Horray! And topically, we’re reading George Orwell’s 1984 in HSP Seminary. I’ve started it before but reading it with an eye to Newspeak and Constant War is disturbing. I guess that’s the point: words can be shocking. Winston makes me not want to use Acronyms and question the use of war in society. Every time I think in acronyms or limit my speech to legal terms and other calcified language I think of Toni Morrison’s Nobel Speech. We read it in Dr C’s Great Novel’s class before reading Professor Morrison’s Songs of Solomon. It is a revolutionary speech a call to arms–and a simple story. This passage on the potential vulnerability of language itself always sticks with me:
Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek – it must be rejected, altered and exposed. (Morrison)
The idea of language limiting thought is characteristically Orwellian; but it is also characteristically human: see this year’s top 10 challenged books. The titles themselves are shocking (Beloved and The Bluest Eye from Professor Morrison and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky are the only books for adults on the list. The other 7 are all for young adults and children). But what I find shocking are the most common reasons the books were challenged:
Offensive Language (8); Unsuited to Age Group (7); Sexual Content (6); Homosexuality (4); Violence (2); Anti-family (2); Drugs (1); Insensitivity (1); Occult/Satanism [1 category] (1); Sexually Explicit (1).
Offensive Language. Language or a kind of language that causes offense. Something seems wrong about that. Language should communicate content–shouldn’t challenges be brought for ideas more than words? It seems wrong. I am an advocate of disturbing books–that’s why, even though it disturbs me, I am reading 1984. I listened to Poe’s poetry when I was little–disturbing but formative. I read Pro-Life sites, even those which are graphic and inaccurate, because I don’t want to be ignorant of another viewpoint. And I’m offended. But I don’t stop or try to stop others from reading. Ever.
And Homosexuality. That shocked me more than any other category. The categories before that I get: people have problems with sex and violence. Fine, I’m sure The Sopranos wasn’t the most watched TV show in history or near it. And fine, Scary Stories with ghosts could undermine some people’s religious training. But I am sickened by the fact that books portraying being out and healthy are being challenged for portraying a healthy life–do we really want to be in a place where children grow up thinking other people’s parents are “wrong”? Really? I feel so bad for every child growing up with non-traditional family structures or who may be gay themselves. Where can they find role models if the books are all gone?
So this week, I challenge you: read a banned book. It’s not hard: most of them are children’s books or books we have all read in school.
We may not imagine how our lives could be more frustrating and complex–but Congress can. – Cullen Hightower
PS: one of my favorite sites from Banned Book information.