Reading all the helpful suggestions following my post last night on SBL censorship of my use of ‘sausage-fest’ in a paper title for a session on the Hebrew prophets – the full title is ‘Too Many Dicks at the Writing Desk, or How to Organise a Prophetic Sausage-Fest’ – I have pondered at least two approaches.

One was to come up with some alternative subtitles, especially after consulting the very useful ‘Diktionary’:

‘How to Organise a Prophetic Sausage-Sizzle’

‘The Prophets and the Bald-Headed Jesus’

‘Prophecy and the Cucumber of Love’

‘The Case of Curious George and the Prophets’

‘How to Analyse the Prophetic Dangling Participle’

‘How to Deal with the Executive Staff Member of the Prophetic Guild’

‘How to Blow a Prophetic Trombone’

‘What to do with the Prophetic Tool of Patriarchy’

I am sure there are better possibilities than these, but then I was reminded of a comment on my presentation of the paper at the Centre for Gender Research in Oslo, especially in response to my argument that qeseth hasofer bemotnayw in Ezekiel 9:2-3 and 11 should be translated as ‘the scribal pen(is) on his testicles’ (it is usually rendered a ‘writing-kit by his side’). Now, qeseth is a once only (hapax legomenon) and its context suggests the association of stylus and dick, but none of the commentators even entertain this reading. Yet, when it comes to the singular words describing women’s bodies in Ezekiel 16 and 22-23, commentators are all too happy, gleeful even, to suggest they refer to female genitals. So the comment: when it comes to women’s bodies in the Bible, the overwhelming number of male commentators love to speculate about cunts and so forth, but to do the same to male biblical bodies is a no-no. I reckon Charlie has had a whisper in his ear form one or two nervous nellies who don’t like the thought of their own weiners being exposed to objectifying analysis.

Finally, thanks to John Lyons for this brilliant email, already fired off to Charlie Haws:

Dear Charlie,

You may or may not be aware that Roland Boer has posted news of your attempt to change his paper title on the grounds that some have (will?) find it gratuitously offensive (http://stalinsmoustache.wordpress.com/2010/10/23/sbl-censorship-sausage-fests-are-unacceptable/).

I do not know if you have done this on your own or under pressure from others, Charlie, but can I strongly suggest to you that this is a very, very bad idea, and one which you should drop immediately. What counts as “gratuitous” is something totally in the eyes of the beholder. The Hendel discussion should have alerted you to the fact that swearing and sexual content are not the only elements that many SBL members find gratuitous. Let me assure you that I have found many SBL paper titles gratuitously offensive in my time, but I have had the good sense to realise that my views on this are different to others. For you to begin policing what is gratuitous in this way is the thin end of the wedge, and will inevitably open you up to charges of censorship. Only ruin lies down this road. Please don’t go down it.

It seems to me that it is not for anyone other than the chairs of a session to suggest changes to papers within that session. If the chairs accept the paper, then it is their judgement that it is okay and that should stand; they are the ones who will then have to answer for what they have done, and not the SBL as a whole. The audience can either vote with their feet, or offer academic responses which highlight whatever gratuitousness, if any, is present. Roland is well know for being playful, but with a hard edge to what he does. Any who go along know what to expect, and–in fairness to Roland–his title clearly signals his intentions to anyone else who might otherwise foolishly stumble in and be offended. Wouldn’t it be worse to have an innocuous title, and then offend the unwary with its content?

With best wishes,

John

PS I will post this on Roland’s blog page. If you ask me not to post your response, I will abide by that request. But can I suggest you sort this out before it gets out of hand.

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