide on that. Oh, wait, you said "private" high school. Guess you're out of luck there.

    Anyway, censorship is not allowed by our constitution, and as long as the book isn't sexual in nature or otherwise poses a direct threat to the natural development of the students, the books will remain in the library.

    Peachy

  10. #10

    Default

    It may be a private school, and that may give the parents more leeway, but the school is actually owned by the Jesuit Missouri Provincial. I'd rather put my trust in teachers, trained, edcuated professionals, than the handful of parents who manage to shout the loudest. And the standard is not whether the book is sexual, but if it is obscene. And who better to judge that than English teachers? And who better the judge what is the natural development of a child than someone with a degree in education?

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