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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This item is taken from PN Review 98, Volume 20 Number 6, July - August 1994.

Editorial
'Egypt's culture is declining fast,' Mafouz declares in 'Terminal Illness', a bleak statement. 'Culture is not, and cannot be, independent of education. The state of education in our country is in crisis. It has been so for along time now. We lack proper schools or adequately trained teachers. Classrooms are more like warehouses to cram children in for a few hours than places of education. The arts and literature are barely taught in these institutions...' His comments are true of many countries, and not necessarily all in the Third World.

In the Spring 1994 issue of The English Messenger, the newsletter for the European Society for the Study of English, Luise von Flotow writes from the University of Freiburg of her experience teaching French there and in Marburg. 'I have approximately 180 students, whom I can see in overcrowded classrooms only once a week. I am lucky if I can remember ten names in a semester, or just recognize faces. Since students are often away - on excursions, or part-time jobs, or just travelling - and discipline is lax, I rarely get to know my "customers". Further, I am not really sure what my role is, since I don't know the largely anonymous, shifting and heterogeneous members of my classes or their needs. And they don't know me.' She quotes a 'reform-minded German academic': 'The German university is like a post office. There will always be letters to send.' 'In other words,' von Flotow adds, 'the German university is a bureaucratized government agency, in which the public is at most "serviced", since it needs to keep coming regardless of the quality of this service.'

The problems in Germany and other European countries, as in Egypt, are in part demographic, demand outstripping supply by a daunting ratio. Europe's greater resources mean that poverty begins not at primary or secondary level; it is postponed to the tertiary level, the one which produces teachers who will take on responsibility for primary and secondary schooling.

In the debate that followed the partial collapse of literary publishing in eastern Europe, the phrase 'censorship of the market-place' was coined. Serious writing, even dissident writing in some instances, had been published under the old regimes and there was a hunger for such material. That hunger did not constitute a stable market; when subsidies were removed and 'market disciplines' came into force, other literatures and more popular genres drove out what had been the literary staple of the old lean years. One could sympathise with authors and readers who were left stranded. It was indeed a form of censorship by market - by readership - the inevitable result of the market-democratising of culture. Until the 'new democrades' prosper, it is unlikely that subsidised sectors or traditions of patronage, such as those that have existed for decades in the old market democracies, can emerge. The effect of their absence on the creation of new and experimental work will never be known.

Mafouz's lament and von Flotow's essay point to another kind of censorship. It has to do with the failure of growth of informed readership for literary and other works at all levels. For in the end the word is free not because of institutional provisions or liberal environments: it is free because, once available (in samizdat or mass-market paperback) it can be received, appraised, even acted upon. One cannot expect a majority of citizens to 'receive' or 'appraise'; but, within any culture with a substantive literature, facilities to enable reception and appraisal are available. We are back with education once more. Within cultures where those facilities are run down, or politicised, or appropriated, literature itself suffers. Ours may be becoming such a culture - we have the run-down, and in significant areas, the appropriation, while the humanities structure themselves, in the wake of awkward and inconclusive reorganisation along lines which many in the universities regard as destructive, based on business and science models, we have politicisation.

Ursula Owen's impassioned editorial in the May/June issue of Index begins: 'Sixty-one years ago this week, a torchlight parade of students marched to a square in Berlin on Unterden Linden and made a bonfire of some 20,000 books, among them some of the great works of the nineteenth and twentieth century thought and literature. In the words of a student proclamation, any book was condemned to the flames "which acts subversively on our future and strikes at the root of our thought, our home and the driving forces of our people". 'How remote are we from that initial holocaust, itaself the result of run-down, politicisation and appropriation?

The editor of Index, with a remit to open out debate, might consider the impact of restructuring, run-down and the reductive and fashionable orthodoxies entrenched in many departments of humanities up and down the country on freedom of expression and reception, the survival for readers of works of literature within our less brutally prejudiced environment. The issue of censorship goes beyond legislative considerations, institutions, official secrets and the Rushdie affair, crucial as they are.

It has to do with the provision of resources and the appropriate structuring of institutions of learning: are they businesses with 'customers' or are they something with an older, more independent pedigree? It has to do, also, with the persistent echoes of the authoritarian tunes so many of us marched to in the late 1960s, translated now into orthodoxies and bent, in slow and tolerated, even encouraged subversion, on devaluing not only the received canon but all notions of canonicity, producing 'textualities' which confine the challenging word to the page and set us at an impregnable distance from the effect of radical work. It has to do with the outright condemnation of whole areas of our writing as politically or otherwise obnoxious. In this respect the Rushdie affair is an extreme form of the kind of censorship suggested here, with the mullahs, many of them distinguished teachers, in the role of censors.

Some time ago in PNR Bernard Bergonzi characterised the king of British theorists as having a mind that cut through ideas as a knife cuts through butter, contrasting his theory-play with the serious, consequential engagement of his mentor Raymond Williams, for whom ideas had an actual valency and who struggled towards truths. Theory can be enabling; but theory which programmatically displaces Shakespeare, or Wordsworth, or devalues Pound, Marianne Moore or Walcott, or sets centre-stage work which grows and thrives on the peripheries, is - yes - another form of censorship, denial, by misvaluation. Those who teach it can impoverish students, those who popularise it diminish readership. They dispose of books which do not answer their needs, or which 'act subversively' on their sense of future and 'strike at the root of our thought, our class and the driving forces of our movement' with the smokeless flames of partiality or neglect. There are censors, and censors. Whatever their declared politics, such censors cannot engage Index in the spirit Ursula Owen· intends, a spirit which is liberal and, above all, believing.

This item is taken from PN Review 98, Volume 20 Number 6, July - August 1994.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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