Ban Ban Go Away

I always seem to discover banned book week in retrospect. With the insane amount of time put into getting to and from work, and actually working, my daily bus ride is my main vehicle (literally) for reading. For eating forbidden fruit. Historically speaking, the first literature was religious literature. Much of it, if anybody bothered to read it, would end up on banned book lists, I’m sure. The Bible is granted a special amnesty, given its reputation as a divinely penned parchment, but it too has its share of unseemly topics. Sex is there almost from the beginning. Violence too. We could go further, but sex and violence are usually sufficient to land a book on the list. And the choices are always so period specific. Catcher in the Rye seems downright tame in the new millennium (or, indeed, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening), and yet we still find new books to condemn. I wonder if such books aren’t forming a new kind of scripture.

There was a time when religion challenged social convention rather than championed it. Religions have been co-opted and domesticated by political interests. Can you imagine the man who overturned money-changers’ tables in the temple on the floor of the stock exchange? We have quantified everything, even—especially—human beings. That which can be quantified can be measured and that which can be measured can be sold. Religions, but only those upholding the status quo, grease those wheels nicely. If we had a chance to know religious founders personally, I suspect we would have found banned books in their libraries. Ideas can be dangerous things.

Despite my generally kind words on this blog, I do read books that I don’t like from time to time. I would never challenge the right of the author to express his or her ideas, nor the publishers (no matter how misguided I think them) for promoting them. I am not the one to quantify. Looking over the American Library Association’s list of banned and frequently challenged books, however, I realize that my fiction-reading hours would be slim indeed. We tend not to ban non-fiction, challenging though it may be. It is the imagination that offends. Such is the power of fiction. Last week was banned book week. Time to look over the list of latest condemned editions to find what to read this week. I am always looking for future scriptures.

The usual suspects...

The usual suspects…

2 thoughts on “Ban Ban Go Away

  1. “Historically speaking, the first literature was religious literature.”
    On the most obvious understanding of “literature”, of course, this is quite obvious. But I suspect it may be legitimate and illuminating to ask at what point do stories circulating in an oral tradition become literature, for development of story-telling, like the development of language itself, must prredate the point at which evidence for it begins to be left to be accessed by later generations.

    If we can ask at what point those ancient stories could be classed as a kind of literature, we can ask also at what point those stories began to be put to a religious use. And then the statement, “Historically speaking, the first literature was religious literature,” is by no means obvious true.

    By the end of your first paragraph you raise a question very similar to the one I should like to ask of the ancient corpus of story-telling. Or, if you like, it’s the question whether religion arose out of story-telling or whether story-telling arose out of religion. I would go for the former, though I doubt it could ever be settled conclusively one way or the other.


    • Steve Wiggins

      Good points, Rob. In dealing with the earliest periods we are stymied with lack of data for the questions we like to pose. Gilgamesh is often cited as the first “literary” work, although, I have my doubts. Certainly religion and story-telling are closely related.


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