An Author’s Courage   3 comments

Banner CourageI posted something about Ray Bradbury yesterday because I was working on this post on his courage.What do I find courageous about him? Well, allow me to quote the author’s own words, found at the end of my copy of Fahrenheit 451. Here in the “Coda” Ray Bradbury gave some final thoughts on the implied message of the book, but more, he talks broadly about media manipulation.

About two years ago, a letter arrived from a solemn young Vassar lady telling me how much she enjoyed reading my experiment in space mythology, The Martian Chronicles.

But she added, wouldn’t it be a good idea, this late in time, to rewrite the book inserting more women’s characters and roles?

A few years before that I got a certain amount of mail concerning the same Martian book complaining that the blacks in the book were Uncle Toms and why didn’t I “do them over”?

Along about then came a note from a Southern white suggesting that I was prejudiced in favor of the blacks and the entire story should be dropped.

Two weeks ago my mountain of mail delivered forth a pipsqueak mouse of a letter from a well-known publishing house that wanted to reprint my story “The Fog Horn” in a high school reader.

In my story, I had described a lighthouse as having, late at night, an illumination coming from it that was a “God-Light.” Looking up at it from the view-point of any sea-creature one would have felt that one was in “the Presence.”

The editors had deleted “God-Light” and “in the Presence.”

How did I react to all of the above?

By “firing” the whole lot.

By sending rejection slips to each and every one.

By ticketing the assembly of idiots to the far reaches of hell.

The point is obvious. There is more than one way to burn a book [emphasis added]. And the world is full of people running around with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist / Seventh-day Adventist, Women’s Lib / Republican, Mattachine / Four Square Gospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blancmange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.

Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described howthe books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever [emphasis added].

I sent a play, Leviathan 99, off to a university theater a month ago. My play is based on the “Moby Dick” mythology, dedicated to Melville, and concerns a rocket crew and a blind space captain who venture forth to encounter a Great White Comet and destroy the destroyer. My drama premieres as an opera in Paris this autumn. But, for now, the university wrote back that they hardly dared to do my play–it had no women in it! And the ERA ladies on campus would descend with ball-bats if the drama department even tried!

Grinding my bicuspids into powder, I suggested that would mean, from now on, no more productions of Boys in the Band (no women), or The Women (no men). Or, counting heads, male and female, a good lot of Shakespeare that would never be seen again, especially if you count lines and find that all the good stuff went to the males!

For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan, or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conservationalist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights end and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule. If Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent type-writers. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mush milk teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture. If the Chicano intellectuals wish to re-cut my “Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” so it shapes “Zoot,” may the belt unravel and the pants fall.

For, let’s face it, digression is the soul of wit. Take philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Hamlet’s father’s ghost and what stays is dry bones. Laurence Sterne said it once: Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine, the life, the soul of reading! Take them out and one cold winter would reign in every page. Restore them to the writer–he steps forth like a bridegroom, bids them all-hail, brings variety and forbids the appetite to fall.

In sum, do not insult me with the beheadings, finger-choppings or the lung deflations you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hand to wave or make into a fist, my lungs to shout or whisper with. I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book.

All you umpires, back to the bleachers. Referees, hit the showers. It’s my game. I pitch, I hit, I catch. I run the bases. At sunset, I’ve won or lost. At sunrise, I’m out again, giving it the old try.

And no one can help me. Not even you.

–Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451. “Coda.” 1979.

Ray Bradbury’s point is quite clear. We should not censor the words, opinions or perceptions of others. We are all entitled, or should be entitled, to voice our interpretation of a matter without being persecuted. I can respect and admire an appropriate rebuttal or disagreement. Minority or not, we should not think ourselves so disadvantaged or disgraced by the words of another that we think it our right to get offended at the opinion of another. It’s foolish to hear an insult when the speaker or writer did not intend an insult.

Although Ray Bradbury limited his argument to printed press, I expand that thought to all communication. In today’s world we are required to tread carefully and lightly with our words. We cannot walk about giving our opinion freely–especially about matters of race, gender or sexual orientation–without anticipating an assault from of an enraged group of offended individuals. “Don’t talk about religion, politics or any topic where my feelings might be hurt.” Seriously? Are we that delicate? Surely we can control our tempers and appreciate an opinion or expressed point of view even if we don’t agree?

I am not advocating the abuse or disenfranchisement of any group of people or of any right. I am not defending prejudice in any of its many forms. I decry censorship and prejudice. Discrimination is not necessarily prejudice or inherently bad, and yet some form of prejudice often comes to mind when we talk about discriminating, notably racial discrimination. Discrimination can be defined as simply discerning between two things. ‘Discriminating against’ is different from ‘discriminating,’ ‘discriminating between’ or ‘discriminating among’.

There is very often a time and a place and an audience for certain words and topics. Let us use discretion and wisdom in when and where. We should not, however, be afraid to voice our opinions even when they are unpopular. We should not have to expect to receive a barrage of angry and sometimes foul words from any opposing party. We can expect challenge to our views and we should respond passionately, with respect for those who disagree.

Some may think that my convictions are unique to the color of my skin or my favorite sports team, my religious background or my sex, my preferred political candidate or some other affiliation. Though they discriminate on these grounds, which is no crime, I echo the those same convictions of those who identify with different races, religions, genders, political parties and philosophies in general.

Do not censor me in my opinions. Do not censor my freedom of expression. What is it that you fear so much that you find it necessary to try and hush or alter every word and opinion that is not in accordance with your own?

Alas, I expect the successful of censorship on behalf of the easily-insulted will continue under the guise of “for our own good”.. I encourage a different approach. Stand up for your beliefs in a civil and dignified matter. Do not proclaim tolerance while working to institutionalize intolerance against those with whom you disagree.

I welcome thought provoking comments.

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3 responses to “An Author’s Courage

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  1. I’ve tried twice to explain the mindset of Africans in my books, and I know some people had disagreed with them. Because their media has told them a different story, they will not believe me. That’s OK, I tried in the hope it would create better understanding and i thikn some people took it on board. I had the most fun writing my satirical comedy, using words like peasent and idiot and other banned labels, but I set in in Fairyland hoping to get away with it!! I do warn people it is not politically correct and it is NOT to be taken seriously. Some people dod not see the humour sadly.

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  2. Of course, the ‘Plain-Vanilla Dystopia’ is a recurring theme in literature. Stories such as ‘The Giver’ tell it well. I recently saw a retelling of St. Exubrey’s ‘The Little Prince’ that overlayed that tender story with just such a theme. The problem is that the rich heritage of our national experience predates newsmen (and women) all speaking in the same polished accent, delivering Pavlovian stimuli more than actual information. Here is what I wrote for an upcoming blog post:

    “We are at odds over so many things right now, and frankly, there are those who profit from dividing us… but our national motto: E Pluribus Unum actually describes an action: Many uniting into one. An accurate translation of the motto is “From Many, One” or “Out of Many, One” – a phrase that captures the symbolism on the shield of the United States. When our nation was first brought forth, there were many factions and nationalities. The first committee charged with creating a shield design in 1776 originally entertained a design that recognized our diverse roots.

    It contained the rose (England), thistle (Scotland), harp (Ireland), fleur-de-lis (France), lion (Holland), and an imperial eagle (Germany),accompanied by the motto: E Pluribus Unum. One needs to recognize the significance of this in light of the bloody wars that the European Continent had experienced in the Centuries prior to our founding. Catholic Maryland could join with Puritan New England in the common good. Diversity of a good sort could indeed exist while the common defense and the common good were tended to.

    In the 1830’s it could have accepted a Cherokee State in the mountains of Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Sadly, immoral gain is not excluded even in the best crafted institutions, and greedy speculators brought the demise of this great experiment. Through bloody war, the enslaved people of African descent were granted citizenship and the issue of Federal powers overshadowed those of the individual states as the following generations would grapple with what Constitutional restraints prohibited.

    In the Twentieth Century, the unity of our diversity allowed us to win global wars and maintain the peace which so many of us take for granted. The Navajo Nation gave us our best code for winning the war in the Pacific.”

    Thus a centralized censorship diminishes our true diversity, all the while promoting tribal identity (Race, Gender Identity, Minority Ethnicity).

    The Bradburys and Orwells do us a great service in reminding us of this.

    But I must raise another question; “Why do all the literary dystopias, when presented in film, have a neo-Bauhaus white architecture reminiscent of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Greenbelt?

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    • Oo, we’re going to talk interior design! I suspect it is to evoke the idea of a hyperclean, sanitized society where dirt and freedom seem to be outlawed. There’s something about that image that just screams tyranny of the individual.

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