I hope everyone is still reading shocking, outrageous texts during Freedom to Read Week (and every week for that matter).
FTRW is one of the more satisfying files I work on over the course of a year in the cultural trenches -- and I really hardly do anything for it at all, even in my role as Chair of the Book and Periodical Council. I sign some cheques; I administer some board motions. That's about it. Others, like Anne McClelland, Emily Sinkins, Ron Brown and Franklin Carter put in way more time and effort. For them, free expression is an all day, every day sort of (voluntary) task, and I salute them for their remarkable work.
There is nothing easy about resisting censorship in all its various forms and subtle disguises. As anyone who reads this blog's comment section will recognize, what one man calls censorship, another might think of as simply every free citizen's right to rip pages out of books. I despise that opinion, but it's important to me that I didn't block or erase it from my comment section.
Today I read in the Globe and Mail about Conservative MP Dave Batters calling on federal funding agencies to only fund films "for mainstream Canadian society - films that Canadians can sit down and watch with their families in living rooms across this great country." Much of what Mr. Batters has to say on this subject offends me deeply. Here's some more from the Globe article:
Mr. Batters said yesterday he does not support censorship, but offensive films should be made with private money.
However anyone might feel about arts funding in general, the call to base funding decisions on a work's relative inoffensiveness should be extremely offensive. Note that I did not hide the quote suggesting this idea. There it is, right up there above this paragraph for anyone to agree or disagree with. It's not the expression of the idea that bothers me; but the idea itself.
Recently, some book industry colleagues and I engaged in a philosophical consideration of "hate literature" and its place in free expression. That was a long talk. Like I said, this stuff is not easy, and it may often seem like the line we should and shouldn't cross jumps all over the place. So, during this week, I'm doing a lot of contemplating of the lines.
My personal opinion hasn't changed. It boils down to this. Respect the text.
And here I am using the word text in place of expression, because it carries added connotations of completion, intention, substantiality and integrity. Text contains expression in my definition, and I want to make sure both are equally respected. A text can be written, filmed, recorded... whatever. Its medium, or even its physical realization (a single book, a single DVD copy of a film, etc.) is far less important to me than the invisible, magical presence of the text. If this weren’t true, then we would make absolutely no distinction between burning a bundle of paper, and burning a book. It’s about intention, isn’t it? If I burn pages from a novel to keep myself alive while lost in the woods, my intention is to use the paper as fuel. If I burn the same pages to make sure no one else can read them, I’m attacking the text.
If part of a text offends you, be offended. Don't cut that part out so as to avoid the offense. If the entire text offends you so much you don't want to read it, don't read it. If you think others shouldn't read a text because of how offensive it is, respect them enough to allow them to make up their own minds about it (even if you're a public servant charged with serving your culture by funding the arts). If you really can't stand a text, then criticize it. Blog against it. Parody it. Convince others of your opinion (if you can).
Anyway, if you stopped reading that last bit because you thought it sounded sanctimonious and kind of obvious, I agree. Who needs to be lectured on these things? And yet the Challenged Books & Magazines list grows.