Monday, October 18, 2010

Banned, Challenged, and Challenging Books

I have to say, it was difficult to set aside the visceral reaction provoked by some of the week's materials (particularly some of the West Bend videos) long enough to form a reasoned response. To me, the concepts that loomed large as through-lines were the notion of intellectual freedom, as outlined in the Library Bill of Rights, and Mill's method of divining the truth through the "collision of adverse opinions". While it may not be the least problematic solution, the only one that really seems to make the most sense is allow all sides of an issue, however personally distasteful, to have their fair hearing. I particularly liked this quote from J.C. Swan in the Wolkoff piece: "To stumble upon a whole truth is a rare and lucky event, and we’re usually not equipped to appreciate it. In this state of affairs, bad ideas and untruths are a necessary part of the search." (Wolkoff, 9)

Speaking of Wolkoff, I happened to be in a public library while reading that article and it led me to browse through the catalog to see what sort of holdings they had on the topic of Holocaust denial. A quick keyword search brought up 22 titles analyzing the subject, including some by the authors Wolkoff mentioned - Lucy Dawidowicz and Deborah Lipstadt - but nothing in the way of materials specifically by Holocaust deniers.

This, in turn, raised a couple of questions for me. Who are the prominent authors, as far as Holocaust denial goes? They're not exactly well-known names, and most of their work is self-published. These are not the sort of things you're going to find by accident. Additionally, I had to wonder what sort of selection criteria a library's collection development staff would use for choosing titles by Holocaust deniers. Not to be overly glib, but how do you choose the most "authoritative" version of a fundamentally false account?

The closest thing I could find to a first-person account from a Holocaust denier was a book called "Lying About Hitler" by Richard J. Evans, a professor of History at Cambridge University who served as an expert witness for the defense in David Irving's libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt in 2000 (Irving lost the case, and eventually went bankrupt filing appeals). The book presents much of Irving's testimony in its entirety, along with a thorough examination of the historical inaccuracy of his claims. It ultimately serves as an object lesson - one Holocaust denier was given his day in court, adverse opinions collided, and a deeper understanding of the truth was achieved.

1 comment:

  1. Week 7: The Pernkopf Atlas and Holocaust Denial
    After reading and viewing this week’s materials, as well as my classmates’ blog posts, I find myself infinitely more informed about banned literature, the approaches being used to deal with censorship, and seeing different angles of debate in censoring materials.
    The Holocaust is an event that I personally find undeniable. In the cases of the Pernkopf Atlas and Holocaust denial literature, I immediately thought, “Never!” on including these materials. Yet I, like my classmates, remembered back to Mill, and his argument on truth and how we must always indulge fully in both sides of an argument before standing on solid ground. Truth is never one-sided, so to speak. Denying the Holocaust seems to be a whole different issue, because it is not about truth, but about promoting a lie. But in the interest of a truly democratic society that does not infringe the free speech and opinions of others, would a librarian who deliberately removes – or doesn’t buy – denial literature or the Pernkopf Atlas, be a traitor against the ideals of a democratic society?
    One of the arguments given by Atlas for keeping the Pernkopf Atlas is that it serves the memories of the people (victims?) depicted in the book. At first, I thought this was an erroneous argument, but as I pondered this throughout the week, I have to agree somewhat. Today, the book can be used by any person of any race, creed or religion, in a profession that works to heal persons of any creed, race or religion. The use of the book today is a slap in the face to its author who, as dean of the University of Vienna’s medical faculty during World War II, ascribed to carrying out the Nazi ideology of ethnic cleansing, and revised the curriculum to help enact the Nazi’s rules and regulations of alienation. Ironically, the book is available in a world that shuns the type of evil government Pernkopf was so committed to, and can ultimately serve the greater good of humanity.
    Still, is labeling controversial materials a viable option? I want to say no, because as Atlas stated, then every book in a collection is up for the same type of criticism, and libraries are supposed to provide information, not judge it. Like “hansenmk” asked, “Do libraries really want to get involved in these kinds of debates?” Shouldn’t we let patrons come to their own conclusions and make their own decisions about what to watch, read or listen to?
    Two examples come to mind about materials that I can check out of my library. The first is that in the Warner Bros. DVD release of Looney Toons cartoon collections (various volumes). Actress Whoopi Goldberg introduces the collection by saying that some of the material could be racist, but that Warner Bros. did not delete any politically incorrect footage because that would be the same as if saying those ideas never existed. Granted, this was probably a corporate decision to prevent possible lawsuits, but the inclusion of controversial materials in a library serves the truth of history, the two-sided debate of issues and the freedom of every author.
    Yet, as I circle back to Holocaust denial literature, I cannot believe that providing resources that further propagate a lie as terrible as the event itself will help scholarly research. I also believe that it is wrong to withhold material that is against my better moral judgment, even though many might agree with me. I am decidedly undecided.
    Along with my fellow posters in this week’s blog entries, I agree that a thorough procedure regarding collection development, challenged materials, previously banned books, and the like is the strongest step in the right direction. Above all, we must never forget that we are the proponents of free speech and expression, both in its acquisition and its accessibility to all.