The Lileks Zone

On Banning Dante

The Telegraph reports a shocker:

Gherush 92, a human rights organisation which acts as a consultant to UN bodies on racism and discrimination. Dante’s epic is “offensive and discriminatory” and has no place in a modern classroom, said Valentina Sereni, the group’s president.

Divided into three parts – Hell, Purgatory and Heaven – the poem consists of 100 cantos, of which half a dozen were marked out for particular criticism by the group. It represents Islam as a heresy and Mohammed as a schismatic and refers to Jews as greedy, scheming moneylenders and traitors, Miss Sereni told the Adnkronos news agency.  “The Prophet Mohammed was subjected to a horrific punishment – his body was split from end to end so that his entrails dangled out, an image that offends Islamic culture,” she said.

Like I say, shocking: I had no idea the book was assigned in any classroom. I cannot imagine a public school curriculum would make anyone read Dante, let along drag them all the way through Paradise. But apparently the work is taught in colleges as well. The full horror is described thus:

Schoolchildren and university students who studied the work lacked “the filters” to appreciate its historical context and were being fed a poisonous diet of anti-Semitism and racism, the group said.

It called for the Divine Comedy to be removed from schools and universities or at least have its more offensive sections fully explained.

Yes, a university student has insufficient filters, and cannot understand that a particular work of art is a product of a time and a culture. They must either be shielded from the work itself, lest they be exposed to something that offends someone else, or someone must take the tender dears aside, dry their tears, and explain that the mean man with the prominent nose was a bad man who wrote bad things about bad thoughts, and sometimes – I know this is tough – sometimes it’s necessary to expose one’s self to those bad thoughts, voluntarily even, and understand why they’re bad.

The Telegraph said this nonsense came from Gherush92, a “human rights organization” affiliated with the UN. Well, it is, inasmuch as it’s one of ten specifically useless NGOs advising the generally useless UN Human Rights committee. (Members this session include China and Cuba.) I wouldn’t put much stock in it, and if the organization ever came up in conversation I would say “gesundheit.” But it is indicative of a certain mindset. Six out of a 100 cantos were deemed offensive and discriminatory, and that’s enough to boot the whole book? Of course: they poison every syllable, you know.  The presence of discrimination – which is to say, the literary expression of an intellectual and cultural preference – is unacceptable.

Naturally, there’s pushback:

“The Divine Comedy is the pillar of Italian literature and a cornerstone of Italian literature and the educational formation of the country’s students,”

Oh, wait – that’s a quote from Valentina Serini, the intellectual lint-trap running the ban campaign. Those are the very reasons it should be banned, can’t you see? That such a wretched work should be a pillar, AND a cornerstone – well, you cannot remake the next generation when such miserable examples are the basis by which students gain an understanding of their cultural tradition. There are no cultural traditions worth preserving, in the end. They’re all impediments – except for the cultural traditions of other people, which are generally wonderful, certainly more wonderful than ours, which led to imperialism and colonialism and racism, which was never practiced by any other culture in the world at any time. Class dismissed!



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