Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Books. Banning them and promoting them.

Two conflicting views of reading:

The classic work should be removed from school curricula, according to Gherush 92, a human rights organisation which acts as a consultant to UN bodies on racism and discrimination.
Dante's epic is "offensive and discriminatory" and has no place in a modern classroom, said Valentina Sereni, the group's president.

I almost admire the resounding illogic:

We do not advocate censorship or the burning of books, but we would like it acknowledged, clearly and unambiguously, that in the Divine Comedy there is racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic content. Art cannot be above criticism," Miss Sereni said.
Schoolchildren and university students who studied the work lacked "the filters" to appreciate its historical context and were being fed a poisonous diet of anti-Semitism and racism, the group said.
It called for the Divine Comedy to be removed from schools and universities or at least have its more offensive sections fully explained.

What is calling for the DC to be removed from schools if not advocate [ing] censorship

And what a sad reflection on the Italian educational system if their university students are not capable of appreciating the Divine Comedy is a historical poem not a contemporary piece of reportage?

The real question is why does nonsense like this get publicity? Is anyone really surprised that a Medieval Catholic thought Islam was a heresy, and homosexuality wrong? And does anyone seriously think that reading Dante is going to convert students to his theology?

When we have removed the last book that might offend someone, what will we read? What book is so pure that it will escape all the groups like this? What is the point of reading only what you supposed to agree with? How is that any kind of freedom?
And how trivial this seems in the face of real racism and its ugly institutionalisation in so many cultures. How easy it is to get publicity by attacking a famous book. Does it raise awareness about racism? Not if the comments at the end of the telegraph article are anything to go by.

On the other hand. over at Jeantette Winterson's site (don't visit if you're easily offended by someone with passionately held convictions. The point is you don't need to agree, but if you disagree you owe it to yourself to think through the grounds of your disagreement.)

Winterson should be declared some kind of spiky international treasure. I've heard her talk about the value of literature but her article on the Reader Organisation http://www.jeanettewinterson.com/pages/journalism_01/journalism_01_item.asp?journalism_01ID=264&journalism_01_Category=The%20Times

contains this:

We were reading Othello out loud with a group who had never read or seen a Shakespeare play. After a few weeks a woman said ‘ I’ll read Iago this week. I know that bastard. I was married to him.’
Jane’s view is that while we are waking up to healthy eating, we imagine that a healthy mind will just happen on its own. ‘Schools give their pupils absolute rubbish to read because they say some piece of pulp is more relevant to the kids’ lives. Can you imagine someone saying ‘Don’t bother with fruit and veg – fast food is more your style.’

In fact that is exactly what the 2008 National Year of Reading final report did say…’is Mills and Boon to be encouraged or is Shakespeare always better?’ P36
Jane Davies knows that Shakespeare is always better. She was brought up in a pub and found literature the hard way. She’s made herself into the person she wishes she’d met when she was growing up. ‘Richness changes the brain… one sentence is not the same as another. We need complexity. The brain grows on what feeds it.’

I know which attitude to reading I'd hang my hat on. The brain grows on what feeds it. Starve it in the name of "not censorship" and based on twenty five years of teaching I guarantee that you will breed the kind of docile stupidity where racism feeds and breeds.

Friday, March 16, 2012


About ten to four on Saturday
he’d rise to leave, whistling his way
towards the bus stop, cane tapping time
as he rounded the corner, fading.
The ritual involved two silver coins
“for the kids”, left on the mantelpiece,
always like a novel afterthought.

His tidy reticence sometimes unbuttoned
in the smokers fug of family gatherings
venturing out on streams of quiet humour
and gentle verbal lunacy, the way his brothers
had tiptoed in the edges of the sea
before diving under breaking waves.
Masters of digression who defied irrelevance.

Courteous, solid, invisibly familiar.
“Old Men with perfect manners”
Survivors of gaslight, whose father drove
a horse drawn cart. On hand when needed
to help with the necessary, without asking
for praise or credit when the debt was called.
After such a life what memories?
Coming down the steps at Connelly station
The smell and then the noise of Dublin.
He pauses, shakes his head: It was great
the big city
, (laughing) anything was big
after Bettystown.

Box Brownie photos
in an old shoe box?
The cars date passing decades
as the trousers, hats and hairstyles
move towards the time for his departure.
But this is so untidy. And how he would have hated that.