Rushdie on Censorship
Salman Rushdie writes ‘On Censorship’ in The New Yorker:
The creative act requires not only freedom but also this assumption of freedom. If the creative artist worries if he will still be free tomorrow, then he will not be free today. If he is afraid of the consequences of his choice of subject or of his manner of treatment of it, then his choices will not be determined by his talent, but by fear. If we are not confident of our freedom, then we are not free.
And, even worse than that, when censorship intrudes on art, it becomes the subject; the art becomes ‘censored art’, and that is how the world sees and understands it. The censor labels the work immoral, or blasphemous, or pornographic, or controversial, and those words are forever hung like albatrosses around the necks of those cursed mariners, the censored works. The attack on the work does more than define the work; in a sense, for the general public, it becomes the work. For every reader of Lady Chatterley’s Lover or Tropic of Capricorn, every viewer of Last Tango in Paris or A Clockwork Orange, there will be ten, a hundred, a thousand people who ‘know’ those works as excessively filthy, or excessively violent, or both.
The assumption of guilt replaces the assumption of innocence. Why did that Indian Muslim artist have to paint that Hindu goddess in the nude? Couldn’t he have respected her modesty? Why did that Russian writer have his hero fall in love with a nymphet? Couldn’t he have chosen a legally acceptable age? Why did that British playwright depict a sexual assault in a Sikh temple, a gurdwara? Couldn’t the same assault have been removed from holy ground? Why are artists so troublesome? Can’t they just offer us beauty, morality, and a damn good story? Why do artists think, if they behave in this way, that we should be on their side? ‘And the people all said sit down, sit down you’re rocking the boat / And the devil will drag you under, with a soul so heavy you’ll never float / Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down / You’re rocking the boat.’