Censorship, 1 August 2015

Censorship has always been a controversial subject. So controversial, in fact, that sometimes the censorship can lead directly to the popularity of the work in question. William S. Burroughs — one of my favorite writers — had to defend his novel, the epic and rightfully historic Naked Lunch, in court against charges of obscenity. That’s right: in the 20th century, in America, a novel was being blocked from publication in the US (after being published in France, naturally) based on charges of obscenity. This led to a whole big clusterfuck (now that the F-bomb has been dropped, half of the potential readers of this article have been pre-empted out of ever reading it) becoming famous and in the process got the novel into the hands of an eager and curious public. I don’t think that’s what those guys wanted, those fuckers trying to keep this sick filth away from the children. People, presumably, who had no problem with films like Birth of a Nation — a truly dangerous propaganda piece of shit that perpetuated the stereotype of African-Americans in post-Civil War America, playing on the fears of the unknown of gullible white people and by doing this it actually was dangerous. But should it have been banned? Or censored? That’s hard for me to say.

To me the biggest problem with censorship is its looming threat over the shoulder of perspective authors, with a magnifying glass, combing through each line, each word they use, and giving the author self-doubt in the artistic realization of their story. Creating a fully realized work of art is hard enough in and of itself is without having to constantly contend with the projected pre-judgment by people who will never give it the benefit of the doubt, or at least the benefit of the doubt long enough to read it. When a writer sets out to pander from the start, the story (most often) lacks any individual color or vision, and it becomes just another blah, without real style or distinction. Of course, you don’t have to swear or use F-bombs in order to create a fully realized work of art, but censorship doesn’t start and end with swearing; the spectre of the possibility of being judged by a tendency towarfds over-sexualizing  female characters, grossly exaggerating or glorifying violence, etc., you begin to inadvertently rewrite yourself as you write, writing more rigidly and less loosely than you should. Writing should be written as it should be written. As Mozart said in Amadeus, ‘There were as many notes as were required, no more, no less.’ The idea is that art is a chiseled statue, each note in each movement being absolutely necessary as a part of the whole, each note and sound part of a larger structure, a larger picture, and when writing with someone else’s idea of your work in your mind, which is alright to do when you’re editing, is a bad habit, like smoking, and, like smoking, hard to give up.

Accepting criticism is hard, I understand that, that’s why I’ve never made any mistakes in any of my work. But you have to write with the confidence of having something unique to say, or if you want to adapt a classic story to a new setting or medium, like West Side Story uniquely did with classic Shakespeare. Worrying with the consequence of saying the odd fuck or shit here or there is damaging to your development and it affects the personality of your work. It’s not about what really will be edited by possible censors, it’s more about what’s more subversive about it all: it’s more insidious. It compromises the artistic vision of a work of art before it’s even finished and a work of art is like a submarine; once its integrity is compromised, it’s going down, and it’s taking everybody in it to the ocean floor. And if it’s going to be talked about, it will be historically, it will be discussed in the context of the heroic possibilities of it all. Self-censorship is not the same thing as restraint; indulgence and blind faith in yourself is just as bad, and temperance is a wisdom that comes with hard work and experience, and the delicate balance between bad-taste and necessity is not something that comes naturally. I guess I could say, to keep it bite-sized: be confident, but self-aware. Self-aware, don’t extend it beyond yourself; don’t let anyone – without a fair dose of skepticism – influence how you shape your vision. Besides, fuck it. It’s just art! It’s just art.