Freedom Of (Unheard) Speech Dept.


When Art Is Dangerous (or Not) - NYTimes.com

It speaks well of our own relatively flexible system that it can accommodate criticism and dissent without lopping anyone’s hands off. But this is also a backhanded testament to our society’s successful denaturing of satire, and the impotence of art in our own culture. Autocrats from Plato on have advocated control and censorship of the arts to ensure the stability of their states and micromanage their people’s inner lives. In the mature democracies of the West, there’s no longer any need for purges or fatwas or book-burnings. Why waste bullets shooting artists when you can just not pay them? Why bother banning books when nobody reads anyway, and the national literature is so provincial, insular and narcissistic it poses no troublesome questions?

I'd always wondered if the opposite of censorship was not enlightenment, but indifference.

It's tempting to believe that under active oppression, it becomes easier to develop a striving mentality. A romantic mindset, sure. But it also becomes nearly impossible to get any real day-to-day work done, and one expends so much energy not getting caught, or ducking the system, that at the end of the day you don't have any strength left to pat yourself on the back for being so brave. All other things being equal, I imagine Camus would rather not have written under a nom de guerre for Combat, and Solzhenitsyn not bothered with samizdat.

I'd rather deal with indifference as a nemesis than censorship, because one of the benefits of indifference is that you do get left alone, you do get to cultivate as you please, and you find that indifference may be vast, but not infinite and total. Few read, but the few that do read with the kind of hunger and totality that more than makes up for it.

That said, one of the convenient things about censorship is that it tells you exactly what weaknesses your self-appointed moral guardians have. It isn't always easy to tell at a glance.


Tags: art sociology




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