When literary works are judged according to political viewpoint
Saipan — Perhaps one of the best things that could possibly happen to great literature — the classics and the modern classics — is already happening, thanks to its sworn enemy: Ideology.
What the 15th century friar Savonarola and his successors (other religious fundamentalists and dictatorships of various political hues) have tried to do, today’s ideologues intend to pursue. And that is to, once and for all, get rid of “immoral,” “bad,” or “evil” works of art, including and especially of the literary kind.
Everyone — or most everyone — was outraged by the Trumpistas who barged into the U.S. Capitol in the final days of his presidency. Their very presence in the chambers of Congress — the lawmaking body of the world’s most powerful nation — was like excrement smeared on immaculate white walls. Yet only a few people are complaining about the ongoing assault on the hallowed halls of Art.
One of them is author and critic Meghan Cox Gurdon who wrote last month about the ideologues’ “sustained effort” to suppress the works of, among other great authors, Homer (the Greek, not Simpson), F. Scott Fitzgerald and even liberal Democrat Dr. Seuss.
For today’s ideologues, says Gurdon, “children shouldn’t have to read stories written in anything other than the present-day vernacular — especially those ‘in which racism, sexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of hate are the norm’…. No author is valuable enough to spare. [One of the ideologues] instructs: ‘Absolving Shakespeare of responsibility by mentioning that he lived at a time when hate-ridden sentiments prevailed, risks sending a subliminal message that academic excellence outweighs hateful rhetoric.’”
One English teacher declared that unless Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel is used to “fight against misogyny and slut-shaming,” then he’d “rather die” than teach “The Scarlet Letter.”
In other words, being born in the 19th century or even earlier does not excuse an author’s un-wokeness.
You ask: What’s wokeness got to do with it? According to the ideologues, everything! Literary works must be judged based on a political viewpoint that is considered “correct” by our intellectual and therefore moral superiors. Most of us are morons who can’t tell right from wrong — unless we are guided by our ideological overlords who get to choose what we ought to read or to know. They know best; we have to listen to them. Otherwise, we will be “canceled.”
Here’s what I really think about our self-appointed literary guardians and their moral crusade:
Nothing makes something more enticing and more tempting than banning it.
In Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” all books have been banned, and the protagonist is a fireman who burns books whenever and wherever they are found. Guess what happened when he actually read a book.
Azar Nafisi, an Iranian-American professor of English literature, found herself in a society similar to Bradbury’s fictional world. In her 2003 best-selling book, “Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books,” Nafisi wrote, “We lived in a culture that denied any merit to literary works, considering them important only when they were handmaidens to something seemingly more urgent — ideology. This was a country where all gestures, even the most private, were interpreted in political terms.” A self-proclaimed philosopher-king, she said, “had come to rule our land…. And he now wanted to recreate us in [his] image….”
So she decided to host a forbidden book club whose members were seven of her former students. They enjoyed discussing truly “subversive” novels such as “Pride and Prejudice,” “Madame Bovary,” “Lolita.”
So yes please. Remove the Great Books from the curriculum. Denounce them. Call them immoral and corrupters of minors.
Like rock n’ roll.
Zaldy Dandan is editor of the NMI’s oldest newspaper, Marianas Variety, and author of three books available on amazon.com. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org