Posts Tagged ‘culture’

On Burning Books

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

I don’t approve of burning books anymore than I approve of burning people. But, as Heinrich Heine pointed out so long ago (and as Christopher Hitchens reminds us) it seems that one inevitably follows the other.

A few weeks ago, that certain pastor in Florida made good on his promise to burn a copy of the Koran. The response from the Islamic world was what we’ve come to expect from the fundamentalist sects: outrage, murder, and madness.
The response from the western world, however, is what really troubles me.

Overwhelmingly, American journalists and media pundits have thrown the blame for these deaths and a perceived “increased risk to our troops” at the feet of this misguided pastor.
Now, think for a moment. What does this mean?

If you, for example, were to burn a copy of one of my books, would I have a right to shoot you? I wrote the bloody thing, after all. Would the news outlets and journalists of the world be chiming in saying, “Well, he did burn the man’s book, you know. It meant a lot to him.” Of course not.

And for you squeamish, un-evolved, compartmentalizing apologists out there who would point out that the pastor insulted the Muslim ‘religion,’ as though that made a difference, I have a question for you. Why does religion get a special pass? Why does one group of people have a unique right to be offended, and, as the aggrieved, then also have the right to raid and murder dozens who weren’t even involved?

If I were to burn the Mexican flag, (which I would never do) would any Mexican have the right to kill me? How about if I to take a blade to a stuffed elephant, could then republicans threaten my family? Ahh, but what if I were to burn a bible, and then get assaulted by a christian? I’ll bet some of you see that as different, somehow. This is the chasm in rational thought that I’m talking about.

If we attach faith to heinous behaviors, there comes a sort of queasy understanding from those that know their holy books are just as cruel, just as primitive, and just as steeped in myth and nonsense.

Free speech is a concept that has been shown to foster not just the most innovative and creative people, but societies as well. The right to express yourself and put forth your own ideas about even the biggest and most controversial topics is a human necessity. So long as I never threaten or harm anyone, I expect that the most horrendous passages in my books not be censored, not cause my life to be in danger, and certainly not cause the death of anyone.  (As they say, ‘my right to swing my fist ends at your nose’)

There’s a strange dichotomy in the air about some groups. Even otherwise freethinking, evolved human beings may rail against such medieval stupidity one moment, then  in the next, they’ll advocate the de facto observance of Islamic law by condemning those who don’t abide by it.

I, for one, am not bound by Sharia, and I will not be intimidated and frightened into blaming one stupid pastor for the murderous acts of thousands of misguided people acting under the shield of “religious faith.”

How dare anyone allow them that shield? How dare anyone give leeway for torture and public execution when that old con-job of “faith” is involved?

As an atheist, I find this offensive. As an artist, I find it unacceptable. As a human being, I find it a disgrace.

Where do you stand? Are you standing at all? Or, are you already bowing, perhaps?

Socrates was killed for “impiety,” and corrupting the youth with ideas. I won’t drink the hemlock, folks. I will turn pale, hemmorage and die in an empty cell writing blasphemies in my own blood before I allow anyone to tell me what I can or cannot express. I’d like to think you would too, but lately, I have to wonder.

Disclaimer: Yes, I am aware of and applaud “moderate Muslims” out there. Although your outrage over such overt acts of violence by your brothers in faith has always seemed strangely quiet, if not altogether absent. And yes, if it were any other group of any other kind that was trying to intimidate free speech out of our rights, I’d be just as fervent and combative.

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The Shoulders of Giants

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

 

As with any generation, we’re in a state of evolutionary flux, moreso with our art than perhaps anything else. It’s no coincidence that the greatest writers of all time have drawn inspiration from the titans that bounded around the mythical mountaintops before them. 

There’s a whisper of Robbins’s off-beat flamboyancy in Franzen , Vonnegut-esque hints of alien existentialism in Robbins, the hand of Joyce in Vonnegut’s work, and so on back into the cuneiform days.

In fiction, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that there are two primary categories: fluff and further.  Fluff has it’s place, much like taco-bell in the fast-food lineup. Every once in a blackout-drunk we’ll treat ourselves to the non-meat biohazard sour cream buffet.  After all, we’re not dying nearly quick enough, right?

There’s no judgment here; I wouldn’t wish a life devoid of cliché erotica and moody vampires on anyone.  My question is this- How healthy is it to fill our frontal lobes with filler for every meal?

Levity and dirty sex and dubious spy capers find their way into furthering our literary evolution sometimes, but I suppose I’m a damn snob.

More than any specific criteria, books that I read move me and change me most when I can hear their words echo down the long hallway of human passion.  This is the “further” category.

There’s something to the ghosts of lost writers being superimposed on the page that gives me a communion with not just the fellow (or madam) whose name graces the cover, but with the collective consciousness of the once-trail-blazers who’ve passed their energy entirely into the new breed of interior explorers.

Look at your to-read pile and ask yourself how many of the on-deck tomes stick their noses out another inch or two into the future, and maybe try to focus a bit more on those. It’s our job to climb and give a better view for the oncoming usurpers and arrogant upstarts that’ll rule our old stomping ground tomorrow.

Perhaps our progeny of readers and artists could be better served than looking down upon idiotic celebrity memoirs and hallucinatory conspiracy theories. Not an unreasonable position, I don’t think, but feel free to tell me otherwise.

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