Con la pierna en alto. Así apareció Salman Rushdie el 6 de mayo en su conferencia en el PEN World Voices Festival, donde le hizo un homenaje a Arthur Miller. El texto ha sido publicado en The New Yorker esta semana. El tema que trató, antes de introducirse en la obra del autor, fue el de la censura. “Nadie quiere hablar de la censura” dijo Rushdie. Los escritores, reclamó, solo hablan de criticos y editores, de cuánto les pagan o chismes sobre otros escritores. O política o amor. Pero sobre la censuara, nada, reclamó.
No writer ever really wants to talk about censorship. Writers want to talk about creation, and censorship is anti-creation, negative energy, uncreation, the bringing into being of non-being, or, to use Tom Stoppard?s description of death, ?the absence of presence.? Censorship is the thing that stops you doing what you want to do, and what writers want to talk about is what they do, not what stops them doing it. And writers want to talk about how much they get paid, and they want to gossip about other writers and how much they get paid, and they want to complain about critics and publishers, and gripe about politicians, and they want to talk about what they love, the writers they love, the stories and even sentences that have meant something to them, and, finally, they want to talk about their own ideas and their own stories. Their things. The British humorist Paul Jennings, in his brilliant essay on Resistentialism, a spoof of Existentialism, proposed that the world was divided into two categories, ?Thing? and ?No-Thing,? and suggested that between these two is waged a never-ending war. If writing is Thing, then censorship is No-Thing, and, as King Lear told Cordelia, ?Nothing will came of nothing,? or, as Mr. Jennings would have revised Shakespeare, ?No-Thing will come of No-Thing. Think again.?
Y luego pasó a comentar cómo la censura es la amenaza de la escritura, es el no-escribir justamente, y son víctimas de ellas autores tan distintos como Vonnegut o Rowling. Comentó el caso de varios autores censurados (incluso asesinados) durante siglos, desde Ovidio hasta Lorca, y concluyó mencionando la visita “oficial” de China, sin autores disidentes, a la Feria del Libro de Londres, y concluyó diciendo vargasllosianamente: “El arte no es entretenimiento; en su máxima expresión, el arte es una revolución”.
At its most effective, the censor?s lie actually succeeds in replacing the artist?s truth. That which is censored is thought to have deserved censorship. Boat-rocking is deplored.
Nor is this only so in the world of art. The Ministry of Truth in present-day China has successfully persuaded a very large part of the Chinese public that the heroes of Tiananmen Square were actually villains bent on the destruction of the nation. This is the final victory of the censor: When people, even people who know they are routinely lied to, cease to be able to imagine what is really the case. Sometimes great, banned works defy the censor?s description and impose themselves on the world??Ulysses,? ?Lolita,? the ?Arabian Nights.? Sometimes great and brave artists defy the censors to create marvellous literature underground, as in the case of the samizdat literature of the Soviet Union, or to make subtle films that dodge the edge of the censor?s knife, as in the case of much contemporary Iranian and some Chinese cinema. You will even find people who will give you the argument that censorship is good for artists because it challenges their imagination. This is like arguing that if you cut a man?s arms off you can praise him for learning to write with a pen held between his teeth. Censorship is not good for art, and it is even worse for artists themselves. The work of Ai Weiwei survives; the artist himself has an increasingly difficult life. The poet Ovid was banished to the Black Sea by a displeased Augustus Caesar, and spent the rest of his life in a little hellhole called Tomis, but the poetry of Ovid has outlived the Roman Empire. The poet Mandelstam died in one of Stalin?s labor camps, but the poetry of Mandelstam has outlived the Soviet Union. The poet Lorca was murdered in Spain, by Generalissimo Franco?s goons, but the poetry of Lorca has outlived the fascistic Falange. So perhaps we can argue that art is stronger than the censor, and perhaps it often is. Artists, however, are vulnerable.
In England last week, English PEN protested that the London Book Fair had invited only a bunch of ?official,? State-approved writers from China while the voices of at least thirty-five writers jailed by the regime, including Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and the political dissident and poet Zhu Yufu, remained silent and ignored. In the United States, every year, religious zealots try to ban writers as disparate as Kurt Vonnegut and J. K. Rowling, an obvious advocate of sorcery and the black arts; to say nothing of poor, God-bothered Charles Darwin, against whom the advocates of intelligent design continue to march. I once wrote, and it still feels true, that the attacks on the theory of evolution in parts of the United States themselves go some way to disproving the theory, demonstrating that natural selection doesn?t always work, or at least not in the Kansas area, and that human beings are capable of evolving backward, too, towards the Missing Link.
Even more serious is the growing acceptance of the don?t-rock-the-boat response to those artists who do rock it, the growing agreement that censorship can be justified when certain interest groups, or genders, or faiths declare themselves affronted by a piece of work. Great art, or, let?s just say, more modestly, original art is never created in the safe middle ground, but always at the edge. Originality is dangerous. It challenges, questions, overturns assumptions, unsettles moral codes, disrespects sacred cows or other such entities. It can be shocking, or ugly, or, to use the catch-all term so beloved of the tabloid press, controversial. And if we believe in liberty, if we want the air we breathe to remain plentiful and breathable, this is the art whose right to exist we must not only defend, but celebrate. Art is not entertainment. At its very best, it?s a revolution.