Next week I’m taking 17 talented young people to The Hurst in Shrosphire for a five day writing retreat. On the Wednesday we have the awesome Richard Bean coming to give a reading (One Man Two Governors). The Arvon Centre Director emailed me to ask whether it was okay for him to include swearing in his reading and I answered with a resounding YES. I told her that ‘I want my students to recognise that artistic integrity means embracing the depth and breadth of the English language.’
My feelings were echoed by Joanne Harris in a BBC Radio 4 Front Row episode when she spoke about why she was protesting The Clean Reader App. This App allows readers, on a sliding scale from dirty to clean, to choose how much they want their great literature doctored.
Appropriately, Harris responded with a strongly worded blog post: “Why I’m Saying Fuck to The Clean Reader” :
In the interview, Harris stated that writers choose words very carefully – including profane words and words that refer to nudity and sexuality and violence. Changing words just because they offend is akin to defacing a piece of artwork because you don’t like a particular colour. And, as Harris said too, it’s a slipper slope. Why not cut out words about gay people. Or black people. Or Muslims. Anyone has the right to challenge works that include words and ideas they don’t like; indeed, they have the ultimate right not consume such works. But no one has the right to change the words put down by a writer.
In the wake of Charlie Hebdo and the increasingly polarised world in which we live, censorship is something we must keep fighting. Freedom of expression is the pulse of a healthy society.
Those people who say that words have no power know nothing of the nature of words. Words, well placed, can end a regime; can turn affection to hatred; can start a religion, or even a war. Words are the shepherds of lies; they lead the best of us to the slaughter.