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REFLECTION

2.18.06

Afterward to a Three-Part Series

by Alexander Brody

Every discussion of the culture of fear, regardless of context, must lead sooner or later to the discussion of censorship, as of presumed means to the culture's strengthening and expansion.

Censorship is violence.

It is the violence which the masters of the culture of

fear sponsor in order to assure acquiescence within the communities in which they have risen to prominence. But it is transitional violence, intended to stop with community-wide conversion to voluntary self censorship.

There is no better analysis of the dynamics of censorship than the essay by the writer and literary critic Danilo Kis (1935-1989), first published with the title "The State, the Imagination, and the Censored I" in the November 3, 1985 issue of The New York Times Book Review, and later included under the title "Censorship/Self-Censorship" in the anthology Homo Poeticus, edited by Susan Sontag, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, 1995.

"The Censor," Kis writes, "wants both to establish his legitimacy and, by denying it, to camouflage his very existence. For while the censor considers censorship a historical necessity, an institution dedicated to public order and the ruling political party, he does not like to admit that it is there. He considers it a passing evil, one required by a system that is constantly embattled. Censorship, then, is only a transitory measure that will be scrapped as soon as all those people who write, whether letters or books, come of age and prove themselves politically mature...."

Kis continues:

"However you look at it, censorship is the manifestation of a pathological condition, the symptom of a chronic illness, self-censorship, that develops in conjunction with it. Invisible but there, far from the public eye and buried deep in the most secret parts of the spirit, it is far more efficient than censorship. While both depend on the same means - threats, fear, blackmail - self-censorship masks, or at any rate does not reveal the exercise of, constraint. The fight against censorship is open and dangerous and thus heroic, while the battle against self-censorship is anonymous, lonely, and unwitnessed - a source of humiliation and shame for the collaborator....

The self-appointed censor is the writer's double, a double who leans over his shoulder and interferes with the text in statu nascendi, keeping him from making an ideological misstep. It is impossible to win against this censor-double; he is like God, he knows all and sees all, because he comes out of your own brain, your own fears, your own nightmares. This battle with your double, this intellectual and moral concentration, necessarily leaves visible scars on the text, unless the struggle ends in the one and only morally acceptable gesture - you destroy the manuscript and give up on the project. But even this renunciation, this victory, has the same effect - a sense of failure and shame. For whatever you do, your double always wins. If you've got rid of him, he mocks your fears; if you've listened to him, he taunts you for your cowardice.

In the final analysis, the writer's double succeeds in undermining and tainting even the most moral individual, one whom outside censorship had not succeeded in breaking. In refusing to admit to self-censorship, the author yields to lies and spiritual corruption...."

What conclusion can one draw from all this?

That the act of self-censorship inevitably leads to artistic and human catastrophe, no less lethal than that caused by censorship itself; that self-censorship is a dangerous manipulation of the mind, with grave consequences for... the human spirit.

The political and thematic contexts in which Kis wrote his essay are other than the context of the OCANews series on "The Culture of Fear, Half Truth and Deception." This fact does not lesson the relevance of his insights. In sum, a thoughtful afterword.

 


 

 
 

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