A message from reality.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sofie One Crow on January 9, 2015 at 9:10 pm

    Thank you, Mike, for adding to the debate I’m having with myself. No, I mean it – thank you.


  2. A good measured response. But alas history repeats itself. In nearly all arguments about free speech the “pro” supporters find themselves putting their case on behalf of some less-than-perfect protagonist. Surely, they say, Charlie Hebdo’s main aim was to be offensive for the sake of being offensive. That offence, amusingly put, will titillate, cause sniggering among those who aren’t given to retrospection. That any worthwhile political aims got lost in the sniggering a long time ago.

    Spool back thirty or forty years in the UK and we have the case of Oz, a sort of low-grade comic for grown-ups, which was sued for being explicit about sex. The liberal establishment (of which I number myself) led by QC John Mortimer, playwright and author of the Rumpole Of The Bailey TV series, took up the case and won. But afterwards many said ruefully they wished we’d all had something more artistically worthwhile to defend. They were missing the point.

    As they were twenty years before that when Penguin, the publishers of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (arguably Lawrence’s worst novel), willingly exposed themselves to a court case as to whether LCL should be published. This led to one of the most hilarious court cases ever which was won for the good guys. (Incidentally Penguin later published a book about the court case and to my mind it makes a lot better reading than LCL).

    As I say the argument is not about whether something is worth publishing but about the principle of free speech which can be hard to define and which is also hedged in by the exigencies of what constitutes libel.

    I am not qualified to define free speech but back in 1933 a New York judge (John M. Woolsey – let’s include his name, he deserves it) who had presided over a subsequent obscenity case about the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses (finally a literary work that was worth defending artistically) did so to perfection. My copy of Ulysses includes his judgment and whenever I’m low I re-read that testament to clarity and good sense and I’d recommend it to anyone, even those who can’t make head nor tail of my favourite novel. If you do read it, or have read it, you will see that much hinges on the author’s “intent” and that’s what makes things complicated. Incidentally Ulysses had already been banned from publication in the USA in 1921 (the dreaded Comstock laws) so Judge Woolsey was not handling a soft option.

    There’s more of course, but not today from me.


    • RR: “Lawful” repercussions to publishing are somewhat more predictable than “unlawful” ones. Then, of course, there is the matter of whose laws we are talking about. The case of Abdulelah Haider Shaye and the consequences of his report on the Al-Majalah camp attack in Yemen are worth noting. It was suggested today on National Public Radio that perhaps he should have been alongside the “dignitaries” who gathered in France yesterday.


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