Thursday, 6 January 2011

CENSORSHIP AND VIRTUE - Alex Trocchi ( 30/7/25 - 15/4/84)

As we enter a new decade the following article I feel, still has much relevance. Books and images still banned, passions still ignited, because of the power of the word . We have always lived in dangerous times, words have been used and abused since the first scribble. A complex issue, one persons freedom is anothers contradiction . - teifidancer

I myself have heard a birth-control pamphlet condemned as obscene on several grounds one of which was a suggestion that possibly women might enjoy sexual intercourse.Bertrand Russell

The proprietors of the Olympia Press have the firm conviction that Lord Russel, the eminent British philosopher, is not alone in his contempt for the current laws of censorship in English-speaking countries. While such authors as Chaucher, Boccaccio, Shakespeare, and Congreve are available at least in the metropolis because they are 'classics', each modern work, if it treats of sexual matters - and what serious writer can omit a consideration of them? - is subject at once to the indecent whims and narrow moral codes of the County magistrate. A number of years ago some optimists felt confidant that the final vindication of James Joyce's Ulysses an important principle of freedom hd been established. Unfortunately, this was not so. No sooner had the enemies of free thought lost on that ground - well-lost, perhaps, since few people had the patience to read Ulysses - than they burrowed like the good rabbits they are through each and every book that led man in plain language to look inward at his own sexual nature. The principle established by the legal vindication of Ulysses turns out to be a dangerous one. Any book which is courageous and not obscure seems automatically to be branded as obscene without the justification of being of literary value. Mrs Grundy has nothing to fear from the obscure; having given way on that ground she now redoubles her effort in the field of the more outspoken. The book burners are still with us.
In spite of the risk involved , these reasons prompt the Olympia Press to place before the general public complete and integral texts of such banned masters as the Marquis de Sade, Frank Harris, Henry Miller, and Guillaume Apollinaire.
But there is another reason: is this censorship of which we have spoken real? We think not. Up till now many of the above books have been available in deluxe editions beyond the income of the general reader. If they were issued at a popular price, the texts were mutilated and the books abridged. Now , for the first time in history, the works of Sade and Miller, with full unexpurgated texts, in masterly and exciting translations are offered at reasonable prices in handsome book format. We have the coureage of our convictions, hoping that in this way many people - the average man as well as the scholar - will be given the opportunity of reading and testing for themselves the greatness of men hitherto condemned to silence by ambiguous laws that have caused or heads to be buried like the ostrich's at the approach of imaginary danger.
Recently there has been much controversy about the Marquis de Sade. Books have been written about him by such eminent critics and sociologists as Geoffrey Gorer, Mario Praz, and Simone de Beauvoir. Even under their advanced patronage, his works are confined to a few great libraries. Indeed, the rules are confined to a few libraries. Indeed, the rules of the British Museum demand that the Archbishop of Canterbury be present in the room while his books are being read. Furthermore, they are in French - an added barrier to the circulation of ideas which are dangerous only in their suppression. Writers such as Frank Harris, Henry Miller and Jean Genet are condemned without a hearing. Worse, a more cotemporary problem - young writers whose literary efforts include scenes and words, often searching and profound, but offensive to certain ladies and gentlemen for the most part anonymous, can find no outlt for their work.
That the position is beginning to be serious is evident from the recent controversy in the British press. One eminent reporter is reported to have said ' it ammounts to a reign of terror'. There are no hard and fast laws, no ways of knowing beforehand. One fine morning one wakes up like K . in Kafka's The Trial, and theaweful little gentlemen are there in the shape of a letter. Defence is costly and sometimes impracticable . As any lawyer will tell you , there is no unequivocal law. If one commits a murder one knows roughly speaking where one stands. If , on the other hand one releases a book in which the author has subjected to searching analysis those areas of human experience which are still considered by the ignorant to be taboo, one has no idea what consequences will follow. Fame, igominy, even prison - no-one can hazard a guess in advance. The reason for this is not hard to find. Thw whole subject is shrouded in ignorance. Ignorance defends itself by equivocation. The opponents of free thought cannot state their case in clear and simple terms, for the truth is that their driving force is nothing more or less than a fear of knowledge.
Is it virtuous to fear knowledge? Is it wise to build walls against it? How many virtuous men will be broken against those walls? We are dealing here with a subject of vital importance. It is a shorter step than commonly supposed between the rigid suppression of eroticism in literature and the creation of a totalitarian nightmare in which tribal unreason erects its black cremations for the living dead. There is no virtue in ignorance. We need not go back as far as John Milton to meet with the clear truth of the matter, that there is no virtue in the Censor.


A Life in Pieces
Reflections on Alexander Trocchi - edited by Allan Campbell and Tim Niel
Rebel Inc, 1997

For further info on Mr Trocchi
see below where you will find two very interesting pieces in this blogs index.

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