“If the brush strokes I have used disturb and distress you, then your redemption is nigh, and I have accomplished what I have set out to achieve. But if you find the truth they depict offensive, if they provoke you to curse their author…then, wretched reader, you have recognised your own self and you will never change your ways.”
—The Marquis deSade
I have spoken before on various other forums regarding censorship in art. My own work deals almost exclusively with cognitive dissonance and our deeper and darker thoughts. Often the imagery I choose to use is disturbing to some. Many people who have read my novellas know that I am not afraid of the dark. I don't go there too often or too deeply, or at least, I haven't in the past, but since I became obsessed with flash fiction, I have found myself staying in shadows much longer than before. Recently, my flash fiction piece titled Beware of Dog was accepted over at The Carnage Conservatory -- a new flash fiction horror ezine who is currently looking for your darkest work. I do try to stay away from overly descriptive gore, but that's not really a self-censorship issue as much as it is a style issue. I find subtly can often be more frightening. So instead of a long dissertation on deSade's very poignant quote, I'll leave today's thoughts with yet another question: Sometimes, a truth about life finds its way into the work, be it intentionally, subconsciously, or otherwise, and perhaps this truth might be something rather disturbing. Should you alter the story to make it more acceptable? And if you endeavour to soften the edges, will the truth you seek to expose lose its virility or its purpose? In other words, should an artist self-censor their work, alter their choice of imagery, symbolism, and metaphor to make a story more palatable for a wider audience? Will it lose its truth should we leave its symbolic nature open for interpretation or non-interpretation? Is the story really telling a truth about the human condition, and shouldn't we, as artists striving for truth, endeavour to lay bare that truth which might be construed as beautiful and poetic in one person’s eyes and yet offensive in another’s?
Religious Painters like Bosch certainly believed in the truth, and I do too; however, when you are running the submission rejection gauntlet, the question of self-censorship has the tendency to slam into you like a car crash. I doubt my story Beware of Dog would have gotten accepted at very many places. I am glad it found a home, but that isn't always going to be the case. At the moment, I have one very dark story about a serial killer who was abused as a child by the grade school's head nurse, who happened to be a transvestite. I explore a lot of very dark territory in a very small amount of words. I love the story, but I doubt I will be able to place it because of the subject matter. I know one thing though: I do so love the story, and whether it gets placed or not is irrelevant because I won't rewrite a thing. I don't always mind rewriting as long as it's for the good of the story. In Beware of Dog, I originally ended it at meeting the mailman at the gate. Carnage felt it needed one more punch in the end, and so I added the last couple of sentences. Minor editorial rewriting to me is not censorship. Had they asked me to take out all reference to her having sex with her lunatic husband, then I would have had to decline.
Cheryl Anne Gardner