Banned Books Week: a celebration unfit for UD

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Photo by Kate Frediani

Next week the American Library Association celebrates Banned Books Week. This holiday celebrates freedom of information by touting all books that have been hated at some point, by some group. 

That is not an exaggeration. I encourage you to go to bannedbooksweek.org and verify. 

This holiday is already at UD in the form of a Banned Books Display in the Cowan Blakely memorial Library. The display (and the holiday) is intentionally provocative, academically uninformative, odious to the liberal arts and has no place at an institution of higher education. 

First, it is worth examining the display already set up in the library. The most noticeable thing about it is that the Holy Bible is placed on the same shelf as pornography. “50 Shades of Grey” sits right next to a beautifully illustrated New Testament. Right beneath that is the New York Times Bestseller “Two Boys Kissing,” the story of two 17 year-olds who attempt to break the 36 hour kissing world record. It is shameful for a Catholic institution to put the Bible on display next to extremely erotic fiction (even if it is only a KJV). 

It is also extremely simple minded to say they belong in a group together because they are “banned books.” This tenuous link between “50 Shades of Grey” and the Bible is unbelievably simplistic. 

Since every book has at some point been opposed by some group, saying “banned books” might as well mean “all books.” To say we should celebrate these books together, without considering why they were opposed, or even who opposed them, is shallow and unacademic. 

Using the same reasoning, you could justify the display of “Mein Kampf.” 

The display goes against the library’s commitment to holding “the highest standards of academic excellence and Catholic values, where students are strengthened for lives of purpose, service, and leadership,” as stated in their mission statement.

At its core, Banned Books Week is not only shallow, it is intentionally provocative. Not that being provocative is wrong per se. Being provocative in order to shock someone out of complacency is good and sometimes necessary. But to be intentionally provocative for the sake of being provocative is reprehensible.  

There is no physical copy of “50 Shades of Grey” in the library. Instead its cover was deliberately printed so that it could be placed next to the Bible in the display case. I defy you to explain how that was not intentionally provocative.

Worse than being provocative, the holiday is frankly rebellious. It is a pointless rejection of any intellectual authority. This intellectual angst has no place at a school that recognizes the Catholic Church as a teaching authority.

It is also contrary to a liberal arts education. 

As Dr. Hibbs explained in his inaugural address, “UD has never believed this banter about liberal arts education: that it’s not about teaching you what to think, it’s merely about teaching you how to think. It is about teaching you what to think, or at least what to think about.” 

As students of the liberal arts, we trust our professors when they tell us these works are the things worth reading. That humility is essential to being a good student. 

In an Article for Tower Magazine (“The Idea of Our University”), Dr. Waterman Ward expressed this well. She praises Donald and Louise Cowan for forming UD along the lines of John Henry Newman’s “The Idea of a University.” She writes, “Students… should form their imaginations by well-tested literature, with images of the noble and great before their minds. Material meant merely to stir addictive passions narrows rather than enlarges the mind.” She goes on to say, “Newman advised studying a limited literature systematically…this apparently rigid, interconnected curriculum makes flexible minds.” 

At UD we should not celebrate “banned books.” 

Just because a book was hated is not enough to make it venerable. Nor should we join the American Library Association in rejecting the intellectual authority of our own tradition and instructors. Rather we should read and reread the classics, meditating always on what is true, on what is good, and on what is beautiful.

3 COMMENTS

  1. “As Dr. Hibbs explained in his inaugural address, “UD has never believed this banter about liberal arts education: that it’s not about teaching you what to think, it’s merely about teaching you how to think. It is about teaching you what to think, or at least what to think about.”
    “As students of the liberal arts, we trust our professors when they tell us these works are the things worth reading.””

    We have every reason to trust our University professors and the books included in the Core that were meticulously arranged to help liberate our minds. Your insinuation that liberally educated individuals should never read books outside the approved Core is misguided. Read the Core, yes. But, also go out into the culture and read more and encounter more. Find what’s True and demonstrate it to those around you. The idea of our education is that we’ll be able to parse our what’s True and what isn’t anywhere we are and in whatever the circumstances. Or did God not exist in the ghettos or the brothels?

    The celebration of banned books is intentionally provocative or even silly (who actually thinks 50 Shades is on the same literary level as the Bible?). But, the point is- freedoms of speech and expression are good! Let all the ideas and stories into the open and then: how about we who were educated at UD, using the liberal arts, show the world what’s True in and what’s false in each work? What better analogy for evangelizing our future neighbors or co-workers? Understand the culture, then bring Christ to it, by pointing out the Good and offering quality feedback on the bad rather than shutting them down.

  2. I could be mistaken, but I think the article took issue with bad (and notably pornographic) books receiving attention simply because they were banned. You are right that we should not hide within our tradition, but when we find something that is bad, shouldn’t we bann it?

    Not to mention the fact that pornography should never be ranked alongside the Bible for any reason.

    • Ah! My apologies. I didn’t see someone had responded. I only now came back to the website for this week’s stories.

      Again- no one ranked the Bible and 50 Shades side by side. The author suggested this and the Dean of the Library has responded this week (in a new article) that that was a misinterpretation.
      The author’s original intent appeared to me to be: “The display (and the holiday) is intentionally provocative, academically uninformative, odious to the liberal arts and has no place at an institution of higher education.“ not specifically pornographic images, though 50 Shades was used as an example. Again, the Dean responded in kind. But, this is a flawed thesis. In celebrating “banned books”, the library association is celebrating a liberal education. Take it in and show how Mein Kampf is wrong. Allow everyone to read it at UD because it is bad. We need to be prepared to engage in such arguments if we’re to stop such thought in the future.

      Should we ban pornography? Yes! Mein Kampf? No! We shouldn’t ban something merely because it’s bad; it would be wise for us to digest and understand why it is bad to fight those cultural trends as they inevitably crop up in ever generation. Do I know where the line is in the middle? Also no. Lol. But, banned books week seems totally compatible with the UD ethos.

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