01 October 2011

Banned Book Week: Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. ISBN: 9780140285604.

I don't usually fetishize books. They aren't really so much objects to me as they are containers of knowledge. But I do find comfort in their presence, possibly because of what they represent, and also because they are familiar to me. Almost anywhere I go, I know that a book will be somewhere within a short distance. Chances are, it will be a book I have read before, and if I get hold of one that I've read before, even if it has a different cover, the very words inside will be known to me. This particular book traveled with me during most of time at Antioch College. It's a slim volume, so it went with me on at least a couple of co-ops.

Most notably it went with me when I was working for the Syracuse Peace Council in New York where I first discovered there was such a thing as Banned Books Week. In fact, I don't think I knew that people in America had called for the banning of books in the last 50 years. It seemed like such an un-American thing to do. So when the ACLU, which worked closely with the Syracuse Peace Council, put on a Banned Books reading I learned that I had dragged a copy of a book that had been banned or challenged across the country with me. At the time we were faced with the possibility of a second term from George W. Bush and so I selected what I felt was an appropriate portion of the book. I even notated it with "read 9/29/2004." That shit happened. Here's the passage:
"I was fired for pessimism. Communism had nothing to do with it."
"I got him fired," said his wife. "The only piece of real evidence produced against him was a letter I wrote to the New York Times from Pakistan."
"What did it say?"
"It said a lot of things," she said, "because I was very upset about how Americans couldn't imagine what it was like to be something else, to be something else and proud of it."
"I see."
"But there was one sentence they kept coming to again and again in the loyalty hearing," sighed Minton. "'Americans,'" he said, quoting his wife's letter to the Times, "'are forever searching for love in forms it never takes, in places it can never be. It must have something to do with the vanished frontier.'"
Claire Minton's letter to the Times was published during the worst of the era of Senator McCarthy, and her husband was fired twelve hours after the letter was printed.
"What was so awful about the letter?" I asked.
"The highest possible form of treason," said Minton, "is to say that Americans aren't loved wherever they go, whatever they do. Claire tried to make the point that American foreign policy should recognize hate rather than imagine love."
 In some ways I found this passage comforting at the time. Only three years after 9/11 and most Americans were still whipped up into a "patriotic" frenzy, the height of which very much looked like McCarthyism. If you said anything negative at all about America or Americans you were at the very least given dirty looks, and often shouted down. The fact that it was self-policed for the most part made it no less oppressive and unfortunately it is easier to end laws and government behavior than mob rule. Not that they look that different anymore.

My problem is not that Americans behave badly. I mean, yes, we act like assholes half of the time, but can we at least be consistent and honest about it? Douchebags who know they are douchebags are much less annoying than those who proclaim otherwise. If we really love freedom so much, can we please for the love of whatever you want to love act like we love freedom? Because, ya'll, banning books is not an act of love or promoting freedom.

LibsNote: I can't remember if I bought this, or if it was a freebie, but I still have it, which is why I can provide you with the ISBN for my copy.
*Banned Graphic provided in part by Barefoot Liam Stock, with permission.

because it proclaims that Capitalism is not so great, and neither is religion.

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