As I drafted my talk for the censorship and the arts forum, I originally had a different ending, in which I tried to extend my potentially controversial case "for" censorship—or at least for how it might, inadvertently, help to hone an artist's craft. I wasn't sure if this final section was fully making sense, especially after the material that preceded it, and I was near the limit of my allotted time anyway, so I decided to chop the ending out. Here it is. I think there may be something to the idea, but it still needs some work:
Censorship also has something to teach us about creative method.
It’s worth considering a story told by the Italian novelist Italo Calvino about his own artistic apprenticeship. He talks about how when he started out “the categorical imperative of every young writer was to represent his (or her) own time”. Eventually though he got bogged down by what he describes as “the weight, the inertia, the opacity of the world”.
To rediscover the lightness—the play—in his art, Calvino turned for help to Greek mythology and in particular the tale of Medusa, whose stare turns men to stone, and Perseus, the hero who ultimately slays her. “To cut off Medusa's head without being turned to stone,” writes Calvino, “Perseus supports himself on the very lightest of things, the winds and the clouds, and fixes his gaze upon what can be revealed only by indirect vision, an image caught in a mirror... Here, certainly, the myth is telling us something… Perseus’s strength lies in a refusal to look directly, but not in a refusal of the reality in which he is fated to live.”
If the Medusa, then, is those corners of life and thought that censors would have us keep in shadow, then art that meets and overcomes that challenge is one that learns to still look into these shadow worlds but indirectly.
And that’s how art of every sort, of every genre, works best—through metaphor, allusion, reflection, cunning. One thinks of George Orwell’s famous allegories, whose targets went unnamed but not untouched. Or of the absurdist dramas of Czech playwright Vaclav Havel, who found subtle ways of poking holes in the illogic of a Communist regime. Or the late Risczard Kapusczinski, the globe-trotting author, part journalist, part myth-maker, whose reports from Africa and South America were also fables about his own repressed Polish homeland.
The question for Canadian artists, I suppose, when we’re allowed to say anything, is how do we learn to say it well, to adopt the indirect vision that lets us see even the darkest parts of our world the most clearly?