Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship

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ISBN-13: 978-0226111766
ISBN-10: 0226111768
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Paperback, November 8, 1997
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Editorial Reviews Review

In this collection of eight essays, South African novelist J. M. Coetzee examines the complexities of censorship beyond the model of villainous censor and victimized artist. Having lived in a police state, Coetzee's experience is that "the same censors patrol the boundaries of both politics and esthetics." By contrast, in the United States, the way for artists to get away with representations that some find offensive or forbidden is to argue that their work has some political worth. Though Coetzee admits he doesn't know what to think of artists who "break taboos and yet claim protection of the law," he remains committed to free speech, conscious of how easily oppressive righteousness can rear its viscous head. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In South African novelist Coetzee's intriguing theory, censorship arises out of a paranoid mentality when a dominant class, church or state, lashing out in fear from a sense of latent powerlessness, suppresses a writer or artist whose truth-telling gives offense. He buttresses his argument by discussing Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, arrested in 1934 and commanded to compose an ode in praise of Stalin, and South African poet Breyten Breytenbach, imprisoned in 1974 and forced to repudiate his poem that condemned political execution and torture. The battle with the censor invades the writer's psychic life, as Coetzee demonstrates in his analysis of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's skirmishes with the Soviet state, leading to his exile in 1974; Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert's fight against Stalinist repression; and humanist satirist Erasmus's battle with Luther and the papacy. Coetzee implicitly rejects feminist Catharine Mac-Kinnon's antipornography stance ("her heart lies with the censors"). These erudite essays form a powerful, bracing critique of censorship in its many guises.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 297 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (November 8, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226111768
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226111766
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #538,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

J.M. Coetzee's work includes Waiting for the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K, Foe, and Slow Man, among others. He has been awarded many prizes, including the Booker Prize (twice). In 2003, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on January 4, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In these essays, J.M. Coetzee analyzes thoroughly and attacks the role and the (mis)use of censorship in arts.

Taking Offense
State censorship is an inherently bad thing. The cure is worse than the disease.
`A censor pronouncing a ban, whether on an obscene spectacle or a derisive imitation, is like a man trying to stop his pen.s from standing.'

Lady Chatterley's Lover
LCL is a tale about the transgression of boundaries - sexual and sexualized social boundaries.
D.H. Lawrence wanted `the end of taboos, the end of dirty language, the end of dirty books.'

The Harm of Pornography (Catharine MacKinnon)
MacKinnon treats pornography as a political issue, not as a moral one. She sees pornography as an instrument of male power, not pleasure. For her, male desire is one of the avenues through which male dominance realizes itself.
She shows a `striking absence of insight into the desire as experienced by man.'
Her analysis is also parochial, based only on specific US situations.

Censorship and Polemic: Solzhenitsyn
The heroic battle of one man against an enormous censor bureaucracy (more than 70,000 men).

Osip Mandelstam and the Stalin Ode
Stalin and his apparatus castrated a generation of writers, robbing it from its political power and its power of historical witness.

Zbigniew Herbert and the censor
In the face of the paranoia of state censorship, Z. Herbert opted for the `silence' solution.
He chose to work with allegories, thereby defending the autonomy of art (the power of art to validate itself) and proving that poetry can give a vision of an ideal world.
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