In June 2013, the Emerging Writers’ Festival issued a call-out to aspiring writers: they were looking for five talented wordsmiths to report on the upcoming Melbourne Writers Festival. As part of the application process, writers were expected to pen a 300-500 word blog post on the theme ‘Enquire Within’. Along with a typical warning about plagiarism, one curious condition was stipulated: that “submissions with use of foul language or offensive content” would “not be considered”. I was not entirely surprised, then, to hear that the following (slightly intemperate) submission failed to make the cut:
“There are no whores. What does that mean, ‘whore’? There are just cunts, genitals. It’s not sad, it’s super-happy…” — Françoise Lebrun, La Maman et la Putain
“This film is dedicated to all those whose sole source of indignation is a trampled-on trifle.” — Sedmikrásky
To whom it may concern,
Towards the conclusion of your press release, you stipulate the following condition:
“Submissions with use of foul language or offensive content will not be considered.”
Beyond my initial surprise, I am struck by the chosen phrase: ‘foul language’; language that is filthy, disgusting, unfit for consumption. That the bulk of this class should comprise words for mere anatomy or the act that brought us into existence is neither here nor there. In the puritan’s mind, it is not the peculiar combinations of syllables that offend; it is the images they present: not that of ‘making love’, but of ‘fucking’; not delicate ‘reproductive organs’, but ‘cunts’ and ‘cocks’. Devoid of cushioning euphemism, these words leave us with naught but the base, sordid reality of animalistic intercourse. Heaven forbid that writing should dwell on such vulgarity!
It is, I hope, unusual for representatives of a writers festival to take such a dim view of the language their event seeks to celebrate. Thus, in keeping with your exhortation to ‘enquire’, I ask myself the following questions: who is (or might potentially be) reading these submissions? Who so threatened by the English language would willingly become involved in a writers festival? And is it petty of me to protest this little act of pre-emptive censorship?
I cannot answer the first two, and I am not well placed to answer the latter. Truth be told, I’ve written a great many pieces without the need for profanity, and many much better writers than I have penned whole books without a single use of the f-word or its derivations. Indeed, some have navigated past ‘offensive content’—whatever that actually means!—altogether. Does this render them superior to Lawrence, Vonnegut or Miller? Or were all of these writers merely wielding their vocabularies as best they could in the service of their craft?
That, of course, was often their prerogative. We budding writers, on the other hand, are here told to avoid such unwholesome terminology; indeed, we must, if our applications are to be considered at all. Well, fuck that. I had been under the impression that the purpose of this festival was to celebrate and foster the art of writing—an art, I hope you will agree, at its most intellectually and aesthetically satisfying in its rawest, most honest, most uncensored moments. Perhaps that purpose remains; regardless, it is clear that the festival’s prospective digital reporters have been sent on another mission entirely: the pursuit of learning the valuable—aye, lucrative!—art of appeasing corporate sponsors whilst appealing to the largest possible target market. That business, I am sad to say, is mediocrity, and it is one that I wish to have no part of.