<<< Continued from previous page

If there's anything clear from the abominable book discussion, it's that perfect clarity of principle doesn't seem to exist either among booksellers or, it seems, even within ourselves - and not always situational clarity either (though in this case there was). Many of us have a price, whether it's historical or monetary in nature, and some of us would probably sell a book in certain circumstances, not in others, and sometimes only to certain buyers. No hard and fast rules.

The same bookseller who voted to suppress the list of secreted Jews in Berlin also said this:

I strive for a "first, do no harm" bookselling business. It's one of the big plusses for me in being self-employed--being able to choose what I sell and don't sell. I have no problem with everyone else making different decisions than me on what to sell. There are lots of things I don't sell, but the lines I draw are personal and pretty eccentric.

For many of us, I think this is what it comes down to. We enter each bookselling moment with perceptions specific to it and act accordingly with what we judge to be the right thing for us to do in that moment - in other words, we apply what we are at that point in time to what is. If we have a prevailing "do no harm" view, this is valid and good and will affect what we do; if it's a "support my family" view, valid and good again, but this will probably (at least sometimes) deliver a different outcome. Enter the next bookselling moment, and we might behave somewhat differently, depending on how our perceptions and the given situation has changed. It stands to reason that the more clarity we have within ourselves, the more consistently we'll behave, but I've yet to meet anyone who has perfect clarity and can't imagine ever doing so. Thus it seems fatuous to expect ever-present consistency from anybody.

Even if we believe in suppression based on principle, history shows us, time and time again, that it doesn't work. One bookseller expressed it especially well:

As an addendum to my post earlier, when all is said and done, censorship is impossible. Look at Ovid. In his lifetime one of his poems offended Caesar, and he was thrown out of the Roman Empire and all his BOOKS [were] burned. In the 1400's in Florence, his works were burned again, along with the works of Dante. In the early years of the last century, the city of San Francisco banned the [sale] of the Poet, and the USPS confiscated copies of his work. Now it is 2005. Caesar is dust. Ovid lives on. Think about it. The 2 most powerful nations in the history of the world could not shut this poet up. My library here in this uncultured mid-south city has over 40 copies of his work. You can download it for free over the internet. Why?

THE BOOKSELLER. A bookseller somewhere made the decision to sell Ovid, despite the way the tide was turning. Ticknor and Fields decided to publish and sell the Hawthorne translation of Dante's Inferno, despite threats of losing the Harvard University Press business (which, by the way, they did). Someone printed and sold Luther's 95 theses, thus prompting the Reformation.

This brings me to a final point, one which pertains to the subject of my last article - Aleister Crowley. Only one seller (BookThink's own Timothy Doyle) suggested a reason other than freedom of expression for allowing abominable books to circulate in the market place:

I think that there is tremendous value in writing that pushes the edge, or even that blows right past the edge and flips you the finger while doing so. My feeling is that there is a greater danger in pasteurized and homogenized culture, in being too complacent about the supreme "rightness" of any particular worldview. The current air of hysteria about public decency on the airwaves, sparked by the Janet Jackson Nipple-gate affair, is a chilling taste of how easily the right of free speech can be infringed.

I agree with this implicitly. As much as some of us may be repulsed by what Crowley wrote, if not by everything he stood for, there's good reason he survives and continues to intrigue readers. In my opinion, it has only so much to do with so-called pornographic or satanically inspired content - titillating stuff - a lot to do with what he promises on a different plane: salvation. Contact with the divine. As long as there is a writer who believes that salvation can be had by traveling a road of wanton hedonism, there will be readers looking long and hard for reasons to believe him.

More to Tim's point - if something as edgy as Crowley's vision is examined and discussed in plain view and not fearfully suppressed, the more likely it is that some good can come of it. Another writer of significant note, William Blake, also wrote something once that has a hauntingly familiar ring:

"The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."

The funny thing is that this could've been written by Crowley himself. Readers familiar with both authors, of course, know that each had something radically different in mind here, but the point is that clarity comes as often through the back door, by way of seeing what something isn't, as it does the front - by seeing what is.

>>>>>Read Part I of this article - The Most Evil Man in the World? Part I: A Bookselling Trip to the Dark Side >>>>>

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