ON WRITING

Remember writing doesn't love you. It doesn't care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on. A. L. Kennedy

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

My May #IWSG post -- Cultural Genocide -- book burning.

Time for another IWSG post, thanks to Alex J Cavanaugh and 

his awesome co-hosts for May -- Lee Lowery, Juneta Key,Yvonne Ventresca, and T. Powell Coltrin!

If time allows, please visit the co-hosts and 

  be sure to visit the
Insecure Writer’s Support Group Website!!!


May 1 question: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

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Today I'm going to take the question and mould it into what kept popping into my mind when I saw it -- cultural genocide in the form of book burning.

There's no argument against language having power. Just think about what happens in ideological wars -- often there's a book burning as a new regime tries to eliminate traces of the old.

According to Wikipedia, book burning represents an element of censorship and usually proceeds from a cultural, religious, or political opposition to the materials in question.
In some cases, the destroyed works are irreplaceable and their burning constitutes a severe loss to cultural heritage. Examples include the burning of books and burying of scholars under China's Qin Dynasty (213–210 BCE), the burning of the Library of Alexandria (c. 49), the obliteration of the Library of Baghdad (1258), the destruction of Aztec codices by Itzcoatl (1430s), and the burning of Maya codices on the order of bishop Diego de Landa (1562).
In other cases, such as the Nazi book burnings, other copies of the destroyed books survive, but the instance of book burning becomes emblematic of a harsh and oppressive regime which is seeking to censor or silence an aspect of a nation's culture.
A good example is a book often studied by my students, The Book Thief, by Marcus Zuzak. 

The title suggests that literature and writing is an important theme of the novel. It certainly is. Written from the POV of Death -- yep, you got that right -- who's fascinated by a young girl, Liesel who loves books, in a little German town, Molching, in the midst of Hitler's war. The Book Thief is framed by various other books, not the least of which is protagonist's memoir, The Book Thief

But for the purpose of this post, this novel also dramatizes the destruction of literature and writing, as shown by the burning of Jewish creative and intellectual products in a book burning to commemorate Adolph Hitler's birthday. Liesel loves words so much, she rescues a book from the burning pile and hides it under her coat, ignoring how it smolders away, burning her. Do we love books so much we'd risk our lives to own one?

I love how the character, Max Vandenburg, a Jew hiding from the Nazis, gets a small revenge by painting over the pages of Hitler's own book, Mein Kampf, and writing stories for Liesel over the top of them. Overall, the novel demonstrates the power that words of friendship have to overshadow words of hatred. 

Language in the small German town certainly had power.

I wanted to celebrate that today.

So, if you haven't read it, please do, and celebrate the power of language. Language is our life, right?




30 comments:

  1. Book burning can wipe out a lot of culture and history. Now they just rewrite the books and change history.

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  2. You really nail the power of words. I hadn't thought of the question this way but I love your answer.

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  3. That does show you the power of words and what happens when they are destroyed.

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  4. The Book Thief is one of my favourite books of all time.

    Your post also made me think of Fahrenheit 451 which was written in the 1950's and which I only read about four years ago.
    I wish I had read it as a teen.
    Fahrenheit 451 is a warning for people to take a greatest interest in literature and education. For society not to be so pleasure driven and governed by the media that it disregards or even demonizes the pursuit of knowledge. Sound familiar?
    It's a classic that is more relevant than ever...

    Happy IWSG Day!

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    1. There's some great books of this ilk. Fahrenheit 451 used to be studied too.

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  5. Your post was brilliant! I loved the way you used today's question to delve into such a huge and important issue. Thanks, Denise.

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  6. I write so much that I hardly have a chance to read unless I'm reviewing a book, but this does sound like a fascinating and important story.
    I adhere to the principal that I may utterly disagree with certain things that people have written, but I will defend to the death their right to write it. Censorship is an extremely slippery slope. We have to allow the worst of the worst as well as the cream of the crop.
    Further, when odious opinions are censored, they become cloaked in secrecy, which gives them an aura of fascination.
    There are those who feel that Hitler's works should be destroyed. To this I say no. If you really want to understand what made Hitler tick, read what he wrote. Reading the words of a person like Hitler shows that a monster can look like an ordinary person. We must police our own thoughts and impulses to avoid becoming such a monster.

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    1. Hey Dixie. I should write more and read less, but no, I can't put my books down. It's terrible when culture and therefore history is destroyed.

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  7. My parents and grandparents were all prolific readers, so it's no wonder that I was born with a book in one hand and a flashlight in the other. It's unimaginable for me to think of an existence without books, and book-burning and book-banning goes against everything I believe about the importance of literature and free speech. Your take is this month's question is wonderful, and you've convinced me that "The Book Thief" is a must-read book. Thanks!

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  8. Censorship is the tool of oppressors and must always be rejected. Revisionist history is just as bad. I am reminded of Orwell's 1984: "We have always been at war with Eastasia." Until they weren't, and the books were rewritten.

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    1. 1984. Great book. Another warning. Often ignored.

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  9. So true. Words have power. At the moment there is a lot of oppression in some countries and journalists are being jailed for what they write. In many ways, things have not changed. There are still books being burned and writers and journalist being killed.

    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

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    1. It's so wrong when journalists are imprisoned or worse. But repressive societies don't like to be represented truthfully. Hmmm. Not only repressive societies these days.

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  10. Great post, Denise, very powerful. Censorship and rewriting of history takes place in any dictatorial society. It has been going on for centuries, and so much is lost because of it.

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  11. Sure shows the power of language indeed. Now the internet just rewrites things 50 different ways.

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    1. Hmm. What is truth? That old crusty question...

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  12. A powerful topic, Denise. I always feel a deep revulsion seeing and hearing about book burnings and other destruction of culture.

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  13. Book burning is just scary, because there is so much power there.

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  14. words are great. I'm using them right now.

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  15. The Book Thief is a remarkable book. You really put it in a nutshell -the power of language. Revisionist history is dangerous, we are still dealing with it today.

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  16. In 2019 lots of people are so easily offended. "I was offended!" That means language has power. It's either that or...

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  17. Hi Denise - taken me ages to get here ... but I wanted to read your post - and I've kept it ... but I will read the books mentioned - Book Thief (I saw the film), Fahrenheit 451 (never read), and re-read 1984 ... thanks for a brilliant post ... a great take on cultural genocide. Sad, but true ...

    Take care and carry on reading ... cheers Hilary

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  18. That is a powerful book!
    Fahrenheit 451 was the first book I remember that gave me that same kind of visceral reaction - made me think about the power of the written word

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