'Anti-Free Expression Stridency from All Quarters'
"It's a complicated time, to say the least. There appears to be less and less commitment among a growing contingent of us to the bedrock value of freedom of expression. Increasingly those who might otherwise have felt it important to defend free speech at all costs have come to wonder if the so-called harm done by certain forms of speech are of greater moment and consequence than the so-called freedom to speak in ways that could inflict such harm. An evolving set of beliefs about the kinds of harms we should no longer tolerate is creating increasingly its own political culture. And on the other side of this ever-deepening divide, we find a deeply cynical defense of freedom of expression, but really as something more like a revolt against what I suspect many in this room would see as the arc of history bending finally toward justice.
"As writers, many of us are caught in the middle. Our creative imaginations are not discursive but organic. We are pulled where the muses and where the fertile blind spots in our lives lead us. And so the molting complexion of the public space, where language is increasingly politicized, even when it's not, where the argument over representation can feel increasingly like a matter of jurisprudence as opposed to creativity. In a public space being reshaped to these exigencies, it is not without consequence to us all as writers...
"The incentives of online discourse have increasingly led to the creation of groupings of opinion pitted one against the other, agglomerations of outrage, not just left-leaning or right-leaning, groupings superintended by slogans of belonging and credal statements honed like trademarks to the very locution. The result is a widespread and punitive stridency descending upon us from every quarter.
"Part of the challenge of being a writer today then is not to be cowed by fear, however real, of opprobrium, retaliation and group exclusion. The writer today must know that her best work is likely to come from a path that can only lead from her own sense of things, and not from the pressing parameters of our prevailing groupthink, attention paid to her own affinities, however heterodox they may be. But in the end, any defense of the freedom to write can only be as strong as those willing to heed it. Such strength, it's important to add, is not rewarded these days, a time when so many are telling us how and what and why we must write."