cover image Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship

Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship

J. M. Coetzee. University of Chicago Press, $24.95 (297pp) ISBN 978-0-226-11174-2

In South African novelist Coetzee's intriguing theory, censorship arises out of a paranoid mentality when a dominant class, church or state, lashing out in fear from a sense of latent powerlessness, suppresses a writer or artist whose truth-telling gives offense. He buttresses his argument by discussing Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, arrested in 1934 and commanded to compose an ode in praise of Stalin, and South African poet Breyten Breytenbach, imprisoned in 1974 and forced to repudiate his poem that condemned political execution and torture. The battle with the censor invades the writer's psychic life, as Coetzee demonstrates in his analysis of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's skirmishes with the Soviet state, leading to his exile in 1974; Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert's fight against Stalinist repression; and humanist satirist Erasmus's battle with Luther and the papacy. Coetzee implicitly rejects feminist Catharine Mac-Kinnon's antipornography stance (""her heart lies with the censors""). These erudite essays form a powerful, bracing critique of censorship in its many guises. (Apr.)