Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Banned Book Week, Day 4: Read this and irritate a censor

I am mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, the sale of a book can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too, as an offense against religion; that a question like this can be carried before the civil magistrate. Is this then our freedom of religion?

Thomas Jefferson,
Letter to M. Dufief (1814)

On the fourth day of Banned Book Week. we're beginning with the words of our patron here at p3. He had his flaws, but he believed that the new republic's best chance stood with free expression of ideas, not the power of institutions to shut them down.

Today's banned book has spent its time before the magistrates over the years: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State's motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.

The enormous room in the ground floor faced toward the north. Cold for all summer beyond the panes, for all the tropical heat of the room itself, a harsh thin light glared through the windows, hungrily seeking some draped lay figure, some pallid shape of academic goose-flesh, but finding only the glass and nickel and bleakly shining prcelain of a laboratory. Wintriness responded to wintriness. The overalls of the workers were white, their hands gloved with a pale corpse-coloured rubber. The light was frozen, dead, a ghost. Only from the yellow barrels of the microscopes did it borrow a certain rich and living substance, lying along the polished tubes like butter, streak after luscious streak in long recession down the work tables.

"And this," said the Director opening the door, "is the Fertilizing Room."

Bent over their instruments, three hundred Fertilizers were plunged, as the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning entered the room ,in the scarcely breathing silence, the absent-minded soliloquizing hum or whistle, of absorbed concentration. A troop of newly arrived students, very young, pnk and callow, followed nervously, rather abjectly, at the Director's heels. Each of them carried a notebook, in which, whenever the great man spoke, he desperately scribbled. Straight from the horse's mouth. It was a rare privilege. The D.H.C. for Central London always made a point of personally conducting his new students round the various departments.

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