Thursday, September 27, 2007

Banned Books: Literature Suppressed

Banned Books, a new 4-volume set of reference books recently acquired by Carmichael Library, has at its heart a "dedication to freedom of inquiry," which is a fragment I've plucked from the dedication inscribed at the start of the series.

The four volumes cover respectively literature suppressed on political, social, religious, and sexual grounds. Right away one must notice the impossibility of neatly containing such grounds one from the other. Certainly some political motivations are sexually charged and vice versa, and doubtless it becomes hard to distinguish the sexuality of religiosity from the religiosity of sexuality, much less the necessity of a social layer to any of these particular groupings. Banned Books succeeds in elegance, however, in that it provides pragmatic, provisional divisions. Utility, in this case, outweighs integration.

Rosemary Aud-Franklin writes in Reference & User Services Quarterly:

"The general editor of the series is Ken Wachsberger, who also directs the journal division of Pierian Press and is the author of Voices from the Underground. The authors of the individual volumes have published previously in this area and include Margaret Bald, Dawn Sova, and Nicholas Karolides.

"The series covers more than four hundred books, spanning from the Bible to The Satanic Verses. Individual volumes are arranged in sections--introduction, forward, preface, content (alphabetical by title of banned book), biographical profiles, and bibliography. Entries give the author's name, the date and place of publication, summary, censorship history, and further readings."

Reference & User Services Quarterly

Why would one want to investigate suppressed literature? Does a work have a value disparate from what is generally conceived as its interior construction, e.g. its motivated uses of metaphor, metonymy, irony, assonance, dissonance, imagery, the old iron horses and all? Does one read merely what one thinks of as the work, or does one also read its traces, its contexts, its infamy? If one views the work decentralized, as part of a constellation, as a multiplicity, as a body without organs (to allude to a notion of Deleuze and Guattari) that shifts and emerges to fit a moment's demand of relevance, one witnesses the work stretch out to include in its aura its own canonical in/ex-clusion and all the supporting literatures therein. In such a view, a work's suppression within a culture does two things: 1. adds to the body of interesting works a series of dissenting and differing ruptures & 2. adds the body of the work as a dissenting and differing rupture to the master narrative of whatever regime or party has suppressed it.

Regardless of one's tack, Banned Books marks a good place to organize one's research on the various literatures which have suffered marginalizing (and often fame-inducing) dissent or upon the literatures which have by their very objectification by a suppressing system given us a deeper insight into how such a system operates and persists.

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