Friday, May 21, 2010

The Censor's Pen

When someone mentions censored books, they usually think of entire texts being suppressed or offending passages expurgated from novels. However, there is a long tradition of censorship that allows the reader access to the text while still explicitly indicating its heretical or unsuitable nature.

This 1576 edition of Aristotle's Poetica was placed on the Index librorum prohibitorum not because there was a problem with Aristotle, but because Lodovico Castelvetro's neoclassical commentary offended church doctrine. Castelvetro was excommunicated from the church for his alleged protestant sympathies and his writings were subject to intense scrutiny.

The censorship resulted in the careful crossing out of all heretical statements, while keeping the book, and the text itself intact. One has to wonder how a 16th-century reader would have read this text after the censors had finished their work. Would one read the censored parts, skip over them, or, perhaps, dive deeper into those passages? A truly pious reader might encounter these sections and examine them to understand why they were heretical, and thus mentally rehearse prescribed belief. Could providing access to the text, even while condemning it, actually have helped cement established doctrine in the inquisitive reader's mind?

See for yourself by asking for Rare PN1010.A73P1 1576

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pokagon's Red Man's Rebuke

At the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Potawatomi Indian Simon Pokagon sold a booklet entitled The Red Man’s Rebuke and its second edition, entitled The Red Man’s Greeting. Each booklet measures about three and a half inches tall by five inches wide and is sixteen pages long; the text is letterpress printed directly on the bark of a white birch tree.

This description is from Dartmouth MALS student Alex Corey, who has just published an essay on The Red Man’s Rebuke, "Fair Material," in the Winter 2010 issue of the MALS Quarterly.  The following is an excerpt:

The birch bark pages are the vessel for a fiery political argument, written from the perspective of a Native American spokesman and targeting a clearly white American audience. This first sentence makes it clear that the booklets are meant as political protests against the Columbian Exposition.  Pokagon’s booklets go on to lay bare, in their 16 pages, the violent and unjust treatment of the Native Americans by white America.

The text argues that Europeans were initially pests and parasites to the natives, as they ‘locust-like… and like the carrion crows in spring…gobbled in our ears, “give us gold, give us gold;” “Where find you gold? Where find you gold?”’(Rebuke 3). The main text documents the evils of alcohol, and tells in strong and articulate language how “again and again [the Native American’s] confidence was betrayed”(Rebuke 11). It ends by speculating a judgment day in which God says to the white man(Rebuke 16):
I shall forthwith grant these red men of America great power, and delegate them to cast you out of Paradise, and hurl you headlong through its outer gates into the endless abyss beneath—far beyond, where darkness meets with light, there to dwell, and thus shut you out from my presence and the presence of angels and the light of heaven forever, and ever.
You can read the rest of Alex Corey's essay in the Winter 2010 edition of The MALS Quarterly and see the original birch bark book by asking for Rauner Presses E58p.