Novelist Toni Morrison writes in her essay Peril
that “the historical suppression of writers is the earliest harbinger of the steady peeling away of additional rights and liberties that will follow.”
Efforts to censor or regulate journalists, novelists, poets and other writers “who construct meaning in the face of chaos” are signs that something important has happened.
As Morrison puts it, authoritarian regimes and rulers are often foolish.
But they are not foolish enough to give perceptive, dissident writers free range to publish their judgements.
Such regimes have an understandable fear of writers because truth is trouble.
As Morrison points out: “It is trouble for the warmonger, the torturer, the corporate thief, the political hack, the corrupt justice system, and for a comatose public. Unpersecuted, unjailed, unharassed writers are trouble for the ignorant bully, the sly racist, and the predators feeding off the world’s resources.”
When writers are suppressed, we not only lose necessary troublemakers.
We also lose an understanding of ourselves: “Certain kinds of trauma visited on peoples are so deep, so cruel, that unlike money, unlike vengeance, even unlike justice, or rights, or the goodwill of others, only writers can translate such trauma and turn sorrow into meaning, sharpening the moral imagination.”
Morrison’s idea of a nightmare is the thought of erased voices: unwritten novels, poems swallowed for fear of being heard by the wrong people, essayists’ questions challenging authority never being posed, unstaged plays, and cancelled films.
“As though a whole universe is being described in invisible ink.”