Changing the past

I received an email from Daniel Arthur Laprès, Lawyer, Paris, France alerting me to an article regarding book burning.  It wasn’t a topic I am accustomed to hear and it instantly inspired a native aversion. Upon regarding the article it is apparent that the re-writing of our past is underway whether literally or notionally.

Not all of these books are meant to be burned, although that was the original idea. The majority of them have been or need to be recycled, a spokesperson for the Conseil scolaire catholique Providence told the Canadian media. The latter specifies that the works withdrawn from the libraries contained “obsolete and inappropriate content”.

Whatever the reasons for burning the books, the action restores that narrative about correcting the past to make a better future. These days, burning books hardly amounts to destroying the material. Personally I prefer reading on-line than hard cover. A more conclusive process is the destruction of art and sculpture as a means of correcting the past.

Once again, I reiterate that the debate is not entirely about the content or medium nor about education or artistry; rather debate is whether it advances our purpose of proper education to effectively hide or deface the records of the past. There is no one who will deny that written material by necessity reflects the conditions, thoughts and undertakings of the moment. Likewise art (painting and sculpture) does the same.

My immediate reaction upon the destruction of either books or sculpture is one of horror! There are many times I have looked upon political and cartoon literature with a laughable pshaw! I seldom view the renditions of artists or writers as imposing their thesis upon me. What frightens me is that in some instances the destruction is purely political and certainly cosmetic. There are so many other ways of altering the past by examining it.  Clearly removing the past eliminates that opportunity.

As much as I may privately revel with delight in seeing the Catholic Church squirm over its continued atrocities, I believe that apart from the church attempting to purify itself, the greater ambition of education does not in my believe merit the Nazi image of book burning in Germany.

As part of an effort to align German arts and culture with Nazi ideas (Gleichschaltung), university students in college towns across Germany burned thousands of books they considered to be “un-German,” heralding an era of state censorship and cultural control. Students threw books pillaged mostly from public and university libraries onto bonfires with great ceremony, band-playing, and so-called “fire oaths.” The students sought to purify German literature of “foreign,” especially Jewish, and other immoral influences. Among the authors whose works were burned was Helen Keller, an American whose belief in social justice encouraged her to champion disabled persons, pacifism, improved conditions for industrial workers, and women’s voting rights.