Sunday, 1 February 2009

Prohibitorum ad nauseum

The other day I entered one of Vienna's historical city centre coffee houses, the Adolf Loos' designed Cafe´ Museum on Operngasse. The sparse functional cafe´is known to regulars as Cafe´ Nihilism. It was a frequent watering hole for Leo Trotsky and the group of philosophers and intellectuals known as the Vienna Circle. I found an unoccupied table in a corner, ordered a beer, and pulled from my jacket pocket a well-worn public library copy of Jean Paul Sartre's novel Nausea.
I was only two pages into the novel when a young man selling Augustin, a newspaper sold on behalf of the city's homeless and jobless, entered the premises. Naturally I bought a copy and commenced to flick through it. A cartoon on page 36 caught my eye. An explanatory text on the drawing stated that the Roman Catholic Church had in its index liborum prohibitorum listed the name Jean-Paul Sartre, author of my Nausea, but not the name of Adolf Hitler the author of Mein Kampf.
So there I was, sitting where Leo Trotsky may well have sat, reading a banned book. A book by Jean-Paul Sartre whose complete works are banned. The same Jean-Paul Sartre who refused the Nobel Prize. What was I to make of it all? I was soon to find out.

Arriving home I switched on the radio and was informed that the Pope had authorised the appointment of the Windischgarsten priest, Gerhard Maria Wagner as the Bishop of the City of Linz. Yes, the famous City of Linz; the European Capital of Culture 2009. And the man? Ah yes, wasn't this the man who came to notice for describing J K Rowling's Harry Potter books as satanic and then proceeded to warn parents and children not to read them? I had not long to wait; within a few seconds the newsreader informed me that this was indeed the same Gerhard Maria Wagner. The new bishop clearly had his own ideas about who should be on the index liborum prohibitorum along with Jean-Paul Sartre.

And so I looked. And there at http://fordham.edu/halsall/mod/indexliborum.html I found what I was looking for. The names of the forbidden. Descartes, Pascal, Voltaire, Stendhal, Balzac, Hugo, Flaubert, Zola, Machiavelli, Spinoza, Hume, Defoe, Swift, Kant, D'Annunzio, Bergson etc., etc., etc. Like J K Rowling's Harry Potter they are dangerous men all.
In 1966 the index liborum prohibitorum was downgraded to the status of a moral guide which "reminds the conscience [...] that a book might be dangerous."
If you are not deterred and are determined to risk your soul here are some of the dangerous books. It's but a small random selection. My Top 10 as it were:

A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy - Laurence Stern
Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
Woman of Rome - Alberto Morovia
History of the Devil - Daniel Defoe
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire - Edward Gibbon
Memoirs - Giovanni Casanova
Creative Evolution - Henri Bergson
Life of Jesus - Ernest Renan
and last but not least,-
Jean-Paul Sartre - All works

And now, if you'll excuse me, I must read more Nausea.

post scriptum -
The morning after I wrote the above piece there came tragic news relating to a family from Gerhard Maria Wagner's parish of Windischgarsten. It appears that there was a road traffic accident in which three children (aged, 5, 8 and 10) were killed. Several other persons are badly injured.
The reason I mention this unfortunate event is because small-town Bishop-in-waiting Wagner is the same man who famously claimed that the city of New Orleans had been visited by Hurricane Katrina as a divine punishment from God. This, he said, was due to it being a sinful city.
We may wonder what Wagner will make of God's latest punishment, if that's what he believes it to be. And we may also wonder how and why such a narrow-minded and dogmatic man, this prohibitorum ad nauseum priest of Windischgarsten, is to be become the Roman Catholic Bishop for Linz, the European City of Culture 2009.

Update: the good bishop wagner now claims that god may well have had a hand in the recent Haiti earthquake (where over human beings 200,000 perished and many more were injured and/or made homeless) and says this is because Haitians engage in voodoo! It's really high time for someone in authority at god's hq to remind the herr doktor wagner that 85% of Haitians are of the same religious persuasion as his good self.

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