Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Biography | Fiction | Paulo Coelho Fights Oppression With Horrible Faux-Aspirational Motivational Poster Literature. Not That, You Know, I Dislike The Works Of Paulo Coelho Or Anything.

Paulo Coelho has been banned in Iran. This places me in an unfortunate position, seeing as I have a great dislike for the works of Paulo Coelho, and have no desire to see his global domination or his image as some kind of saintly, aphoristic guru of personal fulfilment get any bigger than they already are. I simply don’t think the world has any need of more sage advice like “There is suffering in life, and there are defeats. No one can avoid them. But it's better to lose some of the battles in the struggles for your dreams than to be defeated without ever knowing what you're fighting for.” Or other rip-off, faux-individuatic fables like The Alchemist. I don’t like his self-help brand of enlightenment. I don’t care that he escaped from a mental asylum three times or that he dwelt in the Amazonian jungle for years. None of this necessarily gives you unique insights into spirituality and life. Dostoyevsky started writing great literature after being publicly humiliated and sent to prison; Jeffrey Archer didn’t. And now Coelho pops up and starts being a symbol of great art struggling against a suffocatingly oppressive regime. Just perfect.


Why must flawed writers be allowed to become something bigger than themselves in an important and moving cause? All the Ayatollah needed to do was print a couple of pages of literary criticism explaining that Paulo Coelho had been banned in order to prevent the people of his country being exposed to trite mysticism and self-important posturing, and he’d have won the battle. His predecessor could just have easily have explained that Salman Rushdie got that fatwa because The Satanic Verses was clunking, overlong and on-the-nose.

Pardon my immense bad taste. I know, I know, it's witty and entirely appropriate satire, but it's making me cringe. Let’s try and put that behind us and look at the mechanics of the thing. Coelho presumes that he’s being censored because he’d posted on social networking sites showing support for his Iranian editor and anti-government activist, Arash Hejazi. Which seems like…well, a very small thing, even for that infamously prickly administration.

So then we’re looking at a future where ‘controversial’ posts in social networks can not only have significance for an individual’s watchful employers…but another nation? I refer you to the Icelandic MP’s Twitter problems with the US over Wikileaks. Part of the wonder of the Internet, I suppose – I can now irritate whole governments overseas from the comfort of my desk.

Oi, Ahmedinijad! You smell! Also, your regime is, like, tyrannical and out-dated! Take that!


Coelho’s response was to say that he’d put all of his books, translated into Farsi, available on the Internet for free. Which cheered me up immensely, as it meant that nobody who spoke Farsi would ever have to buy a Paulo Coelho book ever again, thus lowering his global sales.

I was going to post a picture of an Iranian bookshop here, along with a witty caption like 'We can burn everything in the 'Philosophy and Self-Actualisation' section! But I couldn't find one on Google. So imagine I found one, and look at these cute cats instead. The entire Internet seems to be composed of pictures of cute cats these days. Probably a cat plan for global domination. It's the sort of thing they do.

Okay, enough of the Paulo Coelho bashing. If he goes through with it, loath as I am to admit it, this will be a fascinating and cheering undertaking. When the vast majority of books have been published online for free in the past, it’s been out of cunning marketing, desperation (online unknown authors - big up to you, ladies and gents. Big up to you.), or a sense of scholarship with older titles. This is an author planning to publish his entire works online, simply so that they may be read as they were intended; so that, in one tiny area, the fog of censorship may be lifted.

I’ve spoken before – too many times, probably, with reference to Wikileaks – about the practicalities of the Internet as a tool for politics, and in particular political activism. Its ability to be moulded by tyrants as well as by revolutionaries is still uncertain (could Coelho’s online works be censored by Iran? ) but the intent, at least, is a pleasant reminder of the power of the unreal – books and the Net – in breaking through to the real, and making a small, potent difference.

Jon Ware
Soon To Be Banned In Iran

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