I [Heart] Voltaire: a DeClassified for the Ages

By Marjorie Jensen 

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it? –Evelyn Beatrice Hall, The Friends of Voltaire, 1906

Hall wrote this quote to summarize Voltaire’s attitude towards censorship. I’ll paraphrase one more time: I condemn what you are saying, but I will not let them decree what you can or cannot say just because I disagree. Yes, I am going to talk about censorship. Yes, this has been my theme for three terms now. Yes, I really do [heart] Voltaire. I can only hope that you’ll continue reading.

It could be said that the threat of censorship is what has motivated me to work for the Record. William Parke-Sutherland convinced me to go to my first Community Meeting by asking me if it was important to be able to keep writing what I wanted for The Record. As a writer, there are few things that I care more deeply about than freedom of speech.

I disagree with many of the texts that I encounter. Even if my ideals lie in complete opposition to what I am presented with, I find worth in deconstruction. I can strengthen my argument. Some works challenge me more than others, but I can at least laugh at the worst. I’d rather ask, ‘why would someone publish this,’ than ‘why did some one ban this or censor that.’ Given, controversy is one of the best things that can happen to a writer. If you want to increase readership, threaten censorship. However, I wouldn’t advocate for this method to increase notoriety. What is “unprintable? varies drastically over time. Not a dependable variable. It is a decree by someone in power who fears what is being said. This is only somewhat predictable. The irony of the threatening nature of a castration haiku to a male in power does point to some sort of obvious inevitability. Lacan possibly bumped his casket. This could be due to the patriarchy being deeply rooted in the symbolic power of the phallus. According to some feminist psychoanalytic perspectives, the loss of the phallus is directly related to the loss of power.

Therein, castration anxiety is a construct of a power structure that privileges men more than women. Being castrated, becoming more “feminine,? is threatening because women are afforded a lower social position. Is the administration’s latent response that becoming a woman is a put-down in a socio-political sense? Are they commenting on the male fear of the female “lack?? Who knows? Lacan’s not telling. Ironic latent motivations aside, the complaint could have been taken to the appropriate (existing) governing body and not been the rationale for threatening censorship in classic authoritarian style. Then again, I’m still dreaming this dream that our community governance system should be honored by the administration.

After reading something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I don’t think it should never be devoured again. Taste is subjective. When one decides on the basis of such a subjective standard what is “printable,? the outcome can only be unpleasant. Censorship is more unpalatable than any text. People have the right to decide for themselves what they find delicious. Have our admission policies become so lax that our student population isn’t considered capable to think for themselves? Unless someone puts a stamp of approval on the student-run newspaper, we will be unable to judge the material within it? In our much-criticized “culture of confrontation,? isn’t it likely that anyone who was “out of line? would get “called out? by the aggressive radicals?

It has been argued that our cognitive ability to write separates us from other species. While I think much of that ability lies in the evolution of opposable thumbs, there is some merit to the former point. Human complexity of thought is something that I value, despite my current existential crisis and postmodern hysterics. Voltaire, back me up here.

“We have a natural right to make use of our pens as of our tongue, at our peril, risk and hazard.? Despite the all too obvious connection that the pen carries power because of its phallic symbolism, the point remains that brains should come with warning labels: “operate at your own risk.? Let people say stupid things. Let people expound brilliant philosophies. Let them be at odds with one another. But above all, let people speak.