“Love in the Time of Cholera promotes carnality” harumphed English teacher Christopher Bantick in an opinion column for The Age. “Seriously? Are we really going to do this?” someone tweeted in reply. Since then, Bantick’s call for the removal of Marquez’s novel from the VCE literature course has been shuffled off the stage, after elegant if bewildered responses from critics like Bethanie Blanchard and Danielle Binks. (Binks calls out a central confusion in Bantick’s piece: that it applauds a royal commission’s “scrutiny over paedophilic behaviour by priests” while trying to discourage such scrutiny being applied by students of English.)
Leaving aside his bizarre summary of the novel as “a bit of a perve for pimply faced adolescent boys” – exposing a view of his students as offbeat as his view of Marquez – Bantick’s piece warrants no further analysis, and should be forgotten by Age readers and editors alike.
Except it reminded me of something. Years ago, my mother came home from a meeting with a group of parents. They’d asked her as Principal to intervene in a year 10 English class whose proposed reading list included Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I had no idea what Mum was talking about, and waited for her to explain. “Witchcraft,” she said. (I should have guessed: the same term had been invoked a year earlier by parents wishing to ban Harry Potter from the library.)
Obviously banning Shakespeare from English is outrageous. It’d be easier to ban the Pope from the Vatican. And yet it’s no more outrageous to propose the removal of Shakespeare than the removal of Rowling or Marquez. In fact, Macbeth features passages far ghastlier than anything in Potter, including in its portrayal of children. Consider Lady Macbeth dreaming the murder of her own child just after her husband has likened pity to “a naked new-born babe, striding the blast”:
I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Awesome! I mean, awful, if you agree with Bantick that describing something makes it so. And Lady Macbeth’s not even a witch. Those supernaturals really hate children, opening Act 4 gleefully feeding a cauldron with fragments of the newly-born:
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab.
Ha! I mean, hmph.
All attempts to keep students from literature are the same – by teachers or by parents, about Shakespeare, Rowling, Marquez or “Girls.” “Sexual penetration of a child is not OK anywhere,” asserts Bantick, as if the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority disagreed with him. True; but, like witchcraft, it’s worth thinking about.