BACKGROUND: SomethingDark’s assistant editor for North America, Marilyn Jaye Lewis, invited Supervert to contribute a text to SDk03; we were delighted when he agreed, and even more delighted when we received and started reading it. But our delight was sullied around half-way through “Coprophilia for the Masses” with the realisation that a paragraph of twenty-two words would run the gauntlet of one of a number of British laws allegedly designed to protect the population from imagery, writing and speech deemed by the state to be harmful. SDk editor Daryl Champion interviews the author.
SDk: I’ll cut straight to the bone. SomethingDark is utterly committed to artistic freedom, yet I found myself asking you to delete or modify one short passage in “Coprophilia for the Masses” not because I thought your words possessed the ability to scythe down millions or to precipitate a plundering invasion of another country, but because I had reason to believe that perhaps three words in particular would expose us to the outrage of a moralistic minority, and, potentially, to legal consequences. As a writer and
an editor I’ve never been in this deplorable position before. How did you receive my request, and have you been in this position before?
Supervert: Your request was perfectly reasonable. There are contexts in which a word is worth the risk of incarceration or death. But this short passage, which contained racial slurs intended to reinforce the text’s theme of power in abjection, was not critical.
In the 1990s, I co-created a series of multimedia “art CD-ROMs” called BLAM!. These were officially banned in Japan – but the ban only seemed to contribute to the disks’ popularity. Aside from that, it shames me to admit that the lone time I can recall being censored was the one time I did it to myself. Originally I wanted to give the title Alien Fuckfest to Extraterrestrial Sex Fetish. Nowadays I wouldn’t hesitate to use an obscenity in a title, but at the time I worried about my ability as a lone novice publisher to distribute a book with the word “fuck” in the title. I opted for the more pragmatic title and thereby made an aesthetic compromise that I hope not to make again.
(To be clear, renaming Extraterrestrial Sex Fetish was a weightier act than
agreeing to a small edit in “Coprophilia for the Masses”. There is a difference of scale in changing a title versus a few words in the body of a text. Also “fuck” is a very different type of obscenity than a racial slur.)
SDk: After the epic US and UK censorship trials five decades or so ago over works such as Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, literature today enjoys a degree of protection that imagery doesn’t – at least in print. But while literature in print appears to have won the hard-fought battles of the last half-century, it appears to be a barbarians-are-(still)-at-the-gates scenario: the passage in your “Coprophilia for the Masses” that concerned us could probably appear in print without any problems, but for Web-only publishing, new laws are emerging to suppress all manner of material. Would you agree that we have entered a new era of censorship, and that the internet is the new frontier for the censorious?
S: Yes, the lines have been redrawn. It used to be that sex was taboo. Nowadays it’s hate speech. It would be
There are contexts in which a word is worth the risk of incarceration or death… what these censorious moves have in parallel is the desire to suppress internal differences – differences in the expression of sexuality, differences in the conception of art, differences in the evaluation of freedom.