It’s Banned Books Month, and Pen is running a series of blog posts about controversial books. Yesterday, Anna Božičević had an excellent post about Madame Bovary.
Božičević starts by talking about the prosecution of the novel after its successful serial run, noting:
it is precisely this contrast between the “true/just/right” and the “good” that is on trial: aesthetic clash manifest.
But it’s not merely aesthetics, or the issue of basic decency, that’s at issue here:
The problem of Emma is the problem of desire. Her only métier is desire, and its top percent, love. Emma lusts for gratification through commodity and body and makes her body the commodity of gratification. And in her self-chosen death, is Emma Bovary not simply a Medusa felled by her own image?
Prosecutor Ernest Pinard wasn’t just concerned with Flaubert’s style; it was the fact that Emma (and her desire) could not be controlled.
But despite being published in 1865, that sense of judgment against uncontrollable women is not over. Božičević notes:
It’s not a tendency in Kristen Stewart, Kim Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan, Whitney Houston, Paz de la Huerta, Courtney Love, Britney Spears, or Cat Marnell that will be allowed by the public censor to pass without judgment. When women, the stuff of art, take their materiality into the freefall zone of de trop, either through imagination or its spectacular fail, Pinard will be there to seek for a person to rule them.
The public censor is loud, especially in the technological age, where we can criticize behavior in minutes thanks to photo and video uploads to social media. And yes, there is a difference between public censorship and worthwhile criticism. You can dislike Twilight without making sexist epithets about Kristen Stewart. You can be bored by Courtney Love’s work without resorting to name-calling or shaming. You can think Keeping Up With the Kardashians is a waste of time, but you don’t need to attempt to silence people. We don’t need to obsess about other people’s behavior (including/especially the behavior of celebrities). People will do what they want, even women, and they deserve better than constant judgment.