Let’s Burn Books by Meanies

I can’t believe this person ever read any works of literature, let alone taught them:

When you are a writer who learns a beloved author has a dark side, you experience waves of disillusionment. When you teach that author’s work, you feel an additional stab of concern: What about my syllabus? Do we continue to teach the work of people we now suspect of behaving unethically or abusively?

This is so insane, it’s not even funny. Trying to find a writer from 20 years ago, let alone a couple of centuries, who, by today’s standards, wasn’t a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, or an all-around jerkwad, is pretty impossible. If you don’t know how to separate works of art from their authors, you shouldn’t be a literary critic, period.

And this part is simply crazy:

To put someone on a syllabus is to privilege them with our attention. We’re saying, This is worth your time. Unless we actively complicate the conversation, our students will perceive that as a form of admiration.

I put Fidel Castro and Che Guevara on my syllabi. I teach the accounts of the Spanish conquerors and the medieval texts that argue female evilness and inferiority. I assign Franco-era propaganda. My teaching is not about what I admire. It’s about what I consider important to know.

What’s really funny is that the author is also a writer. How she can guarantee that absolutely everything she said and did in her life won’t be considered beyond the pale 100 or even 10 years from now is a mystery.

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10 thoughts on “Let’s Burn Books by Meanies”

  1. I wonder how many transgender women of color with disabilities this author includes in his or her writing. Probably none. Such a lack of inclusivity is pure bigotry. This racist, sexist, transphobic, and ableist writer should be publicly shamed and banned!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “I wonder how many ”

      Don’t give them any ideas, things are clearly going in the direction of humanities professors having to clear their reading lists with ‘progressive’ censors and pruning anyone who doesn’t pass the moment’s muster.

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  2. You know, when I first started making friends outside of my parent’s strictly controlled social circles, many people my age were shocked that I attended a church that hosted a good old-fashioned book burning. Now it seems like popular culture is heading right back to it.

    If you want to effectively change a person’s mind, you have to be able to on some level, engage with them and understand where their ideas are coming from. If you want to preach to the choir and relentlessly mock the other side, I suppose it’s less work. It’s also much less effective.

    Also, if we’re no longer going to read any books, speeches, etc. by truly bad individuals, how are we going to recongnize when the past starts rearing its ugly head again? How do you recognize bad policy, abusive mentalities, or historically terrible ideas if you have never studied them and have no frame of reference for them?

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    1. And in college, especially. This is where people come to learn, analyze and understand. It’s not preschool and we can’t all just sit there and recite nursery rhymes.

      The funny thing is that this argument would sound deranged to most students in this country. I know my students would despise this article and rightfully so.

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  3. I would love to have stories from some of César Vallejo’s women other than Georgette. “Extraño amante, Vallejo, sufría y hacía sufrir,” a friend remembered. I would not be surprised if the descriptors maniupalative, exploitative and rakish all fit him, based on what is known of his biography. Also I am quite convinced he had some deep sexual wound from childhood. I can’t put my finger on it but it is something I find emanating from some of his texts.

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    1. I’m ignorant about him to the point of thinking he was gay until right now. 🙂

      I love his poetry, though, and it always gets a great response from the students.

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  4. I’ve been teaching pieces of Díaz at the gen ed level, to talk about Spanish in US, immigrant experiences, Spanglish, etc. because his prose style is really worth reading / discussing. Now, though, I think it will be better to read larger pieces and at higher levels, or place differently in syllabus / group things differently.

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  5. “My teaching is not about what I admire. It’s about what I consider important to know”

    Modern fluidity can’t make that distinction, proximity is an endorsement (I was going to say ‘affiliation’ but modern fluidity is about not having affiliations which, weirdly, makes proximity more important.

    This is added to the old truism that many people can’t believe that good art can be made by bad people or that a person can be right about one thing and wrong about other things…

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  6. What about, say, Bill Cosby, for example?
    Separate the talent from the person, maybe?
    Society could never stand a concept like that—-too obsessed with its own dogmas and sanctimoniousness
    …along with its own need for “designated demons” to be fall guys for everyone else’s transgressions in addition to whatever their own are.

    Like

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