Monday, April 14, 2014

Banning L'Engle

As a writer, who is also Christian, L’Engle has faced much opposition to her work. She is one the top 100 most frequently banned authors in the US. One reason for this is her mixing of religion and science. L’Engle, unlike many other Christian, feels that religion and science are “one and the same”.
                L’Engle doesn’t feel that religion and science have to be at odds. This is evident tin her interview with Bob Abernethy. L’Engle about how science and her religion can comingle. One does not have to put science in one place and religion in another. As L’Engle says they inform each other. L’Engle, in her interview also, somewhat, challenges her religion when she says, “Science knows things move and change, and religion doesn't want that”. She is more comfortable with science than with religion but doesn’t just stop believing in God. L’Engle’s attitude about science and religion has led to the banning of many of her works.
                The funny thing about banning a book is that the actual banning of a book is more harmful than the book itself. The fact that many people fight to ban L’Engle’s book is, sort of, ironic because they are doing more harm by trying to ban the book than the books themselves are doing. Though, A Wrinkle in Time has some parts that some think challenges Christian ideology, there are still positive Christian messages in the story. In fact, I would argue that A Wrinkle in Time is more of a pro-Christian than an anti-Christian, though L’Engle asserts it is meant as neither.
                  Those who want to ban A Wrinkle in Time because, it goes against their Theology are, themselves, being very anti-Christian. I understand not agreeing with a message from a book but to ban a book for going against Christianity just doesn’t make sense to me. It seems to go against the core idea of Christianity, which is acceptance. By fighting so hard to ban L’Engle’s work the people doing so are expressing their ignorance of their own religion and are in turn doing more harm to the cause.
                After doing service at Tunbridge I thought whether or not this book would be appropriate for the students to read, since they are about the age when some students read it. My answer was, and still is, an unequivocally yes. I fell this book is very appropriate for students to read. I contend that it is a disservice to the learning of the students to ban this book as their options are being limited thereby, in a way, harming them.

Banning Is The True Obscenity

Banning Is The True Obscenity

Marine Adam Kokesh describes the proposed ban on curse words to be “more offensive, vulgar, and obscene than any curse word.” Madeline L’Engle echoes this sentiment when she says, “You have got to be very careful of banning. What you ban is not going to hurt anybody, usually. But the act of banning is.” L’Engle relates this to Hitler banning books and then eventually killing people. Throughout this class I have come to the conclusion that many books are banned because they do not fit into a neat “box.” The box usually being the standards and customs of society or a particular group. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was banned because it challenged the society’s ingrained customs (as well as other issues, such as the continual use of the n-word). Twelfth Night was banned because the characters did not fit into the neat gender boxes. A Wrinkle In Time is often challenged because it not Christian enough or, paradoxically, not secular enough. It mixes science with religion. L’Engle’s works refuse to be “pigeonholed.” Hettiga attributes L’Engle’s messiness as being part of her appeal. She can reach out to many different people, and in some cases, reach out to many different interests and facets of a single person.

            Hitler wanted to eliminate diversity. He hoped for a world with one type of person. This is why books are so dangerous; they can challenge a person on many different levels. A book can often be whatever a person needs it to be, or it can be whatever a person looks for it to be. One example of this is seeing links to a Nazi Youth rally to The Polar Express. The critic admits that maybe she sees this because that was what she was looking for. Yet I believe sometime books are meant just to be books, especially for children. In A Wrinkle In Time, I think that it is extremely unimportant to categorize the book. It is a children’s book, but it can also be enjoyed by adults. It has elements of adventure, ethics, religion, science, and many other subjects. As L’Engle states she is foremost an author, this book is foremost a story. It does not matter how it is categorized, it still teaches basic ideals and concepts. There is a universality to this book that supersedes whatever box someone might attempt to cram it into. I think children reading books is essential. They come to books with open minds and hearts, ready to take from it whatever they can find (sometimes that might just be the pleasure of a good story).

Banning and Freedom

Banning is a sticky situation.  It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of thing.  One on hand, restaurants should be able to have a dress code, but on the other, towns and cities shouldn’t be able to tell their citizens what to wear and how to speak.  But books, on the other hand, should not be banned.  As Madeline L’Engle suggests in her interview with Bob Abernathy, the act of banning itself is much more dangerous than the material it prohibits.   

In his essay, A Wrinkle in Faith, Donald Hettinga, he quotes L’Engle as saying, “if we take the Bible literally we don’t have to take it seriously” (5).  L’Engle’s gripe with Christian readers (and I’m sure most readers for that matter) is that they take thing too literally.  She says that by focusing on the literal aspects of the Bible, people often miss the spiritual significance.  The same can be said for banning profane or complex literature.  If we look at L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time and only see overt Christian teaching, or immoral clashing of science and religion, we miss the implicit themes of love, strength, perseverance, and the power of the human spirit.  This same method applies not only to literature, but life as well.  If we ban saggy pants, or tattoos, or certain language, we miss the beauty of individual creativity and expression.  Of course, there is a fine line between allowing complete freedom and individuality, and allowing anarchy to ensue.  It seems nearly impossible to deem what is “okay” and what is not. 

In modern terms, freedom is known as independence from rules.  In our society, we see freedom as being unrestrictive, as emancipatory.  Because of this viewpoint, when we do face rules and regulations, we feel trapped and confined by what we “can’t” do.  Maybe this is the problem with banning, and why is elicits such a rise from those in favor of or against it.  Perhaps we should take a cue from the ancient concept of freedom, in which people feel free because of the rules that hold them in place.  This way, as L’Engle suggests, we’ll stop taking things so literally, and begin to see the beauty of what surrounds us, even if we are opposed to it.   

Step Back and Be Suprised

Hettinga and Galbraith’s essays support the idea of taking a step back to explore perspectives dfferent than one’s own in order to cultivate a space for surprises. Hettinga presents the misuse of cutting and pasting perspectives to shape an argument while dismissing the context from which it was first applied, particularly in fiction. Hettinga presents her concern; she states “Perhaps it is the academic critic in me that wants to worry about selections ripped out of their contexts and offered as touchstones of meaning. Such a technique is particularly problematic when the quotations are taken from fiction. Suddenly the values and authority structures established by the author as she created the narrative have vanished” (Hettinga, 2). Even citing these statements, I worry that I may have been guilty of that myself; I sincerely hope not. I hope I understood what she meant and that my thoughts in this paragraph are not too far from hers.

There is a danger with conviction when dealing with issues that humans are not equipped to understand through sense perception. Hettings states, “According to L'Engle, when we tenaciously devote ourselves to purely rational paradigms, we [construct] idols we can comprehend with our senses instead of waiting for the revelation of God in his own terms” (Hettinga, 5). On a similar, but not necessarily the same train of thought, I wholly appreciate Galbraith’s emphasis on considering what children need as opposed to what adults need children to be able to do. Sometimes adults forget to see children as individuals. The expectations are, in a sense, like the constructed idols; adults get wrapped up into thinking about their own standards for them, but when allowed to be themselves and trusted to be independent, children can be impressive all on their own—like “the revelation of God in his own terms;” there is, after all, a piece of God in each child.

Along the lines of not underestimating children (which seems to be something I naturally keep coming back to this semester), Galbraith mentions “a larger project to be with, support, and negotiate conflict with children without oppressing them” (Galbraith, 189). My heart lit up when I read this. At the Montessori school where I worked last summer, I remember the school director’s word choice about children using the bathroom. They didn’t call it “potty training,” they called it “bathroom independence.” Little ways of mindfulness like this particular difference reminds us that children, too, have a strong sense of dignity. Also, in their bathrooms, everything is children-sized, including the toilets. The ceiling is proportioned to their size, as well. This relates to Galbraith mentioning that “an emancipatory childhood studies approach begins where true children’s literature begins: with the existential predicament of childhood in an adult-dominated world” (200). In the classroom I worked in, children were very much in control of their surroundings and were able to be independent. Before being immersed in the Montessori culture, I was less mindful about children’s personal bubbles; when I met a cute two year olds, I would just pick them up and hug them. Now, I ask first. Also, I encourage them to walk on their own more so that they have control over their environment and I only pick them up if they ask for help or if they are in trouble.



Because We Like To

            For an entire semester now, we’ve been discussing the banning of books and continually asking the question: “Why?”. In Bob Abernathy’s profile on Madeleine L’Engle, I think she answers the question perfectly and concisely when she says, simply, “We have always liked banning.” It isn’t exactly the deepest or most profound answer, but it gets to the point: we do it, because we like it. People have a natural desire for power and the ability to control what is read is an easy way in which to exert it. Unfortunately, by exercising this power, we suppress the power of others by taking away their freedom of expression or communication.
            L’Engle warns about this danger saying, “Hitler and his cohorts started banning books, and then to killing people. You have tot to be very careful about banning. What you ban is not going to hurt anybody, usually. But the act of banning is.” When it comes to books, there is little harm to be done amongst the educated, as our consensus in class seems to show, because all they do is spread ideas and create a medium through which to gain and give knowledge and in order to protect the uneducated, I would say, is one of the responsibilities of those with the privilege of having this knowledge. The removal of materials from the public sphere is dangerous in taking away a valuable source of innovation, education, and thought, only adding to the potential for ignorance, as we’ve discussed with other works throughout the semester, but L’Engle is getting at something deeper.
            The suggestion made by L’Engle’s statement in her interview with Abernathy brings up the dangers of oppression and the abuse of power. The previously stated points about removing sources of knowledge and communication speak to the danger of oppression, but stemming from that is also the tendency for people to accept their oppressed state and to submit to the role of victim and stop trying to communicate or spread their thoughts and creativity at all. This would create a vicious circle in which innovation would cease altogether and we, as a civilization, would assume a state of stasis, never to grow or develop.
            While a lack of growth is something to be wary of, it is not nearly as dangerous as something like Hitler’s regime and the abuse of power that can come from acknowledging and embracing one’s ability to control. That sort of power easily goes to one’s head and once it has begun, is hard to end. Once the banning begins and people realize they can have a say in such matters it is not likely to stop after one work is banned, or even after fifty are taken off the public shelves. This shaping of the potential views of others by imposing one’s own opinions is not only hypocritical, but highly detrimental.

According to the ALA website, 307 books were challenged in 2013 alone. Clearly literature is not something that is taken lightly in America and its influence is evident simply by the amount of controversy it causes. In this light, L’Engle’s point is something to be strongly heeded: It’s not really the books that are the dangerous one’s, it’s the banning of them.

bikins and baggy pants

A lot of the issues brought up about sagging pants were families concerned for their children being exposed to peoples bums. It is simply a generational fad, one generation complaining about the new generations risky, provocative, or crude behavior. It is similar to how parents used to complain that their children would be forced to go to school with African Americans. A change in the social standards are always expected. In the 1900’s fashions that showed the ankle were thought as outrageous. Norms change, progress is made and what we complained about yesterday will become commonplace tomorrow. To ban clothing for being too baggy seems like a petty thing to argue about and could lead to more progressive bans. If one generation completely controls the norms of society, it will not progress into the future, even if it is seemingly unimportant as clothing. 
One of the banned areas discussed was on a boardwalk, literally inches away from the beach. A man was quoted complaining about the attire on the boardwalk when families can see bikini clad women and speedo clad males feet away, “You want a family atmosphere here," he said. "You don't want to see someone walking around with their butt crack hanging out. On the beach is one thing, but not here on the boardwalk.” During the summer in sweltering heat while people are there to enjoy themselves in the sun, this man is worried about a bit of butt crack? There is so many other infractions at the beach that he should be more concerned with; socks and sandals, overly sun burned children, the unhealthy fried foods available. The beach is by no means a wholesome family atmosphere, I have seen girls in bathing suits usually reserved for the covers of risky magazines. 
I know my parents complain about baggy pants, their parents complained about men’s long hair, and my grandmother said her mother complained about how girls would hike up their hemlines for their dancing dresses. At one point it was vogue to have separate bathrooms for different races. In Huck Finn gender roles were also so defined that the woman he visited was able to tell he was playing a girl because of the way he threw and the way he caught something with his legs. All of these things have changed, and for the better. Everyone is equal and integrated into schools and no one can even legally ask for separation based on race. Pink toys used to mean girls and blue toys meant boys. Now toys are being made genderless and science and tinker toys do not only target boys. With the progress of society, it is only common that human express that with how they look. If someone sees the progress in society through an expression of baggy pants, then no one can take away their ability to wear their pants like that. 
The 1920s was the beginning of the female liberation, women cut their hair and started wearing pants. It signified a change in values of society and of course, people who wanted to keep the norm would be resistant to the change in attire. As long as someone is in public they should be allow to express themselves in what ever way they see fit. Now on the other hand pertaining to private areas of business they are more than able to put bans on baggy pants. Just as restaurants can refuse service to any one they choose to. That is as much as their right as it is the right to wear baggy pants. 

Tattoos no longer have the same social stigma than they do today. They used to mean you were either a criminal, a soldier, or going no where in life. That has completely changed, tattoos have developed into a way to mark life changing events and the create a story board of art on your skin. Tattooing is an art form and it becoming more respected as such. During the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many US troops have collected tattoos that have become personally meaningful to them, “kind of like mile markers in their lives,” Eldridge says. People have adopted the military’s ideas of tattoos holding a significance in the story of one’s own life and the creativity of the tattooers have made it into an art form. 
My grandfather and my mother were having a discussion about tattoos and he was completely against the idea of them. He thought they were pointless and looked trashy. My mother who I had to convince that tattoos were socially acceptable defended them. She herself who now has two small ones is coming around to the idea that tattooing is art. She asked my grandfather who was set in his view that tattoos are gaudy if he knew which one of her three children, his grandchildren had tattoos. He said that none of us would have them. In fact, all three of us have very visible wrist tattoos. We all actually got the same tattoo signifying the bond we all have with each other. He didn’t even notice them. Tattoos aren’t the problem, it’s simply how people think about them. He believed tattoos were ruining people’s bodied, but didn’t even notice when the three of us had such visible ones. Sometimes it is not how people choose to dress or express themselves that is detrimental to society, it is how people perceive those decisions of expression. 

The Education of a Corpse

When examining the similarities throughout the bans on saggy pants and tattoos with Galbraith’s exposition into the education of young children by their parents in regards to the issues surrounding A Wrinkle in Time, one of the central elements in understanding the disparities between those involved is the manner by which we speak of these issues. Although saggy pants and tattoos appear to be harmless to many younger audiences today, the meaning behind the banning of each reflects issues that have changed in modern times compared to when the people coming up with the laws experienced the meaning originally. Therefore although younger audiences do not see saggy pants as tattoos or maybe have joined in causes that argue for the artistic expression of saggy pants and tattoos as part of who someone is, the older generations who were around when these breaks from the cultural norm first occurred could potentially see these actions as a degeneration that could cause harm to others. In this sense, the realities surrounding baggy pants and tattoos appear similar to that which Galbraith has to say about parents educating their children in the degree that adults risk determining the understand of their children due to the influence of language and experience.

            Responding to the issues through the lens of A Wrinkle in Time, one of the primary understandings that is taught in the novel deals with the rejection of the appearance of things. Whether it is Aunt Beast, Meg’s father, or the concept of love, the key aspect that is taught by L’Engle is that things mean more than that which they appear as. In this sense, the meaning of each aspect of Meg’s world has the ability to constantly change, which is important for Meg due to the problems of her conception of her father which was literally held in stasis until she broke through the appearance and discovered the multiplicity of meanings for one thing, and allows Meg to come discover things on her own rather than repeat definitions that are predetermined for her. Therefore, much like baggy pants and tattoos acting like a catalyst for degeneration for an older generation, the predeterminism of the older generation freezes the ability of the new generations to discover any meaning. Caught in this constant re-education, no new information is learned and the concept ultimately dies, or loses meaning for the people due to their inherent acceptance from others.