The Freedom to Offend
“Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.” ― Henry Louis Gates Jr.
“[. . .] and above it the mouthing of orators,
the arse-belching of preachers.” – Ezra Pound, “Canto XIV”
Okay, so we don’t want to ban AK-47s because that would be unbarring the door of tyranny. On the other hand, we don’t want our precious, delicate children exposed to depressing historical events like the Native American genocide, slavery, the Holocaust – perhaps even Sandy Hook – because the truth might make them feel uncomfortable.
I’ll tell you what made me feel uncomfortable when I was teaching: crouching under a Harkness table stifling a fart with my AP Lit students during a live shooter drill.
And, O, my Brothers and Sisters, we read many a bannable book in those AP classes.
Oedipus Rex – parricide, incest, sacrilege
The Canterbury Tales – vulgarity, profanity, nudity, plagues
Hamlet – fratricide, adultery, vulgarity, a corpse-strewn stage
Crime and Punishment – murder, prostitution, crushing poverty, alcoholism
Madame Bovary – serial adultery, suicide, insanity
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – atheism, masturbation, prostitution, adolescent rebellion
The Sound and the Fury – promiscuity, suicide, racial epithets, abject cruelty
The Song of Solomon – premarital sex, vulgar language, murder
The Hand Maid’s Tale – dystopia, sexism, theocratic cruelty
And that’s not even considering the poetry we read.
Crazy Jane Talks to the Bishop
I met the Bishop on the road
And much said he and I.
`Those breasts are flat and fallen now
Those veins must soon be dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul sty.’
`Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,’ I cried.
‘My friends are gone, but that’s a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart’s pride.
`A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.’
Thanks for listening to my Ted Rant.