Is the infamous white-supremacist novel The Turner Diaries a real threat, or just a shitty book for shitty people?
You have to be pretty good at what you do to get things exactly wrong. And you have to be better than that to survive the censors. Case in point, a passage about a hundred pages into Vladimir Nabokov’s dystopic fantasy Bend Sinister, wherein one Professor Hamm salvages Hamlet for the prevailing Orwellian Fascist jet-set. In Hamm’s paranoid exegesis of the play’s key scenes, the racially pure Fortinbras, denuded of his valid claim to the throne, engineers a near casualty-free coup. The only victims are that family of pretenders representative of “all decadent democracies,” in an outcome that will be seen as inevitable to the reader nimble enough to ferret out “the real plot of the play.” “Whatever Shakespeare’s intentions were, there can be no doubt that the keynote, the impelling power of the action, is the corruption of civil and military life in Denmark. . . Consciously or unconsciously, the author of Hamlet has created the tragedy of the masses and thus has founded the sovereignty of society over the individual.”
With that neat phrase “consciously or unconsciously,” words are divorced from their author and neutralized of their intent. Even if you are an uncommonly talented writer, a reader is within his rights to see the worst in you. Consciously, say the ghoulish Professor Hamms of the world, you write to contribute to the consensual humanist model of reality. Unconsciously you want to replace it with your own model. Consciously you desire the highest and best. Unconsciously you ache to lick Big Brother’s plus-size jackboots. Or as Bart Simpson’s nemesis Sideshow Bob has it, “Your guilty conscience may force you to vote Democratic, but deep down inside you secretly long for a cold-hearted Republican to lower taxes, brutalize criminals and rule you like a king!”