Monday, October 14, 2013

Authorship and Censorship

Stanley Fish
In Stanley Fish's essay "How to Recognize a Poem When You See One," he writes an experience he had while teaching a class about religious poetry. In his previous class he had written five names on the chalkboard as a reading assignment. When the next class came in, instead of erasing the names, he asked them to analyze them as a poem (the students not knowing them as author's names). The students went to work on the poem, and eventually came up with an in-depth analysis of the five names. Fish's argument is that "it is not that the presence of poetic qualities that compels a certain kind of attention but that the paying of a certain kind of attention results in the emergence of poetic qualities" (par. 7)

While reading Areopagitica, Milton argues that one of the main issues with censorship is that some ruling body has to make a decision as to the appropriateness of a text--they determine what belongs in print and what doesn't. I think that Fish's story is a great example of why that type of system is impossible. Who is able to declare with confidence what any text is actually trying to convey? We, as Literature students, have certainly experienced the ongoing bombardment of interpretation. We have argued with classmates about what the author "is REALLY trying to say." (Or perhaps took the more noble route and suffered in quiet agony while someone unfolds uneducated, ungrounded hypotheses.)

This reminds me of a scene from Arrested Development when George-Michael and Anne (her?) are picketing Marc Cherry's house, protesting his creation of the vile show Desperate Housewives. Cherry sticks his head out the window and yells, "it's a satire!" While this is treated as funny, it still asks some strong questions of our political values. In this light, how could censorship ever be justified? Are there any grounds on which it is acceptable?

Link to an online version of Fish's article (not extremely official.):

1 comment:

  1. Haha, ..."her?" Good stuff. Arrested Development is the best show to happen on earth.
    I remember talking about Stanley Fish and that "poem". It kind of made me resent poetry a poetry could be made out of anything. But then, maybe that's the beauty of it? I don't know yet. But yes, who can say whether or not a text is inappropriate when you consider "The Death of the Author" and all that?