The Power Of The Written Word: “Naftali Please Ban My Book”

The power of art, in its different forms, has always been acknowledged, and sometimes, in order to control its effect, authorities limit the access of the pubic to different works of art. Throughout history books have often been banned because of the belief that they could affect the minds of the readers and corrupt them.

Like our officials in the Ministry of Education I also believe in the power of art, in particular the novel,  to influence the reader and to change his/her opinions. Moreover, when we consider the minds of our young readers we must be careful in our choices

But unfortunately today, in contrast to the days when books were almost the only source of knowledge and ideas, the written word ,inside the traditional book, has lost its clout. There are many effective and immediate forms of communication which could prove much more powerful and even harmful.

Research has consistently shown that during adolescence students hardly read at all. As a result, this reality makes the decision which books they should read, as part of the curriculum, much more significant.

The criterion for choosing the best books for students, those which will stay with them as they go about life, has not changed throughout the ages. In the 17th century the English writer and literary critic, John Dryden pronounced that a good book has to instruct and to delight, and many other thinkers before him said similar things.

I read in Ha’aretz that banning Rabinian’s novel Borderlife led to some serious discussions, in ten high-schools, centering on the question whether literature could be immoral.

I am not going to discuss this question here, but instead I would like to give an example.

Great novels often provide an opportunity to expose youngsters to philosophical questions.  Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is such a book, and if it is to be taught to teen-agers, the teacher must focus not only on the problematic content of the novel, but show the students how to become  a critical reader.

Since the story is told in the first person, from the point of view of protagonist Humbert Humbert, the students have to become familiar with the technique of unreliable narrator. They have to be able to trace how the author, Valdimir Nabokov, implicitly criticizes his narrator, so that the reader would be able to condemn his actions as well..

On the surface Lolita is the best example of immoral literature, it is about a pedophile, a criminal, and perhaps it is best if young minds stay away from this work of art for fear of turning into criminals. However, like all great literature, Lolita  is much more than that and, if taught properly, it could force students to examine their values and beliefs, and make them aware on their own ethical flaws. The book is written so well that the reader could easily gloss over the crimes which are committed  by the convincing  narrator.

I  believe that books which present serious ethical conflicts should be taught in high schools. But they deserves special attention, and teachers must be equipped with the necessary background and sensitivity in order to introduce such texts to their students.

Even before the age of information people have always been fascinated with lists, among them we could find the “greatest books ever written.” Many of those books, such as Huckleberry Finn, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Ulysses and of course Lolita, had also been banned and then gained a huge popularity:

The same happened to Dorit Rabinyan, once she  joined the long, and respectable, list of banned books her popularity soared and her books literally disappeared off the shelves. All the while, her fellow writers, who are struggling in today’s economy, are left to plead with the Education Minister: “Naftali please ban my book.”

About the Author
I have a PhD in English literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and I usually write about issues concerning women, literature, culture and society. I lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994). I am widow and in March 2016 started a support/growth Facebook group for widows: "Widows Move On." In October 2017 I started a Facebook group for Older and Experienced Feminists. I am also an active member of Women Wage Peace and believe that women can succeed where men have failed.
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