Hesh Kestin, an author contracted with Dzanac Books for the publication of his novel, “Siege of Tel Aviv”, which is a work of fiction, told by a native of Tel Aviv/Israel, has been informed his work is being pulled one week after publication release, and the rights reverted to him. What happened here, you may ask. What happened was that Dzanc, a small literary nonprofit press, caved to an enormous amount of pressure on social media to disown the work and distance themselves from the author for what was perceived as Islamophobic material and the, quote, “use of ‘othering’ language”. Dzanc personnel are said, according to Publishers Weekly, to have re-read the book and decided they “no longer supported the work’s narrative or generalizations regarding Muslims and women. “It doesn’t read as satire in 2019; it reads as mean-spirited and cavalier toward the harm it may do.”
I call bullshit. As Kestin points out, his work isn’t intended to be categorized as fantasy, but rather, as general fiction. He also points out that the story is rooted, at least in part, on historical precedent. To quote him: “It is not inconceivable that Arab armies or forces would attack Israel; it’s already happened several times in the past century.” So we have fiction, rooted in historical precedent.
Harry Turtledove’s works are still out there, right? I mean, “Guns of the South” is still listed as an alternative history fiction novel, right? His publishers didn’t pulp his unsold copies, right? Because this is what Dzanc had informed Kestin they’re going to be doing with unsold or returned copies of his novel.
It’s easy to take a shot at Kestin nowadays in the hyper-sensitive social space we all inhabit, especially online. He can be branded an Islamophobe because of his portrayal of Muslim Arabs in his narrative, because that interpretation doesn’t require any actual dialogue with the storyteller himself. It’s the fuckery of Barthes’s ‘Death of the Author’ swung like a cudgel by people who object to his personal politics as they perceive it through inference.
Such smug, self-righteous, sanctimonious nonsense is vile to me.
And then, over in Barcelona, we have a collective of folks scouring through a historical library and removing works where, according to parameters they set, elder works could be viewed by modern standards as being overly sexist or stereotyping, including myths and faerie tales. Are you fucking kidding me? What happened to understanding the world or civilization a story came from? Or analyzing how an author’s or commonplace myth’s culture contributed to elements of a story’s construction? Is that now out the godsdamned window?
If we’re going to start banning and blacklisting books because they “promote harmful concepts”, why not we quit fucking around and really swing for the fences, eh? Let’s start with the Torah, the Bible, and the Quoran! Sure, why not?! Can you think of ANY book or set of stories that has EVER promoted or encouraged more death and destruction and cultural and personal harm than those? No?
Then quit trying to be the arbiters of what’s okay to be written, published, or said aloud for fuck’s sake. This is what happens when the art of narrative has no guardians; it gets assassinated.