We are fortunate enough to have lenient censorship laws in this country (and the US). We can pretty much write anything at all and with this freedom we produce novels like Haunted or Hogg or Wetlands that thrive on gore, fecal fun and sex. The career of Mikhail Bulgakov was hindered by the horror of Stalin’s censors. When he wrote to him begging to emigrate, Old Joe installed him in the Moscow Theatre, where he faced further cuts and purges to his plays. (The experience is satirised in the excellent Black Snow).
But when writers are held back, this gives them a fiery resistance, a need for their art to emerge uncompromised. What do writers have to fight against when they have the whole world to write about? When I write with serious motives in mind (and this is a rarity—I am a silly salami) I write about those blocks I come up against in the world that stop me from doing such-and-such, those parts of human behaviour that lead to the estrangement of a person (me) from his environment. If I wasn’t suffering these setbacks, how would I cope with the absence of things to kick against?
If someone told you all swearing and sex was verboten, your entire output would consist of noisy shagging in Malcolm Tucker’s office until the ban was lifted. We fought for centuries to enjoy the freedom of complete self-expression we almost have today, and the books that continue to boff taboos are tiresome. Some of the best novels today are coming from Eastern European countries, where the simple fight for truth and freedom makes for humbling work. (That’s not to say these writers wouldn’t rather have it easier, but still. Their books are delicious).
So let’s get back to the Stalinist purges. Let’s introduce some random bans to keep writers fighting their corner and creating a new literature of oppression. Here we go:
— No negative remarks directed at the current Prime Minister’s leadership skills or choice of hair gel.
— No reference to lorries, caravans, small vans or Renault Meganes.
— No male characters.
— No animals to appear unless in drag disguised as an apple.
— No religious words in dialogue and no secular words in prose.
— Four words per paragraph.
— All stories to be about diaper theft.
— Only those named Violet can write.
— No writing on computers or typewriters or paper or anywhere.