What happens when we start judging works by the author’s views and behaviour? Is cancel culture censorship under a new guise? Join the Arts & Society Forum for this public debate in London.
About this event
One hundred years ago, the literary world was turned upside down by the publication of the novel Ulysses by James Joyce. It scandalised many but defied censorship to become regarded as one of the most outstanding novels ever written in English, having a profound influence on the development of literature in the twentieth century. But today many literary giants of the last century are coming under attack for expressing what some argue are intolerable ideas.
Censorship seems, once again, to be returning as a major constraint on publishing. Instead of legal measures to prevent the publication of overtly sexual literature, we now have, it is argued, ‘cancel culture’ where people both inside and outside the literary world suggest that some books are too offensive to be published. These people say they want to challenge ‘pale, male and stale’ traditions that have dominated the industry for far too long. For them, it is not about censorship, but about changing editorial policy. Works by great, ground-breaking authors of the twentieth century such as Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, John Updike, Virginia Woolf and Harper Lee have been struck from publishers’ lists and/or from school and university literature courses. Meanwhile, social media scrutiny can mean that a contemporary author’s private life and personal opinions come to be seen as more important than the quality of their creative output and, in some instances, has led to their work being cancelled.
On the other hand, it has never been easy to get a publishing deal and, some argue, that the changing cultural and economic climate provides new creative challenges and opportunities for new writers. Moreover, greater social diversity in the publishing world is giving new writers a chance, those who may have been side-lined in the past because of their background or lack of connections.
Whether this is ‘cancel culture’ or editorial policy, will the new ideologies of the publishing world stimulate or crush the creative spirit of writers? What impact might such attitudes have on contemporary authors and the future of literature? What are the consequences of removing certain works of literature from the Western canon? What, if anything, is the difference between the censorship of Joyce in 1922 and the calls for his cancellation in 2022?
publisher at Hachette UK; critic, journalist and writer
journalist, critic, feature writer and interviewer; book reviewer, Telegraph
author, The Treatment and La Rochelle; senior lecturer in creative writing and English literature, University of Westminster
co-convenor, Battle of Ideas festival; journalist; author, What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism