Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Censorship of State . . .

Nineteenth-Century French Engraving Protests Censorship
The Censor with his Scissors is on the Left
Library of Congress

Alberto Manguel has written a fascinating article reviewing Robert Darnton's Censors at Work (NYT, November 7, 2014), for Darnton shows that censors often acted as copy editors - or even as literary critics!
[W]hat exactly is censorship? This is the question with which Robert Darnton, the foremost historian of the book and the art of reading, begins his enthralling new volume . . . . Most historians of censorship, like Fernando Báez in his excellent "A Universal History of the Destruction of Books," assume that the censor's task has always been to forbid and destroy. Darnton shows that this is not the case . . . . He begins by looking at a book printed in Paris in 1722 that carries the "approbation and privilege of the king." These approbations, as Darnton notes, qualify as censorship because they were "delivered by royal censors" . . . . [R]ather than what modern readers would expect from a censoring hand, they are something closer to our present-day blurbs. One of these censors, a professor at the Sorbonne, notes: "I had pleasure in reading it; it is full of fascinating things." Another, a theologian, remarks with obvious delight that a book inspired "that sweet but avid curiosity that makes us want to continue further." As Darnton makes clear, censorship under the Bourbon monarchy was not a system of limitations; it was a way of channeling the power of print through the figure of the king and his representatives, asserting royal authority over everything, even the word. Royal censors were not mainly on the outlook for subversive voices: instead, they worked like copy editors, concerned with matters of style, grammar, readability and originality of thought, even going so far as correcting spelling and redoing math. A book approved by the king should not be badly written . . . . [C]ensorship in 18th-­century France manifested itself primarily as a sort of literary criticism.
Now, I've got it, the reason for my novella's modest sales - I lack a censor! Down with the corrupt novella titled The Bottomless Bottle of Beer! Bring on the censors!

Please . . .

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At 4:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jeffrey: Thank you for the 'heads up' on the new book on censorship. I believe the principal problem with the notion that because what is written can be dangerous as well as beneficial (just as what is thought may be!) it is necessary to filter out the 'bad' and strengthen the 'good" is that it assumes, on the part of the censor, some kind of infallible detector of the good and bad. Only those who are fearful of their own fallibility believe they can minimize it by force. But human fallibility is a divine gift, not a curse. It makes it necessary for us to listen to others and respect their notions of good and bad. The only legitimate spiritual state is that of recognition of the limits of our understanding. We only grow by turning our faces, like the plants toward the sun, in the direction of grace. Those who would decide that direction for us are the enemies of life itself.

Jim Watt

p.s. It's good to know that a scholar of medieval theology is blogging on line! I wonder if you have any insights on the influence of Abbot Joachim's ideas on St. Louis (Louis IX of France) and his court?

At 4:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the response, Jim. I agree with you about censorship and the infallible censor.

But as for being a scholar of medieval theology . . . I wish I were. Actually, I'm a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.

I've mostly published on Milton . . . and been inspired by him to write that novella alluded to in my post.

Jeffery Hodges

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