Free Speech for Clunky Writers!

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Sherry Jones's historical novel The Jewel of Medina, whose main character is Mohammad's (PBUH) nine-year-old bride A'isha—discussed on Hit and Run here, here, and here—was withdrawn by Random House earlier this year after a University of Texas academic raised concerns that its depiction of the girl was "pornographic" and might offend Muslims. Well, it has now been published in the United States by Beaufort Books, a small, New York-based publishing house, and the author has received nothing but a bad review from the New York Times. Here is Lorraine Adams, quibbling with an interview Jones gave about her interest in Mohammad's wives:

In a Q. and A. included in "The Jewel of Medina," Jones explains that she first became interested in A'isha in 2002 after the American invasion of Afghanistan. "I discovered that the Prophet Muhammad had multiple wives and concubines. Being unable to find very much information about any of them made me want to tell their stories to the world." Most Muslims would be surprised to hear that these women's stories were little known—they've been an object of scholarly debate and political maneuvering since the seventh century. They're also firmly entrenched in contemporary Muslim popular culture.

It seems clear that Jones is explaining that this information was not well-known in the West, and I suspect she would acknowledge that many, if not most, in the Muslim world are familiar with the story. But this doesn't satisfy Adams, who seems unaware that The Jewel of Medina is a novelization of A'isha's story. Thus, the review focuses on the book's "inaccuracies":

Jones alters early Islamic versions of A'isha's life—the first of which was written 150 years after Muhammad's death—in relatively few aspects. She transforms A'isha into a sword fighter. She makes her a precocious military strategist. She depicts her kissing a man she was briefly engaged to prior to Muhammad, her accused partner in the adultery episode. The record doesn't mention kissing, and the man was not engaged to A'isha. Jones also inserts a Turkish custom—the choosing of a harem's premier wife, or hatun—unknown in seventh­-century Arabia. 

To Adams, Jones's book is pulp fiction—she cites two clunky sentences to bolster her case—and is, therefore, unworthy of our attention. Fine. But she then takes this argument further, arguing that because she considers it a bad book, one that moderately transforms the Islamic version of A'isha's life for the purposes of a novel, one that doesn't "enlighten the Western reader," it should also be ignored by "free-speech advocates." Seriously:

An inexperienced, untalented author has naïvely stepped into an intense and deeply sensitive intellectual argument. She has conducted enough research to reimagine the accepted versions of Muhammad's marriage to A'isha, thus offending the religious audience, but not nearly enough to enlighten the ordinary Western reader. Should free-speech advocates champion "The Jewel of Medina"? In the American context, the answer is unclear. The Constitution protects pornography and neo-Nazi T-shirts, but great writers don't generally applaud them. If Jones's work doesn't reach those repugnant extremes, neither does it qualify as art. It is telling that PEN, the international association of writers that works to advance literature and defend free expression, has remained silent on the subject of this ­novel. Their stance seems just about right.

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  1. So it’s crap fiction. Sturgeon’s law and all of that. A seemingly minor point that may be missed by theists is this gem.

    Jones alters early Islamic versions of A’isha’s life – the first of which was written 150 years after Muhammad’s death – in relatively few aspects. [italics added]

    IOW, fiction.

  2. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

    She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

    Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did.

  3. I like pulp, throwaway fiction myself…way less pretentious. It’s just a story, not some preconceived attempt at being the voice of a generation.

    Usually the clearest dividing line between “literature” and “crap fiction” is the opinion of the failed writer turned critic/teacher who has to justify his/her existence by arbitrating reality.

    It’s just like quibbling between “high” and “low” art. Stamping permanent definitions on our most subjective forms of expression is just idiotic.

  4. Why would a book reviewer who works for the newspaper that has been the greatest apologist of Stalinist mass murder suddenly advocate free speech?

    More fundamentally, why does anyone read a newspaper so tainted by its complicity in mass murder?

  5. Why would a book reviewer who works for the newspaper that has been the greatest apologist of Stalinist mass murder suddenly advocate free speech?

    Lorraine Adams works for The Daily Worker?

  6. So could somebody, anybody, point me to any literature anything longer than three sentences written, typed, word processed, scratched, carved, engraved, anywhere on the planet since the invention of writing that has, and can be proven without a reasonable doubt, not one iota of fiction? huh.. huh… anybody?

    The Constitution protects pornography and neo-Nazi T-shirts, but great writers don’t generally applaud them. If Jones’s work doesn’t reach those repugnant extremes, neither does it qualify as art.

    Your point here Ms. Adams??? I must have missed the part where the Constitution requires that the rights protected therein must be passed through the screening equivalent of great writers applauding, and before one can say they are a champion of free speech one must distinguish between fiction and non-fiction, or clunky and non-clunky writing, or art and er.. umm… I know what I like..

  7. “I stared at his behind, as big as my goat’s-bladder ball and covered with hair.”

    Well, at least she came up with a comparison I hadn’t seen before.

  8. I would take the time to write a comment but I’m off to the International Muslim Matrimonals site to browse photos.

  9. THe great writers were the guys who penned the declaration of independence. What writer worth her salt would whore herself to such a filthy rag like the NYT?

  10. cunnivore-

    Why are you going to the fabric store on a Monday night?

  11. This is somewhat off-topic, but has anyone seen (or otherwise heard about) Ehsan Jami’s new short film, “An Interview with Mohammed”?

    (Related feature story here; online video version here.)

  12. In terms of freedom I’m glad she got a publisher… in terms of enjoying literature… that’s another story entirely.

    Unforutnately for us, the left tends to forget that freedom applies even to things THEY don’t like.

  13. Lorraine Adams has got it wrong.

    I, Shannon Love, am the ultimate arbiter of what is and is not protected speech.

    You’ve heard that love makes the world go round. That would be me. In my spare time I decide what constitutes art that the masses should see and what does not.

    It’s a heavy burden and I resent some no name snot trying to muscle in no matter what her family connections.

  14. So … because it’s not real literature, free speech advocates should abandon its author to the tender mercies of people who express their lit-critical opinions through violence. Wow. I just hope she doesn’t realize what she is saying.

  15. Lorraine Adams works for The Daily Worker?

    I can’t remember, did Walter Duranty get his Pulitzer there?

  16. KD’s post, longer than three sentences, is factually true. KD’s post, longer than three sentences, is factually true. KD’s post, longer than three sentences, is factually true. KD’s post, longer than three sentences, is factually true.

  17. An inexperienced, untalented author has na?vely stepped into an intense and deeply sensitive intellectual argument.

    Wow, I had no interest in this book before, but seeing how much the NYT hates it I may have to reconsider.

    She has conducted enough research to reimagine the accepted versions of Muhammad’s marriage to A’isha, thus offending the religious audience

    I’m not even going to ask whether this criticism was ever levelled at any fiction that was offensive to Christian beliefs (except, of course, as praise, e.g. “daring”).

    It is telling that PEN, the international association of writers that works to advance literature and defend free expression, has remained silent on the subject of this ?novel. Their stance seems just about right.

    It tells us more about PEN than the book.

  18. First they came for the hack religio-historical romance writers, and I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t one…

  19. I can’t remember, did Walter Duranty get his Pulitzer there?

    The reason you can’t remember is because it was in fucking 1932. There is not an editor *alive today* that was working in the NYT when all that Stalin stroking was going on.

    So either your and related comments are some retarded adaptation of a ultrastringent moral standard, or you are not half as clever as you would like.

    Accusations *today* of the NYT bearing much resemblance to that paper which printed Duranty’s articles exposes some epically stupid irrational hatred which these days pass for a shibboleth amongst many conservatives.

  20. I can’t remember, did Walter Duranty get his Pulitzer there?

    The sentence is inherently not to be taken literally.

  21. Or is it? Talldave might be older than we think.

  22. Sherry Jones’s historical novel The Jewel of Medina, whose main character is Mohammad’s (PBUH) nine-year-old bride A’isha-discussed on Hit and Run here, here, and here-was withdrawn by Random House earlier this year after a University of Texas academic raised concerns that its depiction of the girl was “pornographic”

    Paramount said the same thing about my depiction of Janeway and Seven of Nine and rejected the script I sent ’em, censorious bastards!

    Help, help, I’m bein’ repressed!

  23. You’re right, events back in 1932 are like, ancient history.

    Remind when when the Civil War happened . . .

  24. You’re right, events back in 1932 are like, ancient history.

    In the context of an institution with ever-changing personnel and editorial viewpoint, it sure is.

  25. ever-changing personnel and editorial viewpoint

    Just for fun, do an old-timey search there for the words like negro and find fun things like this (PDF).

  26. PBUH

    .. am I the only person who doesn’t know what this is??

    .. Hobbit

  27. thus offending the religious audience, but not nearly enough to enlighten the ordinary Western reader

    I don’t think Islam will be sufficiently offended or enlightened until it gets a Sam Kinison.

  28. PBUH…am I the only person who doesn’t know what this is??

    PBUH == “Peace be upon him”

    It is a common Islamic salutation used when referring to important holy figures, such as Muhammad or Isa (Jesus).

  29. And, respectful though I try to be to all religions, I can’t help that it always makes me think of this.

  30. I think this is a good illustration of the old saw about low stakes and vicious battles.

  31. “It is telling that PEN, the international association of writers that works to advance literature and defend free expression, has remained silent on the subject of this ?novel. Their stance seems just about right.”

    lol sounds like a statement joe would make.

  32. I think it’s really stupid that Reason views the fact that a mainstream publisher rejected a manuscript, but a smaller publisher accepted it and will publish it, as a blow to free speech.

    If not getting published by Random House means that your free speech has been curtailed, what does that say about the free speech writers of the manuscripts in Random House’s unread slush pile? Or the manuscripts in the unread slush piles at literary agencies all over NYC? [OK, I assume that people submit .PDF’s these days, so there probably isn’t an actual pile anymore, but the term will live forever.]

    By having her novel published by anyone, this author has gotten farther with her work than 99.99% of the “writers” out there. How has her free speech been repressed?

  33. That should read, “…free speech rights of the writers of the manuscripts…” etc. Sorry.

  34. Fluffy,

    Two issues going on here. One, Random House caved to a tiny amount of pressure about the fact it “might” offend someone. However, that’s over and done. There’s not much point in spending any more time on it.

    Two, some dumb twunt even thinks of asking the question:

    Should free-speech advocates champion “The Jewel of Medina”?

    The fact she even thinks it’s a valid question, and thinks the answer is “unclear”, is all you need to know about her commitment to the value of free speech. Seeing as how this ignoramus is getting published in the NYT, doesn’t that set off some alarm bells?

  35. Transgressive literature is only good when it transgresses basic Western moral values.

  36. It’s just a story, not some preconceived attempt at being the voice of a generation.

    The “voice of a generation” crap comes from the critics, not the creators,
    so it’s hardly “preconceived.”

  37. [Stands and starts a slow-clap for LMNOP’s use of shibboleth.]

    [Sees no one joining in; sits down awkwardly.]

  38. Seeing as how this ignoramus is getting published in the NYT, doesn’t that set off some alarm bells?

    Not really; this is more of the same blinkered navel-gazing that I expect from the Upper East Side.

  39. “It is telling that PEN, the international association of writers that works to advance literature and defend free expression, has remained silent on the subject of this ?novel. Their stance seems just about right.”

    lol sounds like a statement joe would make.

    I came in here to say it’s more like a statement one of the bad guys from Atlas Shrugged would make.

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