inter alia: Why the fu*lalalala* are we CREATING lacunae?

Lacunae.  Bane to the existence of anyone who studies the ancient world (or any other world that involves the reading of “elderly” manuscripts and inscriptions.) One minute you’re reading along on your New Testament papyrus, happy as a clam and the next mi

Lacuna…or lacunae as the case may be.  That is, places were the text has been lost due to some sort of damage to the manuscript.  This one…P.Yale I 3 with its mirroring areas of damage looks to have been accidentally caused.  It’s an unfortunate reality that ancient writing materials, like papyrus and vellum, become very brittle over time and handling them in any way often causes damage which obscures the text.  Because of lacunae, we are often limited in what we are actually able to make out from what remains of ancient texts, and what has been lost forever.  P.Yale I 3 is a relatively complete example…and it is not the only copy of this section of text, so the missing material can be reliably reconstructed for much of the damaged sections.  That is not always the case.

latin lacunae

There is considerably less preserved of this Latin inscription which was carved in marble.  It is clearly a small piece of a larger inscription, and though one can make out some words, any real meaning has been lost.  The following is what epigraphers have to say about this fragment:

No earth shattering new information about the Romans to be found here…it is just a frustrating reality of dealing with material that is hundreds or thousands of years old.  Lacunae happen.

It’s bad enough when lacunae happen because of accidents of preservation, but somehow it is even worse when we know that the material may have survived intact if it had not been tampered with by someone or another, either ancient or modern.  The monuments of the 18th Dynasty pharaoh Hatshepsut were deliberately defaced after her death to obscure her name from the records.  The ancient Romans practiced something called damnatio memoriae which was an effort to wipe the history clean of any and all mentions of a certain individual.  In more recent times, “erotic” art from the sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum was locked away for centuries in the “Secret Cabinet” because it was deemed too racy for public display.  Censorship…or attempted censorship…is nothing new.  People have been trying to enforce it in varying degrees forever and by it’s very nature, it creates lacunae.

The most recent foray into a brave new electronic world of attempted censorship was pointed out to me by my SpReAd the Love partner in crime, JazzBaby.  It’s called CleanReader and it has been causing quite a kerfluffle in the literary community, as evidenced by a simple Google search.

clean reader snip

In a nutshell, it is an app available for Android and iDevices that enables one to “clean” a selection of e-books of the dirtiness…you know *those* words.  Redacting text is nothing new…readers have always had the ability to take their very own Sharpie and blot out any words they found objectionable…CleanReader takes it into the digital world of the e-book and provides a handy preselected dictionary of replacements for all that nastiness in otherwise great works of literature.  Of course it begs the question as to why, if you have an aversion of profanity or obscenity, or human anatomy, you’d want to read a book that is rampant with “swears”, but let’s leave that little wrinkle aside for the time being and take a look at a page of text cleaned by CleanReader:


Do you see what it did right there?  It’s CREATED lacunae in an originally complete text.  Why the  ♦  would we want to do that?!  Now granted, if you tap on the little blue button, the app will provide you with a acceptably “clean” replacement for the original word, but do you also see how the deliberate lacunae ultimately break up the original text and inhibit the flow of the language as it was carefully crafted by the author?  I just don’t get it.

As a nascent writer, there are any number of things that frost my buns about this whole thing, but I’ll only touch on one or two….One goes back to what I mentioned above…if you can’t bear to read a book without altering it’s original voice to satisfy your need for purity of verbiage, perhaps you should just choose another book.  (I have it on good authority that are plenty out there that have no need for CleanReader sanitation).  I try to keep the language relatively clean here (which is often a struggle given my ongoing project of compiling a lexicon of creative derivitives of “fk”  – to the eternal dismay of my mother) but to be plain, if you don’t care for my vulgar language, don’t read my    ♦      book.  I don’t care to read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I also don’t need to “clean” it to make it more palatable to my personal standards.  

The second major issue I have with this whole concept is that some arbitrary someone, in some arbitrary somewhere (the Bible Belt apparently) chose the words that would be used as replacements for all the “naughties.”   There is a deliberate agenda at play here that makes me very, very uncomfortable as a writer and as a reader.  Should people have a right to choose what they read?  Absolutely.  Should they have a right to profit from the unsanctioned alteration of what someone else has copyrighted…I don’t think so.

Pigs must be flying somewhere, because I’m suddenly a whole lot less bothered by ancient lacunae.  At the very least, they are rarely filled in with scrubbed language.  And thank   ♦   for that!

Read the  ♦  on Armitageworld


For the record…Richard Armitage unwittingly contributed to the “clean” conversation on Twitter while this post was in process…small world.  (In which if one’s eyes and ears are that innocent, they probably are very uncomfortable on Twitter on a regular day.)

32 comments on “inter alia: Why the fu*lalalala* are we CREATING lacunae?

  1. I’ve basically been in an on-and-off ragespiral ever since the internet made me aware of this app. As a writer, as a reader, as a human, the very idea of it just infuriates me to my very core.

  2. Guylty says:

    That is a really good point, Obscura. At first I thought the app was a nice little gimmick for parents who want to protect their children from seeing stuff that is inappropriate. However, it strikes me as rather pointless to have such an app if you can override the censorship anyway? And as you said – it alters an original text completely, and creates an artificial incompleteness. Honestly, common sense would probably work better than an app, i.e. don’t like it, don’t read further. But well, in our technology-driven world we are increasingly believing in the allmight healing power of machines. Drivel.

    • obscura says:

      I do understand the desire to shield children which is apparently the genesis of this app (I’m reminded of it vividly as MiniMe’s iPod alarm just kicked in to the tune of Megan Trainor’s “Your Lips are Movin'”). It’s the increasing inclination to abdicate that personal responsibility in favor of a “magic pill” to do it for you that troubles me.

      I am a parent, and I have precocious children who have both always read at a level far advanced of their years. At times it has been a challenge to find age appropriate reading for them. Never once did I consider “cleaning up” up a text for language….if the language is age inappropriate, odds are the whole tone of the book is. Take Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew…one could apply CleanReader and take out the swear words, but that doesn’t negate the overtly adult themes of that book. In fact, it would probably serve to dilute a level of the realism that makes it more powerful. The better parental decision would be to decide to just say no to this particular book at this time…but golly gee, that means I would have to take personal responsibility for parenting my child. Bummer.

      • Guylty says:

        More good points. I’d add to that, however, that in my experience, the precious off-spring tires very quickly of reading matter which they either do not understand because of adult themes or which are disjointed because of censorship. All those apps, child-guards and “magic pills” seem to serve a worthy cause. But in the end I suspect that more involvement on the adults’ part would do the same trick. Easy analogy: When the kids are 3 yo, they become increasingly fascinated with opening cupboards and emptying shelves. You can buy all sorts of gadgets to child-proof cabinets and you can move all open contents out of reach. OR you can *teach* your child that they are not allowed to touch certain things. Somehow that worked very well with my kids. But hey, I am a tyrant with a mother-tongue that lends itself to threatening, scary commands…

        • obscura says:

          Yeah…that’s dead on. If the actual intent of this were really “for the children” a better plan would be to actively parent your own spawn. I have always kept the scouring powder and bleach spray under the child unlocked kitchen sink, and never once have my children eaten it. Curious.

          I suspect the whole “we must protect the children” rhetoric is only cover for a wider reaching goal. I can’t always be with my children to clean life up for them, but I can teach them how to make informed choices so that when they are confronted with something objectionable the have their own built in “apps”.

          • Guylty says:

            Indeed. It’s impossible to control everything. Which is why the appeal for moderation from “other sources” is also slightly rubbing me up the wrong way…

          • obscura says:

            Ah yes. That. I have to admit that it prompted a knee jerk, “Oh STFU Pollyanna” internal response from me.

          • Guylty says:

            Except you had to censor the TF part of that…

          • obscura says:

            Good thing I’m not on Twitter…imagine! As if most people do not self filter their speech based on the audience and as if Twitter is some rarefied polite zone. Right. If one is old enough to be trawling Twitter unmonitored…

          • jazzbaby1 says:

            I’m sorry, sir, I can’t see what you’re saying because my retinas are still scarred from the last time you said “bullshit” in a newspaper. I’d roll my eyes but it still hurts to do that.

          • Servetus says:

            and what about the time he was quoted as saying “Christ” and not in a prayer? I just about fainted. Serious eyerolling called for.

  3. jazzbaby1 says:

    Well said, Obscura. I’m still not sure if I have a post about this or not but I will say that the creators of Clean Reader had no idea what they were stirring up.

    • obscura says:

      Absolutely. I waffle back and forth thinking they are either hopelessly naive or supremely arrogant. I’m leaning toward arrogant. Case in point…as you pointed out to me, one of the E-books in the CleanReader library is Mirages, The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin. Now why in the name of all that is squeaky clean, would one include the diary of an artist who is well known for erotic themes unless it is to prove that this app can even clean that up? (Is anyone actually going to try and argue that Nin is likely to be read by a child?). There’s the arrogance…the potential to clean away what offends us about the literary ilk. Yeah…no thanks.

      • jazzbaby1 says:

        And the complete unexpurgated works of the Marquis de Sade. Like…what is the point of that, exactly?

        • Can we talk about the way it changes all references to female anatomy to “bottom”? So in addition to being confusing and misinformative, this now changes any and all explicit erotic encounters to anal sex?

          • obscura says:

            Yeah…I don’t even know how to begin to address all the levels of WTF? that provokes. My question here is the same as it is for people who rail about explicit fan fic: if you are personally offended by explicit descriptions of sex, why are you reading explicit descriptions of sex?! I presume noone is tied to a chair with his/her eyes propped open being forced to read Nin or DeSade or Henry Miller or even E.L. James. Here’s a thought. If it bothers you, don’t read it.

          • jazzbaby1 says:

            Alyssa, that was just infuriating. Teaching children to think of their own bodies as dirty is dangerous, frankly.

          • linnetmoss says:

            LOL! You have got to be kidding! I have trouble believing this “clean reader” is not some sort of April Fools hoax.

          • obscura says:

            That was my first thought too…unfortunately, it’s all to real.

        • obscura says:

          I tend to think the whole point of including these texts is a really obnoxious, hyperbolic in your face literary filth! We we can scrub even the strongest of you!

          • jazzbaby1 says:

            But — 50 Shades of Grey wasn’t available. I looked before Inktera pulled their bookstore and it was a bit of a head scratcher…why avoid that one? Because it’s famous? It seemed really odd to me.

          • obscura says:

            Because it’s author and publisher juggernaut might crush your little censorship engine like a bug? Just a thought 🙂

  4. […] let those groups into places where their sensibilities might be challenged, we warn them. Frankly, little kids are not supposed to be on Twitter. That’s not my responsibility, that’s their parents’ responsibility. Adults who […]

  5. Hariclea says:

    I wasn’t aware this existed.. but i wouldn’t ever be as why on earth would i want something to filter books for me??? My parents did the filtering when i was smaller but only up to an early age at which point i was reigned free in the library. What i don’t understand is how this particular ‘product’ is still alive and kicking and why the copyright laws which are efficiently pursuing people editing photos and being slightly creative with output or with the way and place they view/read output have not yet dragged the creators through tribunals and stopped them ?
    And i can even answer my question :-((( Because they are under the covers with these idiots because those people need to purchase the rights to the books they then defile with their stupid idea of a product. Because they make money and that seems to come before creative and artistic integrity these days 😦 I can’t believe publishers these days have come to care so little for what the publish that they will allow the books to be altered .. all because it probably makes money 😦

    It is beyond disgusting and stomach turning, this is censorship simple and plain. And you have to think about what authors must feel when then can no longer trust publishers to even keep the integrity of their work…

    I understand the challenges of the internet age, or rather i understand that they are significant and that freedom can have its ugly sides but control and censorship are never ever the answer. The answer is always rational thought, education, information to that kids can grow up understanding right from wrong and being able to make decisions accordingly. And parents will make the decisions for them until they are ready. I know technology increases those challenges in parenting but pieces of brainless technology don’t solve them, it is only the mind and experience of a human which can do so. Any kid, hey almost any adult who would see blotted out stuff that you are not allowed to see would want to know exactly what is underneath the cover.
    Shakes head… sad stuff.

    • obscura says:

      There has been significant author backlash that has led to rapid backpedaling by the app’s “brain trust” all the while maintaining their gratingly holier than thou stance.

      This is an issue that has just tripped my rant trigger lately in that it illustrates and ever increasing willingness on the part of a giant heard of people to abdicate any personal responsibility for themselves, their children and their choices in favor of expecting some faceless watchdog of the world to do it for them. That is a dangerous path indeed. I really don’t know how many times history needs to prove this as fact.

  6. Esther says:

    Wow, I had no idea something like this existed! Yes, your indignation – I totally second that! People expect technology to solve problems of education and personal taste – I can not fathom that…Grown ups are old enough to make their own reading choices and kids must be taught by grown ups and not by apps. Also, do we only need to read texts that we ‘agree’ with? Texts we don’t agree with, filled with words we don’t like can be educational as well – and you can decide not to ever read them again or anything like it if you choose to – and not have an app choose it for you!

    • Esther says:

      I was just telling my husband this after dinner and he suggested putting the bible through the app and see what that turns up. 😉

      • obscura says:

        I thought the same thing…I had a Humanities student some time ago who complained about being required to read Chaucer (The Miller’s Tale) which she described as the most vulgar and offensive thing she’d ever read. (My first thought was to suggest she get out more…) She continued in pointing out that she was a Christian, and scripture told her something along the lines of only putting pure things before her eyes. I gave her an alternate assignment…there is not enough time or patience in my day to try and explain the rather shaky ground she was standing on there. If it happens in the future, I’ll refer the individual directly to Genesis 19.

    • obscura says:

      This makes me insane…the notion that active, engaged parenting can be replaced in full by electronic apps. Good luck with that. Here’s a thought…TEACH your children to make good choices – will they slip sometimes? Of course, but those are the most important lessons of all.

      I gritted my teeth and dreamed of Prozac all the way through my Great American Novels class in college, but clearly, it was thought provoking, compelling literature since I remember the emotions these books prompted “x” number of years later. Having read the unabridged version of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, I curiously have laid no similar funeral plans for my own parents.

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