E d i t o r i a l forms of discrimination including racism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, and Antisemitism.’
Clanchy – after claiming she had been misquoted – realised she was on a hiding to nothing. She, too, mea culpaed: ‘I am not a good person. I do try to say that in my book. Not a pure person, not a patient person, no one’s saviour. You are right to blame me, and I blame myself.’ Philip Pullman initially defended the poet and said her detractors might ‘find a comfortable home in Isis or the Taliban’. When he realised his mistake, he exclaimed, ‘Completely my fault. I should have read the whole thread. I apologise for my haste and intemperate language.’
Picador, the book’s publisher, also apologised, twice – first mildly, then vehemently. It said it was listening to the conversations the book had given rise to and was ’profoundly sorry’ for the hurt caused to those who had ‘engaged with the text’ (i.e., read) ‘to hold us to account’. ‘We realise our response was too slow. We vigorously condemn the despicable online bullying of many of those who have spoken out. This has no place in our community. We understand that readers wish to know specifically what will be done about the book, we’re actively working on this now and we will communicate this as soon as possible.’ The accumulation of adverbs is an index of contrition.
Set this domestic calling to account, which exposed some unreflective aspects of our contemporary publishing culture, alongside recent developments in other countries. Substantial institutions, religious and political, and the state itself, are putting pressure on publishers and writers – not locally corrective but more fundamentally intended. During lockdown, people had time to read, and those in power had time to oversee and correct their reading. In October last year 847 examples of censorship in various countries were identified by the International Publishers’ Association in their report
Freedom to Publish: Challenges, Violations and Countries of Concern. These countries included Hungary, Poland, Russia, Belarus, Serbia, China, Iran, but also France, the UK and the USA. Over half the censorship was perpetrated by governments directly or obliquely. Instances of censorship continue unabated. The targets in Eastern Europe in particular are LGBTQ+ writers and books. Russia leads the way in European censorship, having passed the ‘anti-LGBTQ propaganda’ law in 2012. Belarus is a vivid flash-point, with the local chapter of International PEN having been disbanded for having exposed 621 human rights violations in a report.
There are many ways of censoring books. Central control of paper supply can be used to penalise publishers who take wrong turnings, as in Venezuela – and Russia. Turkish authorities demand that every book sold in a bookshop should have a sticker declaring it ‘authentic’. This is not only to defeat piracy: it is an obvious form of regulation.
One effect of censorship, oblique or manifest, is that it leads to protective self-censorship, not only among librarians and publishers but among writers themselves. Writers’ groups can become regulatory. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) has more than 22,000 members around the world. In July it issued ‘a fervent apology to Muslim and Palestinian members over a recent condemnation of antisemitism that did not discuss Islamophobia, and announced the resignation of the diversity officer who had posted the message.’ The offending SCBWI statement on antisemitism, published in June, affirmed that Jews ‘have the right to life, safety, and freedom from scapegoating and fear’. Noting the rise in antisemitism and antisemitic violence, it said, ‘Silence is often mistaken for acceptance and results in the perpetration of more hatred and violence against different types of people.’
We can be grateful to Chimene Suleyman, Monisha Rajesh, Professor Sunny Singh and others for rejecting silence. What they taught us is valuable going forward.
On the translation of ‘Ouvroir de littérature potentielle’ in the article on the Oulipo group ‘Workshop of potential literature’ is a good, but debatable translation. It does cling to ‘first meanings’ of the originals, which are perhaps not intended. A French workshop is properly un atelier, which is also a studio. An ouvroir is a workspace or sewing corner. The atelier of a craftsman would produce finished goods; an ouvroir is a transitory, domestic, and less formal environment. The ‘first meaning’ of the word ‘potentiel’ is certainly English ‘potential’, as in ‘possible’. But it’s more philosophical denotation is ‘aspiring’, ‘imminent’ or ‘aspirational’.
Thus, perhaps one other translation would be ‘Workspace for imminent writing’. – W. Bruno
A Note on the Cover
After two years of restraint, PN Review is returning to pictorial covers. This and the next five issues (the whole of Volume 48) will have cover images by poet and artist Gregory O’Brien. His poems have been published in PNR and he has provided vivid cover images down the decades, starting with PNR 111, ‘Aviator Fallen in a Desert’, acrylic and ink on paper (September–October 1996, exactly twenty-five years ago).