Posts Tagged ‘Censorship’

Here is Carole Talon-Hugon’s essay from the discussion of  what (self) censorship is. Talon-Hugon identifies the clash of political or ethical and aesthetic value systems as the problem underlying arguments over censorship of  art. (Retrouvez le texte en version originale ici)

Throughout Antiquity, art deemed morally transgressive was condemned and even censored without qualms.  In his Republic, Plato prescribes expulsion for poets whose tales are harmful: “the same control is to be extended to other artists, and they are also to be prohibited from exhibiting the opposite forms of vice and intemperance and meanness and indecency in sculpture and building and the other creative arts” (Book III).  For Aristotle, “since we forbid [the freeman] speaking everything which is forbidden, it is necessary that he neither sees obscene stories nor pictures […] Indeed it is as much the business of the legislator as anything else, to banish every indecent expression out of the state” (Politics, Book VIII).  And in 1767, Diderot affirms that “everything that preaches depravation is earmarked for destruction, and the greater the perfection of the work the more tempting a target it is […] What is there to choose between a painting or a statue, however perfect it might be, and the corruption of an innocent heart?” (Salon of 1767)

In these past times, not a soul is shocked by the fact of art’s submission to a political authority judging on grounds of morals and the public good.  The same is not true today: why?

This is the very question I would like to examine here.  The task is tricky, for the question of censorship is merely the hidden part of the problem.  What often remains unseen, or seen murkily, are the values and value systems underlying the opposing views.  Noisily polemical and readily visible from a media standpoint, censorship is part of a complex interrogation at the crossroads of aesthetics and politics.  It deals with the nature of art, with the powers and functions (or absence of functions) of the same; it deals with the State’s mission, with the government’s role in moral preservation and with public arts financing, etc…

Both supporters and opponents of censorship put forth arguments whose values are the causes and the reasons for their respective positions.  I would like to show here that the censorship debate makes apparent certain values, values that are more or less implicitly our own.  More specifically, the debate reveals conflicts between these values.


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In the following essay,  French philosopher Ruwen Ogien presents his case against the current trend toward « chic censorship. » He argues that sexual explicit representations should not be held to a higher standard than texts with other content when it comes to their artistic merit. (Le texte original peut être téléchargé ici )

In modern Western societies, the production, diffusion, and consumption of explicit sexual representations in texts and images have always been more or less controlled or repressed by governments, certain central institutions such as the Church, or quite simply by “public opinion.”

But there have always been exceptions.

For some time, artistic quality or aesthetic feeling have justified some exceptions.

One might say that a new form of censorship and/or self-censorship has been invented: “chic censorship,” or aesthetic moralism. The two foundational principles are the following:

  1. “Artistic” sexual representations are good;“non-artistic” sexual representations are bad.
  2. Sexual representations that seek to produce an “aesthetic sentiment” are good. Sexual representations that seek only to arouse sexual excitement are bad.

            I disagree with these two principles, and consequently I challenge “aesthetic moralism.” Why?

            Let us begin with the reasons for rejecting the first principle.

Today, in France, a visual or literary work that is judged “pornographic” may bring its author three years in prison and a non-trivial fine (75,000 euros) if it can “be seen or perceived by minors,” as the law puts it. Beyond that, there is the famous “X rating,” which imposes financial penalties on films said to be “pornographic” and denies them access to normal distribution channels.

But what is “pornographic”? This is an important question, in the current legal context, because it has an impact on the economic fortunes of certain films and on the well-being of certain citizens.

Is every filmed, close-up, well-lit, non-simulated representation of a genital sexual relationship  “pornographic” and apt to bring penalties to those who show it without taking precautions?


In reality, to characterize an explicit sexual representation as “pornographic” in legal terms generally amounts to declaring it devoid of all “artistic merit” or of all “redeeming social value,” according to criteria of which the least one can say is that they lack consistency and clarity.


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The great Wayne Koestenbaum is reading another short story by Lynne Tillman and discussing it for the Villa Voice, explaining how « Give Us Some Dirt », a story on humiliation, echoes his own work.

Find the podcast below or download it here.

Lynne Tillman will be discussing (Self) Censorship on Thursday April 14th at the New School, with Nan Goldin, Ruwen Ogien and Carole Talon Hugon.

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Lynne Tillman will be with us tomorrow at The New School to talk (self)censorship. Wayne Koestenbaum chose a story from her new collection, Someday This Will Be Funny, to read out loud for us.

Tune in tomorrow to Villa Voice, if not for some more sex, at least for another one of Lynne Tillman’s new stories read by Wayne Koestenbaum.

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