Burned and banished: Can the book-destroying ritual kill thoughts or ideas?

“Powerful words cannot be distinguished,” says a remark in the video from veteran author Margaret Atwood, who, in conjunction with Penguin Random House, announced an “unengravable” edition of her most famous work, The Handmaid’s. Tale. This edition was not just intended as a scorching act to signify censorship against the dystopian literature conveyed in Atwood’s book, but was specially auctioned for $130,000 in New York this month. The amount raised will support PEN America’s crucial work to address the nation’s censorship crisis.

However, in reality, the author hopes to raise awareness of the proliferation of book bans and educational gag orders in US schools nationwide with the video which has already garnered over 5 billion potential views. “Free speech issues are hotly debated… We hope this raises awareness and leads to reasoned discussion,” Atwood said in a statement.

PEN America has been at the forefront of fighting this wave of censorship in American schools. Its recent “Banned in the United States” report documented 1,586 cases of individual books banned in 86 school districts in 26 states.

Even at the annual PEN gala in New York, writer and actress Faith Salie said the non-flammable book “was designed to withstand not only fire-breathing censors and flamboyant bigots, but also real flames, the ones they would like to use to burn down our democracy.”

The non-burnable print edition was made of black and white coated aluminum Cinefoils, used in film production to wrap warm lights, which are stable at 660°C/1220°F, hand stitched text block with nickel wire, often used in electricity. components, which are stable to 1400°C/2,600°F, head and tail bands are woven stainless steel, used in aerospace manufacturing, which are stable up to 1530°C/2790°F.

But burning and banning books was kind of a ritual in the past. From the works of authors like Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud to American authors like Ernest Hemingway and Helen Keller, powerful rulers and despots have sought to kill, deter, or ban and destroy many writings that provoke thought.

While the right to dissent does not seem to have lost credibility, especially with the rise of social media, with desperate crackdowns, photos and videos going viral, a relevant question to ask here is: : can this type of activism kill ideas?

Book bans, burnings, or educational gags are increasingly alarming in this era of free speech, especially when the primary targets of censors have been literary works about racism, gender, and sexual orientation. , often written by authors of color and LGBTQ+, as well as classroom lessons on social inequality, history, and sexuality.

On the other hand, books have emotional power and sometimes they can be dangerous, intolerant, oppressive or ugly. There is no doubt that over the past few years there has been a trend towards burning or banning books. Either they are offensive, or violent, or inappropriate for the reading public. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series was removed from a Tennessee school library because the spells in the books were real curses and risked humans with evil spirits. Not just the Harry Potter books, but there are authors who have been criticized for writing that is unappealing or hurts public feelings.

A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway was a semi-autobiographical novel set during World War I, was banned from newsstands in Boston for its sexual and “vulgar” content and in Italy for its depiction of the retirement of the army at the Battle of Caporetto. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis has been censored in Queensland for its extreme scenes of graphic violence. Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl was deeply influential and was pulled from shelves or reading lists for its mature anatomy. George Orwell’s Animal Farm was banned in the USSR until the 1980s and also banned in schools in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 for its depiction of a talking pig, which was felt to be contrary to Islamic values. Fifty Shades of Gray by EL James was censored for its pornographic depiction. Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn reinforced racial stereotypes. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird has seen temporary bans in the US for racism. Recently, the Russian war against Ukraine has burned remains of paintings, sculptures and books burned as part of the destruction of Ukrainian cultural identity.

About Stuart M. McFarland

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