Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Slippery Nature of Interpretation and Banning

Perhaps the thing that has surprised me the most about this semester is the reasoning behind the bans placed against the books on our reading list. Some reasons seem to suggest that the person may not have even read the book, such as the accusations that Ms. Whatsit is a witch and that A Wrinkle in Time promotes witchcraft seem way off base. Other bans seem to suggest a cultural reversion to judgmental opinions, such that The Color Purple should be banned because of the sexual relationship between Shug and Celia when I am not sure if I could label either woman as a lesbian, I don’t think that label would do justice to the transformative and profound nature of their relationship that is less about sex, and more about self-discovery.

For me, I would be more concerned about the violence and the accepting attitudes towards it rather than the description of love. Thus the bans seem misguided to me, and even more so, misleading to the reader who hasn’t read the book yet and is forced to adhere to one person’s interpretation rather than giving the person the opportunity to make an opinion of their own. Even more so than that, what makes something indecent? And what happens to free speech in the cases of banning?

This then transitions to Steven Pinker’s ideas on the legislation of the FCC that defines "indecency" as "material that describes or depicts sexual or excretory organs or activities". And yet they rule that the use of the “F” word as an adjective is perfectly acceptable? Everything is subjective when it comes to bans or FCC fines because it is ultimately in the hands of a small group of people who cry foul that leads to censorship across the board. Perhaps a better definition for indecency could simply be any word usage that degrades or defiles a person. It’s strange to me that the FCC doesn’t factor in discrimination when they wrote their rules.

I personally have been desensitized to the “F” word due to the high exposure to it in school, music, movies, and sometimes just passing by a stray conversation. Thus it doesn’t offend me nearly as much as the “N” word or the “C” word. Earlier this semester, I reviewed a comedian’s performance on campus where he used both the “N” and the “C” word several times. And yet most people reacted to my review (in online comments) negatively saying that I was too uptight and oversensitive (and most not in a very polite manner for that fact). And there were a few people who defended me and some who thanked me in person. Language can be a very dangerous thing. And yet again subjectivity comes into play.

Shifting to the articles on L’Engle and literature specifically, I enjoyed Hettinga’s description of her as a storyteller over a theologian, an opinion that she echoed in the interview piece that we read. It is true that the answers to her questions have a faith-influenced principle to it and yet she is against literalistic interpretations of the Bible and often chooses the universal message. Parts of the author will and should show up on the page whether it is the style or their beliefs and yet to say that every story is a translated autobiography would take away from the fiction and the storytelling that she is really trying to get across. To see her as this mere philosopher would take away from her imaginative presence on the page. She gives a universal message but the message is only one piece of the pie. In addition to that we have seen in the multiple reasons behind bans how one interpretation certainly doesn’t account for all. Mary Gailbraith says it for me when she writes, “I don’t see that we are really getting to the heart of the literature we specialize in interpreting.”

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