One of Britain’s leading writers has attacked the role of ‘sensitivity readers’, saying they get ‘excited’ by controlling others’ freedom of expression.
In a passionately argued commentary, Hanif Kureishi blames an ‘element of the Left’, which he says is ‘bursting with aggressive self-righteousness and is puritanical and self-defeating’.
His comments inflict a wounding blow on the metropolitan elite, of which the avowedly Left-wing Kureishi has always been a committed member.
The 68-year-old prize-winning author, playwright and filmmaker said his award-winning 1990 novel The Buddha Of Suburbia would be butchered by censors if it was written today ‘in this atmosphere of self-consciousness and trepidation, this North Korea of the mind’.
This is a reference to the readers increasingly hired by publishers to review texts for offensive content.
Hanif Kureishi says an ‘element of the Left’ is ‘bursting with aggressive self-righteousness’
Earlier this year books by James Bond author Ian Fleming were stripped of terms deemed sexist and racist. Roald Dahl’s novels have also been changed.
Kureishi found fame nearly four decades ago with his screenplay for My Beautiful Laundrette, about an interracial gay relationship during the Thatcher era.
The author, who was appointed a professor in the creative writing department at Kingston University in 2013, doubts whether he would have a career if he was starting out today. ‘One of the things I’ve noticed about my students is that they are already inhibited,’ he said. ‘This is a trend I’ve noticed with other students and also with editors at publishing houses: whether their work will be condemned for sexism, racism, cultural appropriation and so on.
‘This is the contemporary anxiety for young writers today.
‘Some people are turned on and excited by the power of controlling others’ speech and freedoms.’
He said when he began writing The Buddha Of Suburbia – which he describes as ‘full of racial insults and lewd, politically incorrect language’ – he was ‘determined to write with as much disinhibition and freedom as possible’.
‘I would make it as dirty and funny as I felt my mind to be. I wouldn’t hold back or hesitate to say anything I truly felt. It wasn’t my job to deliberately shock but to tell the story in the most candid way.’
In a series of tweets, Kureishi issued a fierce defence of freedom of expression, saying it is the business of writers to bravely ‘push the boundaries of what can be said and thought’.
Pictured: Daniel Day Lewis and Gordon Warnecke in the 1985 film My Beautiful Laundrette
The 68-year-old prize-winning author, playwright and filmmaker said his award-winning 1990 novel The Buddha Of Suburbia would be butchered by censors if it was written today
He added: ‘I don’t want to live in an atmosphere of fear and inhibition where writers are afraid of expressing their true selves for fear of offending someone or other. It is the work of great writers to turn the world upside down, to present opinions which go against the prevailing trends. It is not our job to please but to challenge, to make us think differently about our bodies our sexuality, politics and normativity.’
Earlier this year Roald Dahl’s publisher, Puffin, hired sensitivity readers to go over the author’s books. It was reported that language deemed offensive would be removed. But after a backlash from writers, Puffin decided to release Dahl’s works in their original versions – alongside the new texts.
James Bond novels have also been edited, with a number of racist and sexist terms removed.