photo & text by nacrowe
it never ceases to amaze me how a novel as UBIQUITOUS and WELL-READ for generations now in high school english classes as RAY BRADBURY's RENOWNED DYSTOPIAN novel FAHRENHEIT 451 (BALLANTINE, 1953) still has lessons to teach us about the NATURE and STRUCTURE of AUTHORITARIAN POWER through CENSORSHIP and CONTROL OF IDEAS through CONTROL OF LANGUAGE.
after failing to secure a publisher, FAHRENHEIT 451 was serialized in issues of PLAYBOY in the mid-1950s, which makes sense given the publication's longstanding advocacy on behalf of FREE SPEECH (another prominent example includes an unedited interview with CIVIL RIGHTS leader MALCOLM X). its plot dealt with a fireman named GUY MONTAG who incinerated books declared VERBOTEN on behalf of the state. the novel gains momentum when MONTAG starts reading said books and works to undermine his own job and the POWER STRUCTURE of a FUTURE DYSTOPIAN STATE. BRADBURY undoubtedly was moved both by the EXTREME BRUTALITY of the PURGES of political dissidents, artists and academics associated with the post-war STALINIST state, as well as the AGGRESSIVE and highly CONTROVERSIAL efforts of former SENATOR JOSEPH MCCARTHY and his HOUSE UN-AMERICAN ACTIVITIES COMMITTEE to curb FREE SPEECH and POLITICAL EXPRESSION stateside.
i can remember teaching FAHRENHEIT 451 to freshman and sophomore students in countries (KUWAIT, MYANMAR, VENEZUELA) were books and class texts were EDITED and BANNED on a state level. CENSORSHIP in these countries was not an alien or academic concept, it was a matter of daily life. what gets me now is how PRESCIENT this well-trodden and widely-read novel is regarding out own situation here in the UNITED STATES, where states such as FLORIDA and TEXAS are effectively WHITEWASHING their own youth into being INDOCTRINATED into FALSE and BASTARDIZED NARRATIVES regarding SLAVERY and AMERICAN HISTORY writ large. on one hand it is SAD and PATHETIC, but on the other hand it is INSIDIOUS and TRANSGRESSIVE to even nominal conceptions of a FREE SOCIETY. it is also a NAKED POWER GRAB. these REPUBLICANS and their acolytes are likewise seeking to BAN literature that advocates for DIVERSITY, RACE and GENDER EQUALITY and an expanded appreciation of the HUMAN EXPERIENCE in all its nuanced COMPLEXITIES.
the idea of BANNED BOOKS is such an ANATHEMA to our SELF-CONCEPTION as AMERICANS that the idea that it has become part of the current CULTURE really portends badly for us as a deeply DIVIDED nation moving forward. as a former educator, my experience teaching this book a decade ago abroad was one thing, but in a preceding stateside context CENSORSHIP always felt more academic and distant then a daily live experience. it seemed like an anachronism from the bowels of a FORGOTTEN MCCARTHYIST past.
not anymore. it feels like it was written to describe our current PREDICAMENT. definitely worth rereading, even if the last time you did was in high school. youll be unpleasantly surprised how truly PRESCIENT FAHRENHEIT 451 still is seven decades after its initial publication.