The book, like any other medium, is nothing more than a vehicle for our thoughts, hopes and aspirations. Without our pens to give them life, they are like snakes without venom or birds without wings. Content is the driving force behind the effectiveness and popularity of the book. Until the 20th century, print was unrivalled in its ability to store and spread information. As we have seen in our readings, the introduction and widespread adoption of print was both a cultural and economic boon for society. Literacy opened up avenues for political resistance and new industries were born out of the book trade. A new form of collective society was on the horizon, one where art and the individual began to flourish. That being said, it was far from perfect. Unfortunately, many institutions saw print as the ultimate threat to their hegemonic relationships with the masses. In an effort to curb the spread of deviant thought, controversial books and their authors were relentlessly persecuted in times of both religious and political tyranny.
Historically, the book has always found itself at odds with the powers that be. In its infancy, the church tried to neuter it as a form of protest media. Starting in 1515, the Roman Catholic Church began banning books based on their content. If a book was deemed heretical, it was to be either banned or not to be published at all. The Church exerted pressure on the printers of various European countries, threatening them with excommunication. Despite the influence of the Church, deviant texts still circulated in many areas of Western Europe, which resulted in both religious reformations more freedom for both printers and authors.
Despite being a long, painful battle, the fall of religious censorship in the West offers us hope. If an institution as powerful as the Roman Catholic Church can be beaten, so too could other powers.That being said, freedom of the press is a right (and for many a luxury) that has come at a tremendous cost. must be fought for, tooth and nail. Dissenting authors suffered relentless persecution under the Nazis during the early 20th century. In our current political landscape, many fear for the freedom of the press, and rightfully so. The press, despite its commercialization, has served as a litmus test for our ability to function as a democratic society. If we were to lose it, it would be Bedlam for the free society that we hold so dearly.
For us literary scholars, this turmoil is a call to arms. Should we remain passive and complacent, we may lose our primary channel for free speech. I know, we live in an age of Breitbart and Info Wars; an age where what is factual is constantly under siege. I don’t try to hide my disdain for these alarmist cesspools, but I think their existence is vital to a free press. If these toxic ideas were denied the same freedoms that any other ideas were given, they would fester in the hearts of their writers. If we censor them, we are no better than the forces of the past who clamped down on the press to alter public perceptions. Thus, we should always allow those dark ideas to be aired out in the light. It is far easier to challenge them when they are left in the open.