I was utterly surprise to see an article in the Guardian that slightly boggled my mind initially. The article comes from Dr Judith Hawley, professor of 18th century literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. There are a few sides to it and the title was more than just an eye catcher. With ‘I didn’t ‘ban’ Fanny Hill because of trigger warnings – I don’t teach it at all‘ (at https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/15/fanny-hill-ban-university-trigger-warnings-judith-hawley), I initially wondered if it was politically motivated (as I had never read the book in the first place), so I decided to take a look at it. Consider being a professor and making the headline in a magazine like Vogue because of ““Eyebrows were raised when the first erotic novel in the English language, Fanny Hill, was dropped from a 18th-century literature course ‘for fear of offending students’“, you see, that makes perfect sense in America, a nation where the state of Georgia will reward a blowjob with one year imprisonment, apparently being married to the woman who performs this on you is apparently no defence, so go figure. Nope, this issue (the Fanny Hill one) is happening in the Kingdom of the United. So the mail on Sunday, even the Times had the follow up after the Radio 4 message “In the 1980s I both protested against the opening of a sex shop in Cambridge and taught Fanny Hill. Nowadays I would be worried about causing offence to my students” was given by the professor. In addition, we see “I was accused in the papers, remove Fanny Hill from the university course reading list for The Age of Oppositions, 1660-1780 “following a consultation with students” as the Times reported. It was never on the course, therefore it could not have been withdrawn“, so the media got it wrong on more than one count. There is a reference in the Evening Standard that is was Banned, where the writer Lucy Cleland (who fails English comprehension at this point) with “University of London, has apparently banned the book from her reading list 54 years after it was legally allowed to be published and more than 270 years after it was first written” (at https://www.standard.co.uk/comment/comment/don-t-sanitise-books-such-as-fanny-hill-they-teach-us-so-much-a3611191.html). The professor moves onto the main event with “Yet this isn’t just a story about misrepresentation in the press. There are wider issues at stake, about what is being taught and talked about in universities“, this is actually a lot more important (as I personally see it) than the mere choice of a book being a ‘Yay’ or ‘Nae’ thing. With “The Times article implicitly linked my self-censorship to recent cases of students “no-platforming” public speakers they deemed offensive“. The issue as I see it is “I admit I have been frustrated by students requesting “trigger warnings”, usually about texts which include representations of violence against women. These requests imply that the texts or the teachers of them endorse the violence they represent and that students might be harmed by them. They can, however, provide an opportunity to analyse and respond sensitively to difficult issues“, consider the implication, ‘harm by academic consideration or investigation‘. How are these people even in University? We could consider the words of David Haig (as D.I Grim) with ‘How do such Fooly Woollie Hoiti Toiti academics exist?‘ Not the professor mind you! The professor is being kind by stating it like “But it would be wrong to represent all current students as refusing to listen to views they don’t want to hear. Rather, we could think about this in terms of an evolution in free speech. Students are raising questions about who has the right to speak, the right to determine the agenda, and calling for a diversity of writers to be taught“, the agenda is the education, the degree they signed on for and the teacher has the responsibility to educate them and prepare them for real life as best as possible. you see, when I see ‘Students are raising questions about who has the right to speak‘ as this is getting dangerously close to the judging event of Kristallnacht where Germans decided to burning Jewish goods, like books and paintings. It was not the first time; in 1497 Giralmo Savonarola did something similar in Florence. Here we saw ‘thousands of objects all going up in smoke in front of the Florentine public‘, art that would now be regarded as priceless, books, literary works, all on the whim of censorship by pointing out to the guilty as fornicators and deceivers of the devil, only to propel himself as a prophet and a messiah. So when did this ever go right? We see Ray Bradbury give us the dangers to some extent in Fahrenheit 451. The simplicity of it is within ourselves is by ignoring the side we find uncomfortable, we find it dangerous. There could be some wisdom in banning ‘Mein Kampf’, yet critically analysing it and showing the dangers and teaching the people how dangerous certain approaches are would have been much more powerful. In this it is like making Darrell Huff’s ‘How to lie with statistics‘ a mandatory secondary school subject. when the people at large realise how they are deceived (read misinformed) by the media more often than we realise, that is the first step in making sure that critical facts are displayed to all, giving less rise to innuendo and making all people ask: ‘What are the actual facts?‘ The professor is right that a situation like “they should attend to the power relations implicit in the pedagogic relationship and be aware that students can feel coerced” is a cautious issue to approach. Coercion is dangerous and there should be safety valves to prevent this from getting hold on anyone. In addition, we need to make certain that a critical analysis is available to empower the student with the ability to diffuse situations as they master the trade, the art and their environment. I believe that could in part revoke the issue from growing, which she touches on at the very end. With “A climate of suspicion may be growing on our campuses – but it is fostered in sensational headlines about banning books” If there is a climate of suspicion that it needs to be taken on head on as soon as possible, as visible and as loud as possible. You see, ‘a climate of suspicion‘ can only grow in the shadows, so setting the lights high and bright so that anyone can see everything is the only way to push suspicion in the sewers like the cockroach it is. Open, clear and precise is the only way for the critical mind to move forward and that is the only actual solution. So as the students learn (or would have if the book was on the reading list) is that “The problem with teaching Fanny Hill is not to do with sex, but power“, which in the cold light of day loses power over others as the students learn about the power it emphasises on (or apparently seems to do). It is the media that is the second part and as it implies that something was banned, whilst it was as the professor stated never on the list, is also a needed consideration to see. You see as we know that Mein Kampf is still banned in many places, as such, how can people protect themselves against the message it holds? And we do not need to go that extreme, how about ‘Love comes later‘ in 2014 banned in Qatar, or Lysistrata in Greece, written in 411BC and was banned in 1967 in Greece because it held anti-War message (something about a military junta and feeling anti-empowered by a pussy for peace option). In this where does Fanny Hill fit (perhaps it does not fit)? You see, it is not merely about the fact that books were presuming to be banned, or actually were banned. It was often the empowering reasoning that made them banned. When we see that a 411BC book gave fear to a Greek Junta of 1967, how powerful would the critical analyses be, to empower those opposing an ultra-right military Junta?
So how is the misrepresentation of banning now the message?
It is not, it merely illustrates the dangers why it is important for the students of now, to ignore (to some degree), the elements of opposition. I personally believe that ‘students might be harmed by them‘ is nothing compared by the actual harm that the ignorance of any fact represents. This especially as the harm is speculative and in the end, the academic mind itself is lessened by not knowing. I am not ignorant of the part of “the student body is larger, more diverse, less privileged and more uncertain about the future, and the ubiquity of pornography has changed the terms of the debate“, yet the premise is within ourselves and the university to alter ‘less privileged‘ to some extent. We can tackle ‘uncertain about the future‘ by giving all the parts we can so that uncertainty is partially lessened, by knowing what was, we see that what might be, and prepare ourselves for the larger extent of the eventuality that will present in actuality. ‘Ubiquity of pornography‘ is a much harder issue. By learning that the common place part of sex and desire is at the core of exploitative profit, we can comprehend that inner drive in exploitation is one we can alter and channel (although most likely impossible in any teenager), the fact is that the true illustration on ‘How sex sells‘ is also a first drive towards your money and as such as it is about the price of what is sold, it merely makes the advertiser a pimp of products we ultimately do not need anyway and as such the consumer is more empowered to see how they are exploited, especially through glossy magazines. And these players are all about ‘trigger warnings‘ because the harassment through the message of incoming harm is one that works too often, too well.
In the end I loved the article as it made me contemplate a few things I never really sat for, I was aware of my actions towards ignoring the messages offered to me, yet the realisation that we can voice a certain reflex is also a way to guide it to act (read: react) better. I personally thought that students who undertook ‘The Age of Oppositions‘ would be eminently equipped to utterly ignore (read: counter, or deal with) ‘trigger warnings‘ #JustSaying
The question becomes where to draw the line. Now, that is all up to the professor and the University, and I am not looking at that part, also I make absolutely no implication in any direction on the need for Fanny Hill to be part of that curriculum. The questions that are shaped in my mind are not merely the comprehension of the event, or how the media covered it, it is also the setting of the stage. Consider the 2011 work of ‘The Promise’. One might want to consider the sides, the acts of the British army and how Israel is depicted there, yet in all this, the work that is the dominating part in creating the drama was “Kosminsky says that his overriding aim was to present the experience of the 100,000 British soldiers who served in Palestine“, the view is very unsympathetic to Israel and the Jews, yet the one part not touched on (perhaps validly), is that one religious group got exterminated for 32% of its totality, in the years that would follow, for Europe the numbers were grim beyond comprehension, 63% of the Jewish population was exterminated, so in every Jewish family 2 out of 3 would be dead, the anger, the rage and disbelieve was only catching on in 1947/1948. That part was missed, or perhaps more accurately stated was not the aim of the story, and as such barely covered. It is however the fuel that underlies in the events we see dramatized in the story. We can argue that this is what the Allies wanted all along for the mere reason that 3.7 enrages Jews running free in Europe would not allow for any reparations to commence for decades to come (personal speculation). It does not lessen the TV series, it does not tell you a lie, it merely shows you a side of Palestine 1946-1948 and the experience of the British soldiers in Palestine remains very real. So should we run at the sight of any ‘trigger warnings‘, that is the question we need to look at as well, that is the underlying issue I see in the guardian article. The mere two words ‘trigger warning‘, we should never ignore them, yet are they dealt with correctly? I do not proclaim to have the answer; I am merely voicing the question. Perhaps there is an answer out there that shows me to be wrong. I cannot tell, yet if education and learnings are impeded with ‘trigger warnings’ what do we end up learning? That is as I see it the most dangerous part in what some call ‘the secular society‘. You see, I am not against secularism, I merely seem to see a larger move where it is not merely about separation of church and state any more. It is more and more about halting, censoring and diminishing religion as a whole, to some degree even countering levels of spirituality. The dangers as we might consider people like Charles Bradlaugh, seemingly grows clusters of anti-socialists, not those who are not social, a form of liberalism where there is an implied growth of working against economic self-management. I wonder if it can be proven, some of the works we see imply it, but do not state is as factual (it might not be the case). If ‘trigger warnings’ push the education into learning of ‘we must not cause offence‘ how far is the sheep catechism of our own inner morality to go? Merely follow any flock and let the loudest secular decide? Yet that is the extent of the dangers the next generation face. I have always believed that empowering any person through educating all the sides of the coin (all three sides) is the only way we can see that the coin that falls on the ledge is not magic, just merely a probability closest to zero. Yet is that true? Some sources state that the chance is 1 in 6000. So in a population of billions, how many radicals landed on their edge? Should we be blinded against them by the alerting message of a ‘trigger warning’?
That is not the merely the premise, in some vocations that becomes the name of the game. So the next congregation better be ready for what comes, because the more you know, the better you can solve whatever comes your way, in my personal view, ‘trigger warnings’ be damned.