Lionel Shriver – Free Speech Warrior

Lionel Shriver

Last year I wrote an entire novel set in Indian country, that vast part of Canada which is accessible mainly to aboriginals, whether Innu or straight-up “first nations”. I ground to a halt when I realized to my complete horror, that is would never pass muster in a publishing house today, especially given my regrettable (in retrospect) enthusiastic participation in the issues of the day. Which already place a decent publishing contract difficult if not out of reach, since most editors in New York and London would consider me and my (entirely regrettable) opinions, anathema.

I have, after all, already been called “jack-booted” by a mainstream publishing acquisitions editor

Writers, published ones, are no longer allowed to ‘speak their truth’ if they write about anyone not specific to their race and sex. This is a silencing on a grand scale, a medieval Church scale, a jihadi in today’s Muslim countries scale. Seriously have you ever tried to watch a tv series out of the Greater Middle East? Crapola on steroids.

Literature is undergoing The Great Silencing.

I understand the resentments of people-of-color when they read about themselves in a white novelist’s work. I spent a good fifteen years in the arts community and a couple novelists have filched trivial elements of my life to create characters and reading about those characters, was a deeply unpleasant feeling. How much greater more soul destroying it would be if you were someone struggling against felt or real prejudice and see some fat rich white guy or gal cashing in on your pain? The pain is yours, not theirs. Plus they have been doing so for hundreds of years. This is real.

This is a silencing on a grand scale, a medieval Church scale, a jihadi in today’s Muslim countries scale. Seriously have you ever tried to watch a tv series out of the Greater Middle East? Crapola on steroids. There is no truth there, just superficial image-making.

I add two paras from Lionel Shriver’s piece in Prospect Magazine, here:

As for adult literature, it’s impossible to gauge the degree of politically correct censorship going on behind the scenes at publishing companies and literary agencies. Editors and agents are unlikely to assert directly that a submission’s content is too hot to handle. Having tackled divisive subjects or deployed characters who don’t hew to the rules of identity politics—rules that are often opaque, or at least until you break them—authors are left with uneasy suspicions about why their manuscripts might be attracting no takers, but with no hard evidence.

Trust me on this, it’s hard enough to get published without this lying in wait. It’s hard enough to write, given this lying in wait. Shriver again:

Equally impossible to gauge is the extent of writers’ collective self-censorship. The tetchiness and public shaming of “call out” culture has to be influencing which subjects writers feel free to address and which they shy away from, as well as making many writers reluctant to include a diverse cast. Does the edict to eschew stereotypes mean a black character can never be a drug dealer? (So much for The Wire, then. Or Clockers, both created by white men.) Rather than tip-toe through this minefield, plenty of writers must be playing it safe with characters, topics and plots that won’t get them into trouble. But this caution is invisible. Literary roads not taken are mapped privately in a writer’s head, behind a screen, with the drapes drawn. We have no record of what a host of individual authors have decided to avoid.

That’s what I mean about the Great Silencing. I would ask this question to those who are tempted to censor. Who the hell are you to decide the direction of the culture?

And to those people of color, I ask: what if we whiteys had not spent the last three hundred years writing about the wrongs done those discriminated against? What if all those (usually male) novelists hadn’t made people feel how awful it was? How do you know that you are not creating the next great wrong? You don’t. Art must be free, speech must be free. Let the freaking market decide. The culture has already turned towards you. Let. It. Ride.

Because, make no doubt, without the entire (sometimes hideous) panoply of human life on display, we on a fast road to tyranny.

I add the usual disclaimer. There are four separate Indian bands represented in the bloodline of my blended family, starting in 1783 when one of my ancestors married into the Mohawk. I have Venezuelan cousins, and my grandchildren have Jamaican cousins. So politely, piss off with your accusations of racism.

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