Circles of Censorship: Censorship and Its Metaphors in French History, Literature, and Theory

Circles of Censorship: Censorship and Its Metaphors in French History, Literature, and Theory

Circles of Censorship: Censorship and Its Metaphors in French History, Literature, and Theory

Circles of Censorship: Censorship and Its Metaphors in French History, Literature, and Theory

Synopsis

Circles of Censorship examines the ideas and practice of censorship and of freedom of expression in post-revolutionary French literary culture. Focusing on the fate of the work of writers such as Flaubert and Sade, and on the Freudian-influenced attempts by the Surrealists and the journal Tel Quel to evade censorship, Harrison presents a provocative critique of the ideas on censorship which currently dominate the discourses of human rights, psychoanalysis, and literary culture.

Excerpt

A recurrent feature of the discourses of censorship (particularly moral censorship) that I discussed in Chapter 1 was the notion implicit in them that, if carried out with complete efficiency and good faith, censorship might render itself unnecessary. According to this notion censorship is an ambiguous supplement to self- censorship, understood simultaneously to provide standards for its object group and to provide an external reinforcement of standards which the individuals in that group ought already to recognize spontaneously as their own. in the case of the Index, for instance, these standards were those of Christian morality, while in the case of post-revolutionary censorship, Republican values supposedly guaranteed and were guaranteed by freedom of expression, only 'abuses' of which (literary or otherwise) could bring it into conflict with other rights and standards. By the same logic, post-revolutionary censorship constantly presented itself in terms of temporary, emergency measures which would be unnecessary once the status quo had been 're'-stabilized; and, similarly, the arguments of a pro- censorship feminist such as MacKinnon often suggest that emergency measures to repress pornography are necessary, even if they infringe other people's rights in some respect, until a stable basis of sexual equality has been reached. Conversely, if the historical moment at which the notion of a supplementary, self-abolishing censorship was at its weakest was the end of the ancien régime, this was perhaps because, as I argued in the first section of Chapter 1, the system of censorship at that time had a built-in awareness of a split between the public or social and the private or individual, and of the fact that this was a period of transition in which that which was censored in the present was potentially the orthodoxy of the future.

Even in periods when the implicit model of the 'supplement' was powerful, however, it was not necessarily true that proponents of censorship genuinely believed that the projected moment when censorship would be unnecessary would ever arrive. in the case of the Index, for example, it was no doubt thought that the ubiquity . . .

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