Recently, there has been discussion around the internetsphere about the index of banned books which, this June, celebrated its 50th anniversary of being banned itself by Pope Paul VI (Quaeritur: If the list of forbidden books is itself forbidden does this mean that there is now a new, higher-level index and the only entry in it is the old index? Can the index ever truly be banned or does it possess qualities that follow Goedel’s Theorem such that the index can never truly know itself?). It was a good run while it lasted.
Personally, I am pro-index (Seriously, I kind of am). If I had my druthers, it would be in full force today. In fact, it would be greatly expanded – there would be so, very many books I would place on it. Dappled Things has been hosting a discussion about self-censorship in art but I say forget about self-censorship, it’s too much responsibility, too much freedom and nuance. Take the easy way out, prop your feet up on the coffee table, and let me do all the work. All I’ll need is absolute and total power to dictate what shall be consumed by the reading public. Spoiler alert: We’ll all be reading a lot of P.G. Wodehouse and Muriel Spark. This would be the happy, flip side of Index 2.0, a brighter, happier world of delightful books we are suddenly free to read because the bad books have been culled and are no longer draining our reading time away and clogging the shelf space at the book store. Imagine a world in which, instead of Game of Thrones books in the display window at the book store, there is instead an assortment of Evelyn Waugh novels and picture books of English country houses. Utopia is possible, my friends. You simply need to trust me and read what I say.
Let’s not focus on how blessed the literary world would become under my tutelage, no, I want the tone of this article to be far more negative, because before we can enter a joyous world of Edith Wharton inspired bliss, we must first set ourselves free from an age of darkness. We’re going to have to do some dirty work. Luckily I’m just arrogant and un-self-aware enough to roll up my sleeves, be the supreme leader required by this moment, and get it done. With that said, here are the first five entries in the new Index of Forbidden Books that Shall Never Be Read Again.*
Since I was recently publicly outed by my alleged friend Asher as a Gravity’s Rainbow hater, I feel an explanation is in order. I hate this book. I want to strap every existent copy of it to a V-2 rocket and launch them into outer space. My only worry is that an alien civilization will discover it, read the book, and conclude that humanity isn’t worth saving in the coming intergalactic war.
Here are my questions about this book:
Is the path of the V-2 rocket a metaphor for what I think it is? *
If so, shouldn’t the book stop pretending and simply be titled “SEX”?
Does this book have enough characters or could it use a few more?
This book is funny, right? (I can’t tell)
Will I ever finish reading this book? (nope)
What in the world was the used-book seller thinking when he allowed me to trade it for the illustrated English Country Houses?
In real life, how many literary allusions does it take Thomas Pynchon to walk down the driveway to get his mail?
Does he ever get there or is this more of a Zeno’s Paradox type situation?
*to take this example from a book review:
It could have been titled “V-2.” In the Paris 1913 section of “V.” there is a passage that states a major theme in Pynchon’s work. The heroine, V., is meditating on her lesbian passion for a young ballerina: “It was a variation on . . . the Tristan-and-Iseult theme, indeed, according to some, the single melody, banal and exasperating, of all Romanticism since the Middle Ages: ‘the act of love and the act of death are one.’ Dead at last, they would be one with the inanimate universe and with each other. Love-play until then thus becomes an impersonation of the inanimate, a transvestism not between sexes but between quick and dead, human and fetish.” In the new novel this theme is given Mahlerian orchestration; World War II in Europe is the stage, and the universal object of passion is a fetish of universal death: the V-2 rocket.
Oh, Ulysses [long, world-weary sigh], what evil have we done to deserve you? This is the book that first made me wonder if academia is actually an intellectual ponzi scheme. Everyone in grad school loved this novel and devoured it in study groups as they slowly discovered that James Joyce had written a tome to unite every single intellectual and spiritual tradition in the universe. Truly, here is the Word of Life. Here’s my problem, I don’t want to have to attend a study group as a prerequisite for being able to understand even the smallest portion of a book. I want to read a novel and be gob smacked by its beauty. When I read a good book, I can’t put it down and when I’m done I feel like I’ve encountered an indefinable something beyond myself, as if the words opened up a crack in the universe and its essence is pouring out and goodness gracious if it isn’t scary and dangerous. Sure, later I’ll happily dig down into deeper insights, but I want, at first reading at least, to love the book even if I don’t fully understand it. Ulysses I neither love nor understand.
I’m going to stop short of savaging the book too much… but only because someone else has already done it for me. Enjoy this 1922 review and remember, whenever you see a copy of Ulysses, do the right thing, put it out of its misery and pulp it. The Index thanks you for your mercy.
[Ulysses] appears to have been written by a perverted lunatic who has made a speciality of the literature of the latrine… I have no stomach for Ulysses… James Joyce is a writer of talent, but in Ulysses he has ruled out all the elementary decencies of life and dwells appreciatively on things that sniggering louts of schoolboys guffaw about. In addition to this stupid glorification of mere filth, the book suffers from being written in the manner of a demented George Meredith. There are whole chapters of it without any punctuation or other guide to what the writer is really getting at. Two-thirds of it is incoherent, and the passages that are plainly written are devoid of wit, displaying only a coarse salacrity [sic] intended for humour. — The Sporting Times, 1922
The Scarlet Letter
How many more schoolchildren must be sacrificed on the altar of Nathaniel Hawthorne. HOW MANY!? For the life of me, I don’t understand why we subject our youngest, most impressionable minds to this book and force them to agree it’s a “classic”. As funny as it is to mess with them, even teenagers have feelings.
Whenever I hear about the Puritans, my love of humanity sinks just a little bit lower, but I suppose I can’t forbid an entire book simply on subject matter, can I? I’ll need to think of another excuse…Oh, yes, Hawthorne’s writing style is entirely unreadable. Take this for example, “Let men tremble to win the hand of woman, unless they win along with it the utmost passion of her heart!” Have I won her heart or haven’t I, and if I have, don’t the passions kind of come along with it by definition? Here’s another, “She could no longer borrow from the future to ease her present grief.”Deep sounding, ponderous, epigram? Check.
The reviewers at goodreads are merciless. To wit:
Hester walked across the room. She stepped upon her left foot, her right foot, and then her left foot again. One wonders, why doth she, in this instance of walking across the room, begin her journey upon the left foot and not the right? Could it be her terrible sin, that the devil informeth the left foot just as he informeth the left hand and those bewitched, left-handed persons amongst us?
If there is a hell, Hawthorne is the devil’s sidekick
Here is who I would recommend this book to – people who like sentences with 4 or 5 thoughts, and that are paragraph length – so that they are nearly impossible to understand – because by the time the end, of the sentence, has been reached the beginning, and whatever meaning it contained, has been forgotten and the point is lost.
Has anyone in the history of the world ever finished this book? Is there even enough time to do so before the sun burns through its fuel and explodes and time itself ends? Proust has given us the written word version of that kid from American Beauty filming a paper bag while it floats in the wind. I guess that this is supposed to be an experiment in the passage of time, and it works! I felt like it took forever to read (I did not finish it. I’m not that twisted) and was at one point convinced that eternal life had to be real because otherwise this book could not possibly exist because it would be unreadable for lack of opportunity. It’s like the tesseract from A Wrinkle in Time or the Monolith in Space Odyssey. Come to think of it, this would be a perfect punishment if the devil ever gets his hands on my soul. He could put the complete set of Proust’s works in my hands and force me to read through it a single time. The agony would be unending.
Don’t even try to tell me about how cool the cookies are and how lame I am. I DON’T WANT TO EAT THE COOKIES.
I tried reading Moby Dick in high school. That was a mistake. Not that I was too immature to appreciate it, mind you, I’m simply saying it was a mistake to read it at all. I knew I had erred when, with gritted teeth, I encountered a loquacious passage about a table. It didn’t get any better, and this is coming from a guy who was happy to read all about the history of the Parisian sewer system in Les Miserables. I have a high tolerance for artistic indulgence, but Mehlville pushed me over the edge. It’s funny, because he’s not a bad writer. My advice? Ban Moby Dick forever and make Bartleby the Scrivener required reading. Or prefer not to. I don’t really care (as long as Moby Dick is banned).
To prove I’m not off the reservation on this, here’s an excerpt from a brutal early review:
Mr. Melville is evidently trying to ascertain how far the public will consent to be imposed upon. He is gauging, at once, our gullibilty and our patience. Having written one or two passable extravagancies, he has considered himself privileged to produce as many more as he pleases, increasingly exaggerated and increasingly dull…. In bombast, in caricature, in rhetorical artifice — generally as clumsy as it is ineffectual — and in low attempts at humor, each one of his volumes has been an advance among its predecessors…. Mr. Melville never writes naturally. His sentiment is forced, his wit is forced, and his enthusiasm is forced. And in his attempts to display to the utmost extent his powers of “fine writing,” he has succeeded, we think, beyond his most sanguine expectations… if there are any of our readers who wish to find examples of bad rhetoric, involved syntax, stilted sentiment and incoherent English, we will take the liberty of recommending to them this precious volume of Mr. Melville’s.” — New York United States Magazine and Democratic Review, 1852
- If any readers want to light me up in the comment section for being a neanderthal, have at it. I’m sure I’m wrong about most of this.