Who Defends Artistic Expression?
THE LATEST NEWS is that literary editors are adding what they themselves refer to as Morality Clauses to their sites. Not an aesthetic guideline for submitted work– the clause regards the writers themselves. Editors are doing background checks on writers via google and other tools. Background checks! The mindset has come full circle. We’ve entered a neo-puritan world.
For these uptight-to-the-max editors, getting along with the herd– enforcing an ideology– is their primary focus. Art is a secondary consideration.
THE EDITING POLICE
These literary editors have taken it upon themselves to monitor the writer’s behavior– including after the work has been published. “Yep, he did something regrettable and embarrassing. We published his poem five years ago. Doesn’t matter. Yank it out!”
The entire history of literature is filled with writers engaging in bad behavior. (It once was a badge of honor.) Beginning with Christopher Marlowe– who wouldn’t make the cut in this day and age. Neither would Shakespeare. There’s that rather disconcerting speech in Hamlet when he says, “Get thee to a nunnery!” Hurtful words. Yank his works.
WHEN I fronted an activist group from about 2000 to 2008, our numbers included many outcasts, outsiders, and those who regularly engaged in bad behavior. They were from every possible ideological stripe, left to right. We had no litmus tests or background checks.
Today, we see Editor-as-Cop. “Are your papers in order? Where are your papers! Can you prove you did not engage in harassment and abuse?” (One silly lit editor argued for R****l C****r proving she hadn’t engaged in verbal abuse.)
AT ONE TIME, the novel, poem or play itself was considered verbal abuse! Its very existence.
Has the writer engaged in bad behavior outside the walls of our little literary project known as New Pop Lit? What’s that to me? I’m a literary editor. If he or she has broken a law, report them to the authorities.
A QUESTION: Would you publish a story or poem by a convicted murderer sitting in prison if the work were good enough?
LAST LINE OF DEFENSE
Every other segment of society has reasons to limit or crush artistic expression. The state, the advertiser, the dependent-on-donors foundation, the speech-squelching university, the project-a-proper-image corporation. It’s the task of the artist; the writer– and the editor, the publisher, the promoter, the arts impresario– to stand up for creative expression. For the ability to be creative. The ability to surprise, stir, anger, or shock. If not us: Who else?
-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News