Imagine hearing the same words and phrases over and over again. These words are not the everyday phrases that grease social interaction, but claims, sanctions, or rebukes: liar, not legal, politicians’ abuse, another cover-up, not the principle on which this country was founded, and so much more, and worse, of that kind. Hearing these phrases again and again would engrave them on the mind.
These phrases are angry and defiant; verbal assertions of power, or rather the lack of power, which can only be corrected by calling out the political and legal and components of the corporate structure for their apparent malfeasance.
That is what listening to years of (virulent) talk back radio would be like. Uncontested opinions, assertions, the marginal and substituted instead of the verified, form a parallel but almost barely recognizable world.
Suggestion becomes reality, and over long periods, attitudes are molded and modified to the frequency of the message. It’s the essence of propaganda and PR and marketing.
In opposition to that language is a progressive group steeped in the merits of education, which sees itself as a bulwark to antediluvian opinions. Moreover it strives for change, in the ways language is used, and to that aim it compiles lists of books and phrases which are codified in terms of their potential harm.
Some of the books and authors on these lists form peculiar companions. Virginia Woolf was on one danger list and initially I couldn’t see why she had been thrown in with such an infamous crowd.
The reason she’d been listed is her novel, Mrs Dalloway, has a psychologically distressed veteran as a character.
Putting this book on a list is a prophylactic measure, yet that the event in the book which may cause anguish is fiction; in reality Woolf actually committed suicide. Reading her work will involve reading about her life, and her development as a writer, which is often the way books are taught, and that would make her biography a cause for harm.
When books like this are considered harmful, for whatever intention, there are hundreds of others which could also be added. The Index Librorum Prohibitorum is potentially huge.
When two diametrically opposed groups use language to make the world match their ideal it’s almost a secular reformation – counter-reformation struggle. Language folded, mashed, wrapped, rumpled, and enveloped like an infant’s comfort blanket.
Such distortions are thought to be historical, like the internecine battles of the Thirty Years War (without the defenestrations of Prague), not the present social reality. But it is now. Faulkner was right, the past is not even the past.
©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.