Friday, October 31, 2008

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

In his 1823 play, Almansor: A Tragedy, Heinrich Heine wrote: “Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings.”

Book-burning is the practice of ceremoniously destroying books or other written materials. In the last 50 or so years, we have seen phonograph records, video tapes and CDs added to the pyre.

Book-burning generally is motivated by moral, religious or political objections to the material, or, more specifically, the ideas the material contains.

Book-burning can have a profound effect on culture, especially when the works destroyed are irreplaceable and their loss results in severe damage to a people’s history and heritage. Book-burning — indeed, book-banning — has become a symbol of harsh and oppressive regimes.

China’s Qin Dynasty burned books and buried scholars during in the second century bce. Four destructive fires at the Library of Alexandria spanned 700 years. The late 17th century saw the destruction of Mayan codices by Spanish conquistadors and priests. The 20th century was marked by Nazi book-burnings of the 1930s and the destruction of the Sarajevo National Library in 1992.

However, burning is not the only method of destroying cultural artifacts. In our country, school and public libraries are under constant assault by elements that would force their views on the majority in absolute contradiction to our First Amendment freedoms.

Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of an oppressive society in which books are forbidden objects, and firemen are required to burn all books they encounter.

It’s not without irony, then, that Fahrenheit 451 has been the object of book bans itself.

Dawn Sova writes of it in Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds. She states the reasons for its banning have included the mention of hell, and the words “damn,” and “abortion.” Also, objections were raised to the reference of a “drunk man” and “cleaning fluff from the navel.”

Such oppression helped set in motion the establishment of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, Young Adult Division. All this happened in 1967. But as recently as 1992, students in a California middle school were issued copies of Fahrenheit 451 with all the above-mentioned offending words blacked out.

Parents have the absolute right to control what their children read. They do not have the right to control what other people’s children can read.

Frequently, supporters of free speech will raise objections, censored copies will be removed and removed books will be re-shelved.

Following such an outcry, the expurgated copies of the book distributed in California were replaced with the original version.

Libraries are temples of democracy, and librarians are the priests and priestesses. They guard information. As the great English essayist, Francis Bacon, wrote more that 400 years ago, “access to information is power.”

We must take Heine’s dictum and Fahrenheit 451 as a warning. Overzealous individuals who would control ideas really want to control our minds. Read it, Waco, and decide for yourself.

--Chiron, 10/31/08

No comments: