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BlogJuly-August, 2012
The Sometimes Sanctimonious Bombast of Ray Bradbury

The essence of Charles Dickens' stories was their idealism: "That what ought to be, never be annihilated by the prevailing state of things," is how the great Harold Bloom, paraphrasing the great Northrop Frye, sums it up.

Ray Bradbury's first two novels, on which his reputation largely rests, share this overarching tenet -- that we must guard our ideals against the relentless encroachments of the contemporary world.

At times, Bradbury himself seemed like the world's greatest defender of literary idealism. His 1979 afterward to Fahrenheit 451 (1953), reprinted here, is an impassioned rallying cry to keep politics out of aesthetics:

For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangu­tan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conversation­ist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights end and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule. If Mor­mons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent type-writers. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmilk teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture. If the Chicano intel­lectuals wish to re-cut my “Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” so it shapes “Zoot,” may the belt unravel and the pants fall.

And yet: In 1997, The Martian Chronicles (1950) fell prey to the political correctness/censorship that Bradbury railed against. The 15th chapter, entitled "Way in the Middle of the Air," which includes the n-word, was removed from the novel. (I type "was removed" because I don't know who did it.) In addition, the novel's fictitious time period was advanced by 31 years. In the original version, the story took place from 1999-2026; post-censorship, the story takes place from 2030-2057.

It's hard to imagine Bradbury supported these changes. But if he spoke out against them, I can't find a record of it. (However, his fans hotly debated the topic on this Ray Bradbury message board, circa 2003. You can also find some debate about it on Amazon.)

The Martian Chronicles remains a secular gospel, and Bradbury remains a titan -- more on why, at a later date (for I, too, would prefer sticking to aesthetics). But as towering as he is, as biblical as his body of work is, we're doing his legacy a disservice if we ignore what has happened to The Martian Chronicles, or dismiss it simply because it appears that the censorship had Bradbury's tacit blessing.

He died only 12 days ago, and maybe a few of you think it's too soon to type anything negative about him or his oeuvre. I disagree. I happen to think that Bradbury himself would approve of this message, or any message, born in a spirit of artistic debate and heartfelt criticism..


Ilan Mochari is the author of the novel Zinsky the Obscure (Fomite Press, 2012). His short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Keyhole, Stymie, Ruthie's Club and Oysters & Chocolate.
In 2009, he received a Literature Artist Fellowship grant from the Somerville Arts Council. He is a former staff writer for Inc, and he has also written for Fortune Small Business and CFO. He has a B.A. in English from Yale University.

 
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