Author Topic: TKO


« on: November 28, 2022 »
The following ran at the end of Zoe Williams' "fight" with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in The Guardian, which has been described as Sugar Ray Leonard in the ring with Mr Bean (to which I would add, the ring being in sacred tribal land).

'An epidemic of self-censorship’
An extract from the writer’s Reith lecture

We now live in broad settled ideological tribes. We no longer need to have real discussions because our positions are already assumed, based on our tribal affiliation. Our tribes demand from us a devotion to orthodoxy and they abide not reason, but faith. Many young people are growing up in this cauldron afraid to ask questions for fear of asking the wrong questions. And so, they practise an exquisite kind of self-censorship. Even if they believe something to be true or important, they do not say so because they should not say so.

One cannot help but wonder in this epidemic of self-censorship, what are we losing and what have we lost? [In large print to help Zoe and Katharine Viner read it better - Ed.] We are all familiar with stories of people who have said or written something and then, faced a terrible online backlash. There is a difference between valid criticism, which should be part of free expression, and this kind of backlash, ugly personal insults, putting addresses of homes and children’s schools online, trying to make people lose their jobs.

To anyone who thinks, “Well, some people who have said terrible things, deserve it,” no. Nobody deserves it. It is unconscionable barbarism. It is a virtual vigilante action whose aim is not just to silence the person who has spoken but to create a vengeful atmosphere that deters others from speaking. There is something honest about an authoritarianism that recognises itself to be what it is. Such a system is easier to challenge because the battle lines are clear. But this new social censure demands consensus while being wilfully blind to its own tyranny. I think it portends the death of curiosity, the death of learning and the death of creativity.

No human endeavour requires freedom as much as creativity does. To create, one needs a kind of formless roving of the mind, to go nowhere and anywhere and everywhere. It is from that swell that art emerges. The German writer, Gunter Grass, once reflected on his writing process with these words: “The barriers fell, language surged forward, memory, imagination, the pleasure of invention.” As a writer, I recognised this intimately. As a reader, I have often felt the magic of literature, that sudden internal shiver while reading a novel, that glorious shock of mutuality, a sense of wonder that a stranger’s words could make me feel less alone in the world.

Literature shows us who we are, takes us into history, tells us not just what happened but how it felt and teaches us, as an American professor once put it, about things that are “not googleable.” Books shape our understanding of the world. We speak of “Dickensian London.” We look to great African writers like Aidoo and Ngugi to understand the continent and we read Balzac for the subtleties of post-Napoleonic France.

Literature deeply matters and I believe literature is in peril because of social censure. If nothing changes, the next generation will read us and wonder, how did they manage to stop being human? How were they so lacking in contradiction and complexity? How did they banish all their shadows?