Rushdie on Originality and Censorship

Salman Rushdie’s PEN lecture, posted in part at The New Yorker:

Great art, or, let’s just say, more modestly, original art is never created in the safe middle ground, but always at the edge. Originality is dangerous. It challenges, questions, overturns assumptions, unsettles moral codes, disrespects sacred cows or other such entities. It can be shocking, or ugly, or, to use the catch-all term so beloved of the tabloid press, controversial. And if we believe in liberty, if we want the air we breathe to remain plentiful and breathable, this is the art whose right to exist we must not only defend, but celebrate. Art is not entertainment. At its very best, it’s a revolution.

The whole piece is thought-provoking.  Rushie likely isn’t talking about copyright, but I can’t help but read his rant against censorship in light of copyright’s omnipresent threat to those who would borrow in creating the new, and in light of copyright’s trivializing the idea of real originality. Rushdie again:

Consider, if you will, the air. Here it is, all around us, plentiful, freely available, and broadly breathable. And yes, I know, it’s not perfectly clean or perfectly pure, but here it nevertheless is, plenty of it, enough for all of us and lots to spare. When breathable air is available so freely and in such quantity, it would be redundant to demand that breathable air be freely provided to all, in sufficient quantity for the needs of all. What you have, you can easily take for granted, and ignore. There’s just no need to make a fuss about it. You breathe the freely available, broadly breathable air, and you get on with your day. The air is not a subject. It is not something that most of us want to discuss.

Imagine, now, that somewhere up there you might find a giant set of faucets, and that the air we breathe flows from those faucets, hot air and cold air and tepid air from some celestial mixer-unit. And imagine that an entity up there, not known to us, or perhaps even known to us, begins on a certain day to turn off the faucets one by one, so that slowly we begin to notice that the available air, still breathable, still free, is thinning. The time comes when we find that we are breathing more heavily, perhaps even gasping for air. By this time, many of us would have begun to protest, to condemn the reduction in the air supply, and to argue loudly for the right to freely available, broadly breathable air. Scarcity, you could say, creates demand.

I am tempted, of course, to repost the whole thing. But I know The New Yorker’s lawyers, and I know how they feel about copyright.