Friday, October 1, 2010

Intellectual Freedom

There's an unwritten contract between writer and reader. The author is here to challenge you, to hold up a mirror and show you what they see, a new viewpoint different from your own. It is in the nature of any reflection that we will not always see what we expect to see. At its worst it is merely titillating, but at its best this is the beginning of a conversation.

The juxtaposition of different viewpoints, one set beside the next, interlocking reflections of life in our times (or past times in some cases) adds depth and understanding because no single image can be the entire picture. In the words of the oft-censored author Douglas Adams: "The function of art is to hold the mirror up to nature, and there simply isn’t a mirror big enough..."

Without the conversation, without seeing as much of the picture as is available to you, all the reflections available to you, you cannot hope to have a fully-realized picture of our culture. Pull the mirror off the wall and the reflection will go away but it will not change what it showed. Only by taking all the images available -- even those we disagree with -- and overlaying them can we begin to see the whole interconnected collage of overlapping lives and loves and wonder that surrounds us. The whole of creation laid out before us in the stacks of the world library.

Last year, Judith Krug died, leaving behind a tradition of raising up those voices that others would silence. Ms Krug founded "Banned Books Week" from the aptly-named Office of Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association.

Art is supposed to be a challenge to your viewpoint. If all we ever read or hear are those voices which already agree with us, then we are stagnant and the conversation dies. And that... that would be truly tragic.

The Hall of Dangerous Ideas includes the likes ofL Geoffery Chaucer, Montaigne, William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, George Orwell, John Steinbeck, Joseph Heller, JD Salinger, the Christina Bible, the Quran and the US Constitution. These are the dangers when we allow someone else to decide what we can read.  Some of the greatest minds and influential works ever to pass from pen to page have all been censored, blocked, burned and banned.  And through it all, the real literary heroes have been the librarians who stepped in front of the censors and said "Not on my watch".

UPenn offers the following list of banned literature:

Find out more and get your own free unplugged robot bookmark downloads from The American Library Association (ALA) Office of Intellectual Freedom.

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).