Happy Banned Books Week!

On Friday, I received an email invitation to participate in a marathon reading of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl followed by a round-table discussion about the poem, censorship, and book-banning.  This reading is being presented by DePaul’s University Center for Writing-based Learning. I am excited about the prospect. Not because I want to participate in the reading, but because I see an opportunity to explain how I can maintain my personal and religious standards while actively opposing censorship and advocating free speech.

Personally and ethically I find the poem demoralizing and debasing, but its existence is important. The poem is scathing and vital evidence of  social maladies existing and unaddressed in the American psyche.  It presents an opportunity for dialogue regarding respectful vs. self-destructive opposition to political control and injustice. Howl is worthwhile on other levels as well, but especially as a previously nonexistent form of self-expression–a new way to look at poetry.  I don’t see much use for it in the classroom however–except in the social sciences. Would I teach it in my own classroom? No, but I reserve the right to make that decision for myself, and I would not discourage others from reading it.

I think too, of another document at the conservative end of the spectrum: Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Last I knew, the book was illegal in Germany. I wonder if the Germans are hoping that if they refuse to allow it, the reality of Hitler’s deception will disappear?  But I have read Mein Kampf; don’t like it, and intend to buy my own copy of it. I find it interesting, aberrant, and useful for many of the same reasons I reject Howl; and I want to keep a copy as a way to keep evidence of the truth alive. The Holocaust was real, and without understanding the mentality which supported it, we run the risk of allowing it to happen again; or worse, becoming perpetrators too.  Denying a problem doesn’t make it go away.

Banned Books week couldn’t have come at a better time, either.  Just two weeks ago, we watched as a Florida pastor threatened to burn the Quran in protest of a planned Muslim center of worship near Ground Zero of the former World Trade Center. Whenever books are burned, it is done to send a message.  The  message I always get is this: I am ignorant and afraid of people who are different from me. I don’t think that is the message Pastor Jones meant to convey, and I believe that once he could see the Christian outrage in response to his intolerance, he changed his mind, despite the fact that he claimed his mission to be “accomplished.” Accomplished how? Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t that Islāmic center still going up? Simply put, censorship only serves to magnify ignorance.

In honor of Banned Books Week 2010, here are my own banned book lists: Continue reading

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God Doesn’t do Definitions

Yeah, I know it’s OLD news, but it’s been on my mind for some time now, and in light of recent suicides in Utah, I’ve decided to say something. Better late than never, I hope.

Despite the fact that I live in the suburbs of Chicago, I am inexorably linked to Utah and its culture due to the fact that I was raised there, and that I lay claim to membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (The Mormons).  When I first moved to the Chicago area, I moved into the city itself. Specifically, the neighborhood of Edgewater. I very quickly discovered that Edgewater lays claim to the largest concentration of  homosexual individuals in the nation. I honestly had no problem with that.

Given my past experience with with the GLBT community, I was feeling comfortable with the prospect. I had a very good friend in college who was gay, and I hoped to find another close friend like him amongst my neighbors (cute male friend–no pressure). I didn’t think there would be any problem with my religion, after all, it was not my intent to convert anyone, just to get to know people.   It wasn’t long, however, that I discovered that the cultural bonds of my home state had become a stranglehold in places where my religion is widely (and wildly) misunderstood, and I felt myself caught in a noose created by the cultural ties that bind, leaving me unwittingly alienated by my neighbors.

I lived in a newly rennovated condominium where I met Darren.  He lived a floor above me, and was outgoing and friendly. Darren lived with his husband and their “kids” (a couple of schnauzers), and was happy to introduce me to his friends and family.  They seemed like nice people, and I looked forward to getting to know them better.

Our building was shaped in a U surrounding a courtyard, with our back porches facing each other; his looking down on mine.  On my back porch sat an old church pew which became the focus of our first conversation. “You are not conducting church services in this building, are you?”  Darren quipped. I quickly assured him  that I was not looking for converts, although the conversation also presented an opportunity to share my religious background.  I explained that the old pew came from  a church where my father once presided as a Mormon bishop in a small Utah town.  The bench was a family keepsake–and yes, I told him, I am a Mormon.

 

http://www.cafepress.com/editormom/1266905 Design copyright © 2006 by Katharine O’Moore-Klopf

 

For a couple of weeks, Darren was very friendly in our comings and goings from the courtyard. One Sunday after church, I sat out on my old church pew and teased him: “Services started at noon, where were you?”  He had an easy-going banter making our burgeoning friendship quite comfortable; but not long after California’s Proposition 8 passed, the banter disappeared behind a slammed door every time I poked my head out the back door.  A few weeks after our first meeting, I walked through the courtyard with my scriptures, all dressed for church, and saw a glowing cigarette butt pass within a couple inches of my face and hit the ground in front of me. I looked up to see where the cigarette had come from just in time for Darren’s back door to slam again. Continue reading