Rape Scenes and The Death of Literature

Here goes another long rant post, written in the dead of the night.

I was reading this blog post about how people attacked R. Scott Bakker about the rape scenes in The Prince of Nothing. I guess those people would drop dead if they saw some of the rather gruesome pieces of Turkish literature. There was this novella I read in high school, many years ago, and that one packed more horrible, gruesome, gory rape scenes than the entire ASOIAF and The Prince of Nothing combined. A lesser known piece by a very famous, well respected author of the late 19th-early 20th century Ottoman-Turkish literature. I don’t want to repeat any details but if I say the necrophilia was the tamest scene, it should give a pretty good idea what a shocking piece it is.

The story was first published in 1913 and it has been in short story and novella collections of the author, placed in loads of school libraries nationwide, cause the man penned quite a few classics of the 20th century Turkish literature. They bundled it up in the same books with his other family friendly stories as Turkish classics and the bookish kids read it. We are talking about 10-12 year olds here, people! I was a teenager when I read it and I had a pretty high tolerance of gore and grim stuff being a black metal listener and horror movie lover, but I found it quite disturbing.

The author had served as an infantry lieutenant in the Balkans during the 1903 Macedonia conflicts and the story was inspired by the war atrocities he heard about while he served in the conflict zone.

I just looked up the novella on this Turkish forum site with millions of users and people wrote how it haunted their nightmares and ruined their psyche when they had the misfortune of reading it at the school library when they were kids. Oh dear. Did I mention the necrophilia was the tamest thing in the whole story?

Now I am not saying it’s ok for underage kids to read such horrendous stuff, hell no, kids shouldn’t be exposed to literature like that and it was wrong for the Turkish school system to allow that particular story in the school libraries where elementary school kids could read it. Perhaps because the bureaucrats ruling the country aren’t that literate. If they actually read it, they probably would take it out of those anthologies targeting the school kids.

But those American college students and the other 30-something 40-somehing whiners are friggin’ adults and it makes me cringe to see them try to whine and bully their way into censoring literature, art and culture. They are behaving like overgrown 10 year olds. I guess the 21st century people have become fragile little flowers who whine trigger this trigger that like no tomorrow and can’t stand even a 2 line mention of rape in a book. Such as the crap people gave Mark Lawrence over Jorg hinting about raping a farm girl in Prince of Thorns. Or the shitstorm R. Scott Bakker received over the rape scene in The Prince of Nothing.

I think the people -especially the American people- have become ridiculously coddled in this century. The modern books people whine about have nothing on the harsher pieces of literature from the past. Go read some 19th century literature to see what I mean. Especially the non-western literature if you can read it or find translations. Some of those put even the modern grimdark fantasy books to shame and I seriously doubt they could see the light of day if they were written today. Not meaning to disrespect the modern day grimdark, it’s my favorite genre after all, but you know people published some harsh pieces of literature back in the day and no one made half as much noise as the people of this day and age.

Let literature be free. If you find it offensive, don’t read it. Grimdark books should be pretty damn obvious, they are not about flowers and fluffy bunnies, you know. I can’t understand why on earth people read those books then whine about how offensive they are and how it shattered their little glass shelters and ruined their day. Too bad there’s no English translation of the 1913 Turkish novella I mentioned. I have written this whole post cause a friend of mine, dear Anna Smith-Spark is unable to find a publisher for her book cause it’s ‘too dark to be published’, well I read the early version of it and I can safely say that it’s nowhere near as dark as the aforementioned war crime gorefest Turkish novella. I think the publishers of the old times were more about contributing to the collective culture of the mankind than making money. Many of them did it out of love and catered to elite intelligentsia sort of readership, for the literacy rates were considerably lower back then. Publishing was more about producing culture and not an industrialized capitalist machine as it is today. Literature was definitely more free.

Stuff happening in works of fiction doesn’t disturb me no matter how gruesome and harsh it is, but the publishing industry becoming more like Disney and Mac Donald’s and favoring the cookie cutter pulp fiction does. Rape scenes in books are fictional but the rape of literature is quite real.

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26 thoughts on “Rape Scenes and The Death of Literature

  1. Leona, I too have found it disturbing that college students have objected to classic literature because of one scene or another that offended their sensibilities. However, if a rape scene is triggering, say, flashbacks in a student or PTSD symptoms, that student needs psychological help and maybe it’s a good thing the trigger happened. So, I think there’s a line to be drawn here between paying attention to the mental health of our younger people (not everyone has wonderful childhoods with no trauma, after all!), and having them read literature that depicts realistically the human condition. I think our younger generations have a lot of energy and want to make changes in a positive direction but they need to also know what they need to change — attitudes, beliefs, behaviors — before the start working on change.

    By the way, my novel, “Perceval’s Secret,” is about child sexual abuse and its affects on adults if not treated, but I was very, very careful not to describe a complete incident of the abuse. Instead, I chose certain details that my protagonist, Evan, would have kept in memory to trigger certain emotional responses and behaviors. I DO describe incidents of physical abuse that are violent, but I concluded (wrongly?) that readers would be able to tolerate that better than the sexual abuse, plus I knew I’d probably trigger someone who had childnood trauma in his/her past, so I tried to also write with compassion. Was I able to interest an agent or publisher in this novel? No, even though all agreed it was well written and powerful.

    Cinda

    Liked by 2 people

    • Cinda, I want to thank you for your heartfelt comment. I think you have an excellent point about sexual and physical trauma possibly triggering flashbacks, but think about classic books like Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out Of Carolina, which also tackled sexual abuse. Now, I don’t know if they tried to ban that book, or if it has been banned in certain states/counties, etc.., but that book has helped countless readers that endured similar experiences. If such material offends someone, I agree that they need some serious psychological help. Don’t make the literature a scapegoat.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Nah, I’m not trying to make literature a scapegoat, just the opposite. An inspiration. For what? Possibly for change, for healing, for realization and recognition about the human experience. Rigid thinking helps no one, least of all the rigid thinker, and I suspect people who seek to ban books, movies, art, etc. are rigid thinkers, not open to new ideas or experiences. Or to truths about human experience. We will have these people in our societies for a long time — I doubt I’ll see change in my lifetime. So, writers need to continue to inspire with their writing, their stories, their truths about human experience, and insist on their right to do so. We as writers also need compassion for those who may respond to our stories in unintended ways, e.g. flashbacks. We cannot know who those people may be, and often the people themselves don’t know that they’ll respond in that way. I’ve experienced this first hand. Such experiences can help those people by telling them something about their lives and experiences…if they are open to listening.

      Liked by 2 people

    • A few things.

      One, I think there’s a difference between saying, “I don’t think rape should exist in any work of fiction in any way, shape, or form”… And saying, “I don’t agree with how rape was included in a specific work”. There have been works where rape or attempted rape was treated properly, and works where it was misused, I feel. And I think it’s in my rights to say that I feel a piece misused rape without being completely dismissed. You can disagree with my opinion, but simply because I feel that rape is an element we have to think hard over including in our work, shouldn’t allow you to invalidate my opinion automatically.

      This kind of dismissal isn’t good for any kind of discussion.

      Two, I feel that many works use rape as shorthand to say “this world is dark and gritty”, rather than giving us actual worldbuilding elements that show us that it’s dark. I find this incredibly lazy. I think that if rape is included, it needs a better reason than “I have to show how gritty this world is”.

      Take for instance the rape in Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns. I find that rape to be a bit lazy. Out of place? No. Out of character? Not at all. But I rolled my eyes at it in the opening scene. “Oh, it’s going to be one of THESE”. Thankfully, I was wrong. Lawrence later used worldbuilding to SHOW us why his world was so broken, so dark, in often brilliant ways. But the rape, used as it was, didn’t do justice to other aspects of his writing. Compare this to a moment in Rothfuss’s The Wise Men’s Fear, where I feel it was implemented with more deftness.

      I feel that rape and attempted rape should be taken seriously. As I do murder, to be honest. A lot of works are very cavalier about the two, which I feel not only disrespects very serious real-world events, but robs them of their narrative weight.

      Like

  2. Reblogged this on and commented:
    “…But those American college students and the other 30-something 40-somehing whiners are friggin’ adults and it makes me cringe to see them try to whine and bully their way into censoring literature, art and culture. They are behaving like overgrown 10 year olds. I guess the 21st century people have become fragile little flowers who whine trigger this trigger that like no tomorrow…”

    This article is discussing rape in literature, but it’s getting to be the same for any “controversial” topic – abuse, violence… if you’re a person who thinks they may have “issues” with a book full of violence then instead of complaining and demanding that no one be allowed to read it, demand it be censored, or demand a trillion warning labels, do this cool thing called DON’T READ IT. Easy. I, like the blog author, am tired of whiny people wanting everything sterilized for them.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Yes. That’s something that needs repeating, until everybody understands. Rape scenes done right are very difficult for a sensitive reader, but that’s why we read – to confront ourselves with difficult stuff. Everything else is guilty pleasure 😉 Possibly fun, but you can as well watch tv.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Serious literature is not easy to digest. There’s always popcorn reading and fluffy books for those who don’t want to be disturbed by what they read. The books that disturbed me the most were the ones about the unfairness of life, not the gore and rape scenes.

      Like

  4. I agree with the gist of your post but not the reasoning why people whine about certain issues on facebook, reddit, etc. We live in a fucked up brain dead society where everybody was told that they are special little snowflakes. Saying “that offends me because …” is a special person class signifier. I guarantee you that all of these wankers aren’t really offended. It’s just a pathetic in group signifier for a culture of fat asthmatics who have nothing of substance in their lives. It’s quite pathetic.

    When you break it down it really sad actually. That an adult woman, reading a fantasy book about pseudo medieval knights and magic gets offended about one line written by Mark Lawrence and runs to “blog” about it… quite pathetic. That’s what offends you? Not ISIS murdering thousands, destroying priceless historical artifacts. Not our economy collapsing due to poor political decisions. Not offended about our governments giving away our tax money to refugees while our social systems collapse. Nope… you are a damn adult who gets all worked up over one line of Jorg Ancarth a fantasy character raping a non defined unnamed imaginary woman. Pathetic.

    But really, nobody is offended. It’s just attention seeking for in crowd pats and blog hits. Exactly how middle grade authors like Kameron Hurley write blog posts attacking big guys like Neil Gaiman for feminism, trigger warnings, or whatever stupidity is currently in vogue. It’s clickbait shit for attention.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I am not a fan of rape scenes and I think it’s very lowly to use it as a plot device for lazy writing. But I have seen how some people called for feminazi witch hunts on authors who features a 2 line hint of rape or very short rape scenes. I think overuse of rape is just bad taste but I’m 100% against censorship and attacks on the authors. It’s up to the reader to read it or not, trigger warning is ok (though I don’t see why trigger warnings should be needed for horror and dark fiction books) but censorship is unacceptable.

    Like

  6. It’s almost funny how murder, torture and mutilation in fiction doesn’t get as much of a bad rap as rape – there’s something of a double standard. And the point remains that ours is a world where all of the above happens on an alarmingly regular basis so why should a fictional world be any different? And why should people take more of an offence to the fiction than the reality – the reality is what they should be making an issue of after all. 100% against censorship. Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

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