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Save your wrath: men may be monsters, but not their masterworks

IbyIMD+ Published 9 July 2021 in Magazine • 4 min read

900-page life of Philip Roth has been withdrawn because of his biographer’s alleged sexual crimes, but banning art and books in the name of ‘correct thinking’ is a crime against liberty, writes Josef Joffe.

Long ago, when the humanities taught students to look at art from many angles and debate vigorously, we still had an iron rule drummed into our young minds: writer and work are apples and pears. Just as you cannot judge a book by its cover, you should not measure its worth by the yardstick of an author’s character, be it exemplary or execrable. 

Tempi passati. In our time, hardly a day goes by without publishers and Amazon banning books because of the author’s sexual crimes, proven or merely alleged. It’s death by exorcism – censorship imposed not by a Ministry of Truth, as in George Orwell’s 1984. We do it to ourselves in the name of goodness and correct thinking. 

The most recent case is Blake Bailey’s biography of Philip Roth, all 900 pages of it. W W Norton,…

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