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Haunted by Words

Scandalous Texts

Alyson Miller

This book critically examines a wide range of contemporary literary scandals in order to identify the cultural and literary anxieties revealed by controversial works. It explores how scandal predominantly emerges in relation to texts which offer challenging representations concerning children, women, sexuality, religion and authenticity, and how literary controversies bring to the surface a series of concerns about the complex construction of identity, history and reality. Including works such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (1996–2007), Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho (1991), James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces (2003), Misha Defonseca’s Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust (1997), Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (1988) and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (1995–2000), the author analyses a broad spectrum of texts in order to examine why books continue to provoke public debate and outrage, and what the arguments surrounding scandalous works suggest about literature and the world.


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Chapter Four - From Holy Books to Satanic Verses: Confronting the Sacred 169


169 Chapter Four From Holy Books to Satanic Verses: Confronting the Sacred While poetry readings are not generally known for attracting head- line news and crowds in the hundreds, the controversial 2008 perfor- mance by Patrick Jones at the Welsh Assembly did both. Jones, a Welsh poet, was invited by the Liberal Democrat member Peter Black to speak at the Assembly after the religious group Christian Voice forced the cancellation of an earlier reading. Jones’ appearance at the Assembly was arranged by Black as a comment on democracy, and attracted over 250 activists protesting against the ‘obscene and blas- phemous’ content of Jones’ most recent collection, Darkness Is Where The Stars Are (2008) (BBC News, 2008). The National Director of Christian Voice, Stephen Green, claimed that the cancellation of the initial reading was a ‘triumph for the Lord’ and demonstrated that ‘Christians won’t tolerate insults to Jesus’ (Grew, 2008). Throughout the reading at the Assembly, members of the Christian group pro- tested outside by singing hymns and praying (Flood, 2008). One of the most incendiary poems in the collection, ‘Hymn’, was described by the Ebbw Vale vicar Reverend Geoff Waggett as ‘disgusting and perverted’ (qu. Rhys, 2008), as it refers to sex between Jesus and Mary Magdalene—‘just like mary magdelene/i fucked jesus’—and explicitly confronts the misogynistic elements of organised religion (Jones, 2008, p. 34). Black, however, described the reading of Jones’ poetry as a ‘good day for democracy’, noting that the protest is […] what democracy is about […] [F...

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