Ben Myers recently posted 13 thought-provoking theses on writing. I found the first thesis particularly interesting, but I’ll comment on the eighth:
8. Writing and death. The biggest difference between today’s writing and the writing of the past is that writers are no longer put to death. Writers nowadays could never dream of having to die for what they have written. Even if writerly execution was not always common, the possibility of death was implicit in every act of writing. The zone within which writers worked was marked out by this juridical possibility. But in the West today there is no writing for which a person could conceivably be executed. This alters the whole nature of scholarly inquiry. It is also partly responsible for the bloodless mediocrity of most contemporary writing.
As an analogue to the execution of writers, I present the following Rage Against the Machine lyric:
They don’t gotta burn the books, they just remove ‘em.
In other words, writers are not in danger of execution, but their works are in danger of marginalization by the media. As an example take Noam Chomsky, who would have been certainly put to death if he wrote in just about any other context. He speaks truth to power more elegantly than just about anyone today. Yet among the larger public he is not particularly well known, except perhaps as the man who defended a holocaust denier.
So in the breadth of all the authors writing safely today, and with corporate media largely playing the role of gatekeeper (though the internet is changing that), it is much easier and more effective to silence an author via obscurity. After all, a martyr’s testimony has power, but the obscure author’s does not.