Harley Moore, from eBook Eros invited me to blog on the subject of censorship, banned books and taboo topics in literature.
I think that some people are going to have a hard time with my position on this subject: I do not support the legal censorship of any book, on any subject, period. I don’t think any book should be legally banned and I don’t think there is any topic a writer should be prohibited from writing about.
I do, however, support a legal ban on materials that sexually involve, for instance, minors in the process of production, i.e. movies or still photographs. However, I find even this issue to be problematic. There have been instances in which photographers have been vilified or charged with producing underage ‘pornography’ where, if there is a pornographic element going on, it is in the eye of the viewer and not, necessarily in the eye of the photographer. A good example of this is the photographer Sally Mann.
Another example of why I have issues with the censorship of visual imagery is the recent legal controversy over Japanese Lolicon comics, which are drawn images of cartoon children in sexually explicit situations. I wanted to get the issues of visual material out of the way so I can focus on textual representations.
There are a lot of books I find offensive. Many, many I would not buy or provide a link to, or in any way promote. But this is me exercising personal choice. I don’t think something should be banned just because I, and even perhaps the majority of the population, find it disgusting.
Ideas in the mind of the writer and words on a page or a screen are abstract concepts – not concrete reality. They are idea representations, remediations. And as much as it might upset me – thinking, writing or reading about, for instance, acts of pedophilia is NOT committing them.
My main concern is not with the subject itself, but with the propensity for society to mistake an idea or thought about something with the actual fact. This inability to distinguish the two has been used conveniently by powers seeking control over citizens for centuries. Books on sedition, books criticizing the church, books dealing with homosexuality or race mixing, erotic texts: people in power have often used the law to suppress thoughts which question their right to be in power, to pursue alternative sexualities and to worship other gods.
When you bring the law into the equation, you enable the abuse of power over the thoughts of others. I think it is dangerous, fundamentally wrong, and I condemn it. And if I have to ignore a few books on pedophilia to ensure universal freedom to think what we want to think, then I will do it.
It is very easy to work people up emotionally over the real victimization of a small child, then equate it to something written in a book, and then to demand that all representation of the sexuality of people under the age of 18 should be banned. In the meantime, we have just disallowed ourselves from being able to freely acknowledge, textually, that we lost our virginities at the age of 15. Which is pretty much where we are right now in the erotica genre. I cannot get a sexual coming of age story published unless I assiduously fail to mention the age at which it happens. This is absurd.
Meanwhile, I am free to eroticize staggeringly violent acts, but there’s no publisher that will touch a story about a man who wakes up one morning to find his wife dead, and in a moment of intense grief, has sex with her body one last time.
The great blessing of the written word is that it allows us to communicate, examine and debate concepts that should not be played out in reality. It is by far the safest space in which to struggle with issues that, in the real world, would erode the fabric of our civil society.
When I wrote ‘Gaijin’, I was inundated with letters from irate women who accused me of eroticizing rape. I did write representations of rape that were intentionally erotic and designed to arouse. But the emails went on to accuse me of promoting rape and enabling rapists, as if there were no distinction between a fictional representation of rape and the reality.
(I also got an email from a woman who told me that she’d been raped, orgasmed during the rape, and felt terribly conflicted because she could not truly see herself as ‘wronged’ since her body had not reacted in accordance with her mental state. She said the book allowed her to find a way to come to terms with the paradox.)
I’m not suggesting that rape victims should read the book. I’m quite sure it would upset, sicken or offend the hell out of most of them. The book was written out of my need to grapple with the conundrum of rape fantasy. As many as 57% of all women have sexual fantasies that involve them being the victims of non-consensual sex acts. Up to 17% of women have these fantasies regularly. (Critelli and Bivona, “Women’s Erotic Rape Fantasies: An Evaluation of Theory and Research”, Journal of Sex Research, Volume 45, Issue 1, 2008)
Although I don’t think there is any subject I would not write about, there are certainly subjects I would not intentionally eroticize in my writing. This is a personal choice I make as an individual writer.
Conversely, there are things I have no interest in reading. But no one is forcing me to read them. And if I find, halfway through an erotic story, that I am becoming upset or offended, I simply close the book, or leave the webpage. It’s that simple. I exercise my choice to not expose myself to something I find offensive.
I believe that banning books, and publishers who adhere to blindly to taboo guidelines, and writers who may want to write on certain subjects but self-censor themselves in order to adhere to those guidelines – all those situations deny me the right to make decisions for myself as thinking adult. And I resent it.
Some of the most moving and thought-provoking writing I have read have been works where characters are presented in extremis and where I am presented with morally ambiguous questions. It is my very discomfort as a reader that has triggered deep and serious introspection on many topics. These are the books will stay with me for life. They have played a part in forming my character as a person, and my identity as a writer.
I’d like to offer you two links to short stories which, I hope, will disturb you, arouse you and make you think. “Nadica”, by Mike Kimera and “An Early Winter Train” by C. Sanchez-Garcia . They are both stories that many erotica publishers would have problems publishing under their guidelines.
The power of governments, publishers and the righteously indignant to make sure I don’t read things that are bad for me is patronizing, offensive and frightening. I am heartily grateful to the rise of internet-published fiction. Certainly, there is a lot of badly written, offensive and repugnant crap out there, but I want to be the one who determines what that is for myself. I don’t want that power to reside in someone else’s hands. I have historical proof that this is almost always a very bad idea.
Finally, I believe that the current trend towards making the world of literature ‘safe’ is essentially damaging. Readers are being acclimatized to having choices made for them. They are being lulled into believing that other entities will inure them from offense and keep their minds safe from harm. Under the guise of protecting society from evil things, they are being enabled to relinquish their responsibility as individuals to exercise discernment. And they are learning not to question the agendas of the people who are so eager to do it for them.