Sunday, July 20, 2008


Burning books is the most extreme expression of censorship, isn't it? The book pyre an extremely emotive image. We think of the Nazi's burning works of philosophy and literature in 1933 (below), of the burning of Rushdie's The Satanic Verses in Bradford in 1989. (Wikipedia has a very detailed list of book burning incidents through history.)

So emotive and potent is the image in fact that here Sisters in Islam recently protesting censorship of books had images of books being burned on posters and postcards ... even though books have never been physically burned by the authorities here!

Australian antiquarian bookseller Matthew Fishburn was so fascinated by the fiery subject as his topic for his PhD thesis, which has now been published as Burning Books, and he says in an interview with The Australian that there are many other reasons beside censorship why books get burned.

Simply getting around the problem of disposal for unwanted books, is one example. Or folks making a symbolic gesture that they have moved on with their lives, as these lads are doing :

We have also met on this blog the bookseller who is burning his own books as a cultural protest:

and the author who tried to burn his own novel (and who asked for another of his works to be burned posthumously.)

John Sutherland who reviews Fishburne's book in the Times and calls it a fascinating chronicle wonders whether book burning might be about to come to an end with the intervention of technology? :
In modern times, as Fishburn notes, book burning has faded from the scene. Partly it's the improved technology of pulping. Partly it's that Goebbels has given the practice a bad name. Partly it's obsolescence: how do you burn an e-text? How will some future Caliph Omar be able to destroy the great Google Library (some five million texts), available to us (at a price) later this year?
If you want a taste of Burning Books do check out Fishburne's blog of the same name, there's some fascinating stuff here including illustrations that didn't make it into the book.


JHaZKiTaRo said...

salam ziarah from dublin.. :)

bibliobibuli said...

thanks for dropping by. and your point to further this discussion is?

Anonymous said...

I think it's "look at me, I'm in Dublin... whoo hoo, and you're still stuck there !"


Anonymous said...

Burning books is like demonstrating. You make a point by inconveniencing everyone else. Say you born books to make a point, and then you get fined for pollution. After which you say this proves that the government supports censorship (does that sound like anyone we know ? :))

Amir said...

I thought assassination was the most extreme form of censorship.

husni said...

I feel that as we are entering more fully into the digital age, books are becoming more like a symbol of civilization based on knowledge - regardless of whether they are being read or not. Slowly, we are embracing e-books and other digital representations of the written word which will one day possibly omit the necessity of the conventional bound pieces of paper. Even now, millions of books are being absorbed into the e-world (by Google and other internet organizations). In the near future, I see the traditional books as being cumbersome relics, put on a pedestal merely for its historical value, like old globes and map scrolls - which now have been replaced with Google Earth. I'm NOT an advocate of this process but I definitely see it happening now.
a scary thought for a bibliophile like me...I don't know...what do you think, Sharon?

bibliobibuli said...

could be you're right husni. i mentioned some time back that a friend selling a house in britain was told to put the books out of sight because they look so old fashioned. i feel like an old fuddy duddy myself sometimes.

it's interesting though as you say how physical books are such strong cultural icons and i think in some ways we feel this more keenly now that are faced with the prospect that they may disappear (though actually i don't think they will, although the book retail business will definitely change)

husni said... view is a bit extreme. watched too many sci-fi movies.