Thursday News: Mary Beard on Misogyny, Vladimir Nabokov fears for Lolita in America, Texas school district tries to ban some books, and the ‘holy grail’ of movie censorship letters
The Troll Slayer – I’ve had this wonderful article on Cambridge Classics scholar Mary Beard open on my desktop for a couple of weeks now, not wanting it to get lost in the stories about Amazon and Apple and everything else going on.
Beard is not only an extremely respected and interesting scholar, but she’s also a public figure in the UK who has become quite well known for the way she deals with online misogynistic backlash. Rather than ignoring her trolls or even trying to humiliate them, she confronts them directly, sometimes publicly, sometimes privately, and the results are pretty interesting, In a number of cases, she’s actually turned the relationship around. Still, she’s first and foremost engaged in the project of challenging stereotypes and creating spaces for women to speak out, and she also believes that she is educating younger women who have grown up with the advantages first and second wave feminists secured without understanding the history behind them and the ongoing threat to their existence. Even her work on ancient Rome reflects these themes (and more), along with the complexity of cultural engagement and understanding.
In “Oh Do Shut Up Dear!,” Beard’s lecture at the British Museum, she referred to one of the very few occasions in Roman literature when a woman is permitted a public voice. After Lucretia, the wife of a nobleman, Conlatinus, is raped by Tarquin, a royal prince, she denounces her rapist, then kills herself to preserve her virtue. This rape story, as told by Livy, sets into motion the founding of the Roman Republic: Lucretia’s defenders swear that hereditary princes will no longer assume privileges through violence. In her lecture, Beard acknowledged that it is easier to document ways that women have been silenced than it is to find a remedy to their silencing. (Virtuous suicide is not an option.) The real issue, she suggested, is not merely guaranteeing a woman’s right to speak; it is being aware of the prejudices that we bring to the way we hear her. Listening, she implied, is an essential element of speech. –New Yorker
A Lolitigation Lament: Nabokov on Censorship and Solidarity – Banned Books Week provides a lot of opportunities to look back at some of the more notorious books from history, and Nabokov’s Lolita is definitely near the top of the list. And at the time this book was in the process of being acquired by an American publisher, the Supreme Court was hearing a number of high profile obscenity cases. Consequently, Nabakov was very anxious about the possibility of his book being censored, and he worked very actively to find a publisher who would, if necessary, defend Lolita all the way up to eh Supreme Court. A very interesting reminder of the power that publishing can represent.
At the end, Doubleday didn’t come through — likely in large part out of fear of what the kind of solidarity Nabokov demanded would cost them if an obscenity lawsuit indeed resulted from the publication. The publisher willing to offer such solidarity was ultimately G.P. Putnam’s Sons, currently owned by Penguin Group, who published the American edition of Lolita in August of 1958. Already into its third printing within days, it became the first book since Gone with the Wind to sell 100,000 copies in its initial three weeks on the market. Despite Nabokov’s fears of censorship, or perhaps precisely because of his elaborate strategizing to prevent it, there were no official government sanctions. –Brain Pickings
Highland Park ISD suspends seven books after parents protest their content – So a Texas school district inadvertently recognized Banned Books Week by, well, trying to ban some books of their own. In this case, at issue are some adult themes and situations that parents are uncomfortable having their kids introduced to in the classroom. This is very much an ongoing debate in US K-12 education, and despite the frustration many may feel at the titles on the banned list, I’m glad to see that these issues are being discussed openly and not confined to closed-door, autocratic processes.
One of suspended books — The Working Poor: Invisible in America, written by Pulitzer Prize winner David K. Shipler — is about Americans in low-skilled jobs who struggle because of economic and personal obstacles. Some parents objected to the nonfiction book because it has a passage about a woman who was sexually abused as a child and later had an abortion.
High school English teacher Darcy Young cautioned board members that passages from the books had been taken out of context. She said the district’s educational mission compels teachers to introduce challenging and sometimes uncomfortable topics to teach critical thinking.
“Our motto is to prepare the child for the path, not prepare the path for the child,” she said. –Dallas Morning News
Monty Python and the Holy Grail Censorship Letter: We Want to Retain “Fart in Your General Direction” – When Monty Python and the Holy Grail was released in the mid-1970’s, producers wanted the film to be rated for all audiences (an “A” rating), instead of being rated for everyone 14 and older. Ratings systems amount to a kind of censorship, especially when filmmakers remove portions of their films in order to qualify for a more inclusive rating. This letter between producers of Monty Python regarding proposed changes to the film, though, has to be one of the all-time best of its kind (plus there’s a great clip from the movie).
I would like to get back to the Censor and agree to lose the shits, take the odd Jesus Christ out and lose Oh fuck off, but to retain ‘fart in your general direction’, ‘castanets of your testicles’ and ‘oral sex’ and ask him for an ‘A’ rating on that basis. –Open Culture