James T. Farrell  |  Trotskyist Writers  |  ETOL Home Page


James T. Farrell

A New Threat of Literary Censorship – II

(13 January 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No./a> 2, 13 January 1947, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by
Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

My books have never had a large sale in Canada. The number of Canadian readers who have been prevented from reading Bernard Clare is very small. At the same time, Mr. Sim has told many readers that if they can get hold of my works they will get something which actually they won’t find in these same books. Some Canadians have gone across the border into Buffalo looking for this in Bernard Clare. If those Canadians who have smuggled my novel across from Buffalo are disappointed in not finding “obscenity,” and feel defrauded, they must blame Mr. Sim, not me. He is the man who had told them that Bernard Clare is “obscene.” All this does not contribute toward helping Canadians in the real moral problem posed by a book, that of handling one’s emotion, On the contrary, this only tells people where to look in order to find so-called pornography. And it further contributes toward the conception of books as a means of sexual gratification via fantasy. The censors have been doing this for decades now. As such, the censors have made a major contribution toward deforming literary taste. As long as there is a marriage, a pretty girl, a young man in the novel, the results are the same in fantasy. Readers are coached and helped to find sex in books. Puritanical customs officials are not achieving their avowed purpose. And this being the case, they don’t stop the entry of American motion pictures. The American films of glamor boys and girls are sufficient for those who wish to gain sexual gratification via fantasy in cultural products. In terms of Mr. Sim’s own assumed morality, he is achieving the opposite of what he wants.

If we wish to apply realistic tests to men and to governments, we must judge them by what they do, not solely by what they avow. And what men and governments do in small things is a forecast as to what they are likely to do in larger matters. The silence of Canadian officials, their refusal to answer questions, to meet arguments and protests, their refusal even to specify precisely what chapters Mr. Sim considers “indecent” – all this constitutes a forecast. It reveals the attitude of Canadian officials on books and on the question of the artist’s right to freedom of expression. If they will ban my book without a hearing, if they will uphold officials who ban Balzac, Trotsky, Joyce, Lawrence and others, they will be likely to ban still further books. If they do not trust Canadian readers to judge these books themselves, they will not trust them in other cases. Mr. King and Mr. Sim have, in this way, revealed what they can be expected to do in the future on important questions of free speech, on questions of the right of the artist to free expression as this is interpreted by the civilized reading public of civilized countries. An American such as the author of this article can well know how to interpret such action from his own standpoint. It is, however, less menacing to him than it is to Canadians. In this sense, the banning of Bernard Clare is a Canadian problem, and possibly, a warning to Canadian citizens, especially to those who are concerned with the new cultural ferment in Canada, and with the hope of once and for all ending the parochialism in Canadian culture. And regardless of who was originally responsible for this banning, the officials now responsible are Mr. Sim and Mr. King. It is they who refuse to rescind this decision. It is they who refuse to heed the protests of many representative citizens of the United States. It is they who now are enforcing this ban.

And their act of censorship comes at a time when the reactionary book burners are straining at the leash. In America, the book burners have now been seeking precedents for several years. If they use this precedent set by Mr. King and by Mr. Sim, and if, as a result, the Canadian banning of Bernard Clare has further censorial consequences, then, it is clear that Mr. King and Mr. Sim can be charged publicly with responsibility for such consequences. The iron curtain has not yet been hung over this continent. And before it can be, there must be many smaller acts of censorship. The Bernard Clare action is just such an action. If it is followed up by others, then we can well have our own iron curtain.

(Copyright. 1946, James T. Farrell)>

Marxists’ Internet Archive  |  Encyclopedia of Trotskyism  |  Document Index Page

Last updated on 25 November 2020