Censorship, Obscenity, & Secrecy: Slapping the Face of the Body Politic

T.R. Hummer | September 1990

T.R. Hummer

I'm talking abut power, and I'm talking about you.-
Ewing Campbell, "Sister Love"

This article is an excerpt from an essay in the fall 1990 issue of New England Review, which also features one of Ewing Campbell's stories, "Sen-Sen," a story that became central to recent NEA controversies for reasons explained below.

In January of 1990, a Texas writer named Ewing Campbell (Weave it Like Nightfall; The Rincon Triptych; Piranesi's Dream) received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in the field of creative writing/fiction. There was, I imagine, appropriate celebration in Hearne, where Campbell lives. An NEA fellowship is both an honor and a very useful professional dispensation; Campbell was able almost immediately to take time off from his job in the English Department at Texas A&M to devote his full attention to writing. This, of course, is precisely what NEA fellowships are supposed to be for; and, as Campbell is a proven writer and a disciplined craftsman, the investment of tax dollars in his work would appear to have more chance than most of bearing fruit.

However, it was not long before circumstances conspired to cloud Campbell's pleasure in his prospects and to divert his attention from writing. Reading the AWP Chronicle in February, he discovered what we now all know: that "In November, AWP learned that the National Endowment for the Arts had flagged five creative writing fellowships as 'questionable' in light of the new appropriation bill that forbids the use of federal monies for funding obscene works." The March/April issue of the Chronicle amplifies the issue:

... Stephen Goodwin, then director of the NEA's Literature Program, flagged five individual fellowship applications as questionable in light of the appropriation bill which forbids funding of projects that "may be considered obscene, including but not limited to, depictions of sadomasochism, homoeroticism, the sexual exploitation of children, or individuals engaged in sex acts and which, when taken as a whole, do not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." Although the NEA's panel of peer review had recommended that those five applicants receive fellowships, Goodwin brought the applications to the attention of (NEA chair John) Frohnmayer, who took the five applications before the National Council on the Arts, which is the Presidentially appointed body that oversees the NEA. The council upheld the NEA panel's decision to award the fellowships.

In spite of this intervention, Campbell's fellowship was awarded-and he had received the funds by the time he became aware of these developments at the NEA. All's well that ends well, some might be inclined to say. But of course, the issue of public funding for the arts was heating rapidly by late February and Campbell was uneasy on many counts. Because he thinks of himself as a transgressive writer, Campbell realized it was at least possible that his might have been one of the five "flagged" applications. "Any one of the applications for fiction fellowships could have been investigated," he told me in a telephone conversation on June 2. "Purely from a statistical vantage point, there was a chance mine was one of the five. And when I looked at the topics cited in the congressional language, I realized I could have been suspect on every count."

A telephone call to the National Endowment yielded nothing. Campbell was told that the whole matter had been "blown out of proportion"; but when he asked point-blank whether he could find out whether his was one of the five flagged applications, he was informed in no uncertain terms that no facts about the procedure would be forthcoming from the NEA. That information was not available to the public.

Meanwhile, Campbell received what he calls "a perfunctory letter" from Texas Congressman Joe Barton congratulating him for receiving an NEA fellowship. "At some point it occurred to me," Campbell says, "that perhaps Barton could obtain the information I wanted. So I called his office and talked to the secretary, who informed me that in order to find out anything, I would have to sign a form waiving my right to privacy."

In due course, the form arrived, and on March 25, Campbell completed it and sent it back to Representative Barton's office. The form is a simple enough one-pager; at the top it says "I hereby authorize Congressman
Joe Barton to request on my behalf, pertinent to the Freedom on Information and Privacy Act, access to information concerning me in the files of:" and there follows a blank in which the words "National Endowment for the Arts-Literature Program" have been typed.

In late May, Campbell got his answer. Representative Barton's office forwarded to him a letter written to Barton by Frohnmayer, dated May 14. The letter runs to nearly two pages, but deserves to be quoted at length. After outlining the situation more or less as I have described it above, Frohnmayer gets down to brass tacks. The pertinent passages are these:

With respect to the five Creative Writing fellowships recommended for funding by the Literature Program's Fellowship panels, let me explain that I asked the Council members at the quarterly meeting in November 1989 to review the manuscripts submitted by these five writers in accordance with the procedures.... I requested Council discussion in light of the recent FY 90 appropriations language prohibiting the funding of work, when taken as a whole, which could be considered obscene and lacking serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. Mr. Campbell's manuscript was one of the five reviewed, but neither Mr. Campbell nor any of the other writers was referred to individually. The discussion was broad in nature and focused more on the problem of implementing the congressional language than on the specifics of the manuscripts themselves. None of the writers was named during the course of the Council's discussion. And, as you may know, these five writers were awarded fellowships.

In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it is the Endowment's long standing policy not to release transcripts of closed portions of discussions by the National Council on the Arts to the public in order to preserve the free flow of information among Council members. Similarly, such panel materials are likewise protected. We withhold this information under exemption (b) (5) of the FOIA, as it is considered to be part of the deliberative process. We do, however, provide upon request, summaries of such information. With respect to your request, the Justice Department's guidance under FOIA provides that your request should be treated as a request from the general public because you do not serve on a committee or subcommittee which oversees the Endowment. However, in an effort to be as responsive as possible to your inquiry and to assure you that Mr. Campbell was not individually singled out during any part of the review by the Council, I have enclosed a report on the portion of the meeting of the National Council on the Arts which includes the discussion of the five manuscripts. Please understand that this report must be kept in confidence.

So now Campbell knew that he was indeed one of The NEA Five. However, that was about all he knew. Frohnmayer does make clear that "neither Mr. Campbell, nor any of the other, writers was referred to individually"; he also makes it sound, in the first paragraph quoted, that even the manuscripts were hardly talked about-though the second paragraph does refer to "the discussion of the five manuscripts."
Presumably Barton did indeed receive the "report" to which Frohnmayer refers; but, in keeping with Frohnrnayer's request, Barton did not send a copy to Campbell. What was said by whom, and why-why Campbell's application was flagged in the first place: all that was still information not available to the public, and not available to Ewine" Camvbell. And that is where. as I write in mid-June, matters still stand.

Enter New England Review. On receiving Frohnmayer's letter via Barton, Campbell got in touch with me. NER, it turns out, is implicated in this matter, and I am personally implicated as well. In the spring of 1988, when I was serving NER as guest editor-taking the place of then senior editor Sydney Lea, who was on leave-I accepted a story of Campbell's, "Sister Love," which appeared in the Autumn 1988 issue. The relevance to the matter at hand is simple: Campbell's application for a National Endowment Fellowship in creative writing/fiction included two sample short stories, presented under the joint title "Sermons"; "Sister Love" was one of them. Implicit in Goodwin's decision to "flag" Campbell's fellowship application, then, is the suggestion that NER has published, at least in this one instance, writing which Goodwin thought some monitor of the NEA might consider "obscene," and therefore, by present definition, lacking "literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." These are serious imputations, even though the fellowship was nevertheless forthcoming: serious for Campbell, in obvious ways; serious for New England Review in ways that are a little less obvious, but nonetheless very real.

"Imagine the chilling effect," Campbell writes in a Houston Chronicle editorial, "of having a U.S. Senator take a personal, hostile interest in you." He continues,

Most of us cannot imagine ourselves as important enough to warrant secret scrutiny at the highest levels of government. Each of us hopes our elected and appointed officials are dealing honestly and competently with important issues, not trivializing art or the business of democracy.
That certainly was how I felt when I read that out of the 97 writers recommended to NEA creative-writing fellowships, five had their applications held up and subjected to a special review. I understood the implications of such a special review and intellectually deplored the action. But I did not feel it firsthand in an emotional reality. You see, it was still an abstract principle to me.
That is, until I received a letter in late May written by the endowment's chairman... documenting that "Mr. Campbell's manuscript ... was one of the five reviewed" ....Suddenly the abstract principle became concrete and particular.

And it became concrete and particular for New England Review as well.

Editors of the literary quarterlies are always forcibly aware of contingency. We live (and more often die) at the place where art and the marketplace part company. One way or another, virtually all literary quarterlies are subsidized. Though all editors are critics insofar as we read and make decisions about what we read, and though all editors are perforce theorists of one kind or another insofar as we are critics, we are also pragmatists, creatures of praxis, part of the ebb and flow of public moods. It is not that literary quarterlies require government funding to survive-some do and some do not; it is rather that a repressive or censorious atmosphere in government affects everyone in the culture. Quarterlies do not rely on commodity exchange for bread and butter, paper and ink-but the very existence of quarterlies depends on the good will and tolerance of subscribers, donors, and subsidizers, whether they be individuals or institutions, grant-giving foundations or government agencies. Furthermore, editors are not exempt from the effects of repressiveness; consciously or unconsciously, the ire of Jesse Helms may make us uneasy about publishing transgressive works, even if we are convinced that they possess high artistic merit. There is nothing easier than for an editor to slip a story or poem back in its return envelope with a rejection slip; how much more likely am I or any editor to do so if I feel the pressure of congresspeople or trustees at my back?

We all want to believe in our own courage; but the performance of Goodwin and Frohnmayer- men, I am convinced, of good will, who mean to do well by artists and the arts-in the matter of The NEA Five is a discouraging example. Isn't it most likely that these five applications were flagged because the administrators wanted to pass the buck to the National Council- which, to i& everlasting credit, awarded the fellowships anyway? And editors are as prone to this kind of waffling as anyone. We are even more prone, perhaps, because we have the illusion that what we reject is more or less a private matter. Readers read what we publish; only rejected writers know what we reject and even they don't know the reasons.

"(A) profound chilling effect," reads a document entitled "Artistic Freedom: Our American Heritage," issued in May by a group of artists and arts organizations gathered in Washington at the behest of Montana Congressman Pat Williams, one of Washington's staunchest supporters of public arts funding, "now afflicts the arts and the exchange between artists, arts organizations, audiences and their congressional representatives." One might as well add editors and publishers to this list. The trickle-down from the big congressional chill dampens all of us. This dampening, regardless of what anyone says to the contrary, is censorship of the imagination; it is intimidation; it is violence done by one "picture of the universe" to another. The forces of censoriousness are led by those who cannot bear to have their image of the world transgressed or even questioned by anyone, those who are not wise enough and tolerant enough to live up to the fundamental American injunction to insure freedom of ideas: even ideas you yourself may hate.

This injunction is not a law of nature, by any means. It is itself an invention, a part of the social contract that is the U.S.A. as a body politic. It can be changed, certainly-and there are those who would change it, often in the name of ultra-conservatism, in order to protect us against what they quite sincerely believe are "unAmerican" ideas, unwilling to admit that, under the terms of the injunction, no idea as an idea is or can ever be "unAmerican"-by definition. The changes they would make, paradoxically, are not evolutionary and would not be undertaken to improve cultural conditions for us all; their changes would be retrograde, undertaken to initiate the end of democratic evolution, in the name of a monolithic and finally static picture of the universe: change in the name of the death of change. This, I think, is the fundamental borderline over which the current war is being fought.

In The Poet and the World, the poet Robert Pinsky has written that artists have two responsibilities: to continue their art as tradition, and to transgress it.

... the idea of social responsibility (he writes) seems to raise a powerful contradiction, in the light of another intuited principle, freedom. The poet needs to feel utterly free, yet answerable .... "All poetry is political." The act of judgment prior to the vision of any poem is a social judgment. It always embodies, I believe, a resistance or transformation of communal values .... The poet's first social responsibility, to continue the art, can be filled only through the second, opposed responsibility to change the terms of the art as given-and it is given socially, which is to say politically. What that will mean in the next poem anyone writes is by definition unknowable, with all the possibility of art.

Good art is always transgressive. That is not because artists are irresponsible children (some artists may be, but good ones never are) as some would have us believe, but because the world is terribly imperfect, as are human institutions; the world, and institutions, must be challenged in order to evolve. Art transgresses institutions in the name of beauty and joy, too, because our institutions are so often ugly and dreary. But art is also communal; it upholds certain values even as it challenges them. It transgresses them in order to reveal their weaknesses, yes, but also to demonstrate their strength. To deny art the right to do the one is to deny it the power to do the other; though art can survive well enough without the NEA, the gutting of that organization would be a gesture of violent social denial of the mission of art. Artists can survive this disenfranchisement; but to deny taxpayers the opportunity to fund the arts is to disenfranchise them from participation in a process which is a fundamental part of their, and their society's, process of life and growth.

Why was Ewing Campbell's fiction flagged at the NEA?

At the risk of sounding self-serving, I want to emphasize what a splendid story Campbell's "Sister Love" is. I can do this with a fairly clear conscience, since I'm not the only one who thinks so. The story was enthusiastically received and unanimously accepted by the entire staff at New England Review (then NER/BLQ); furthermore, it was subsequently noticed by Charis W. Conn, Associate Editor of Harper's, who wrote to Campbell on February 8, 1989, "I was very impressed with your story, 'Sister Love,' in a recent issue of NER/BLQ. I wonder if you would consider submitting some of your work to me at Harper's? I would be pleased to see it." Later in 1989, "Sister Love" was reprinted in New Growth: Contemporary Short Stories by Texas Writers (San Antonio: Corona). In his introduction to that volume, editor Lyman Grant says that "Ewing Campbell recreated the voice of 'Sister Love,' coming to us over border radio, in a pitch-perfect rendition of a contemporary oral tradition."

Reviews of New Growth have been enthusiastic about "Sister Love" as well. Bryce Milligan of the Sun Antonio Light calls it the "literary gem" of the collection, "a tour de force tour of the Joycean confessions of a border radio preacher (read 'priestess'), during which Sister Love recounts her conversion. We think." Dave Oliphant writes in The Texas Observer, "Campbell carries the reader along on an apocalyptic ride from the Midwest through Arkansas and on to Alpine, where 'the gutters ran dark and iridescent with crickets as the bus pulled in' .... The story is sheer fun, both as touching satire and as prose fiction that uses language in an exciting and surprising fashion."

Beautifully crafted, "Sister Love" is deeply aware of the literary traditions which it evokes and with which it wittily and tellingly plays. The story is spun out of the passage in Ulysses which occurs at the very end of the "Oxen of the Sun" chapter (a passage in which Joyce himself is being resolutely Shakespearean at the same time he is pretending to be American):

Then outspake medical Dick to his comrade medical Davy. Christicle, who's this excrement yellow gospeller on the Merrion hall? Elijah is coming! Washed in the blood of the Lamb. Come on you winefizzling, ginsinling, booseguzzling existences! Come on, you dog-gone, bullnecked, beetlebrowed, hogjowled, peanutbrained, weaseleyed fourtlushers, false alarms and excess baggage! Come on, you triple extract of infamy! Alexander- J. Christ Dowie, that's my name, that's yanked to glory most half this planet from Frisco beach to Vladivostok. The Diety ain't no nickel dime bumshow. I put it to you... He's the grandest thing yet and don't you forget it. Shout salvation in King Jesus.You'll need to rise precious early, you sinner there, if you want to diddle the Almighty God. Pflaaap! Not half. He's got a coughmixture with a punch in it for you, my friend, in his back pocket. Just you try it on.

Sister Love is Campbell's turn on Joyce's American evangelical cough syrup flimflam man; she is a female preacher broadcasting over supercharged radio airwaves from south of the Tex-Mex border:

Come on, you lumberjacks of the Northwest, you beer-guzzling, bar-brawling sons of the mackinaw, come on, you vets of the Salmon Wars. It's here you get the veterans' preference. No age discrimination if you enlist in love's struggle. Come on, you isolated and afflicted Canucks, living in a cold country. You too, you backsliders of the Bible Belt. You former football players, gamblers, junkies. Come on to Sister Love, here at Station XERF, Cuidad Acuna, Coahuila, Mexico, across the last frontier of the Rio Grande. I'm talking about power, and I'm talking about you.... This ain't no lullaby song for the fainthearted; it's about someone sinking as low as a human possibly can.

The story goes on to detail-in precise satire of a typical Protestant confessional style-that "sinking," and it must be admitted that it revels in the scurrilousness of the details. Campbell tells me that he began writing the story working in the spirit of a jazz musician, picking up a theme from a great exemplar and then riffing on it, modulating it, using it as a basis for invention and discovery. If that's an apt metaphor, then it seems to me that Campbell gets a great deal of mileage out of playing Joyce in the key of Voltaire. Sister Love, like Candide, sets out as an innocent, but is immediately, and quite literally, disabused by a cynical, dangerous, and scatological world:

It's about family and no family, about love gone mad and lust and incest because as soon as my father, ladies and gentlemen-yes, my natural father-quit looking at Cissy and saw I was changing, my figure beginning to develop, he couldn't keep his eyes off me-or his hands...
Where was a mother's love then, brothers and sisters? Instead of accusations and recriminations, where was that love? Berated, blamed, beaten, and driven from home, I was thrown into the hands of a druggist-turned-abortionist who said he could put things right. That was my birthright, damned with a face and a body men wanted. Some of you listening out there know what I'm talking about. Some of you would give all you have for such a bargain. Because you want passion; you want euphoria; you want to be loved. Come on. You know it's true; you want to be loved, and that's the deception.

Incest, child abuse, abortion, drugs, sexual passion, scatology, venereal disease, abuse of authority, the linking of sexuality with religion-certainly this story is about all these things. But is it "obscene"?

I beg you, in the first place, to examine the language. Profanity and the sexually graphic are often considered symptoms of "obscenity." The passages here cited are representative; "Sister Love" contains absolutely nothing that could be described as profanity, nothing that could be labeled as sexually explicit-sexual acts are declared and alluded to, but are hardly described. You could, if you wanted to, read this story at a meeting of the Missionary Society. No doubt the missionaries would be set back on their heels by it-but not on account of obscenity. What would disturb the missionaries would rather be the religious and political transgressiveness of the story. Inspired by the downfall of the likes of Jimmy Swaggert and Jim Bakker, and by the public display of cynically amnesiac falsifying that characterized the Irangate hearings, "Sister Love" is, as Oliphant says, "touching satire." The object of the satire is the peculiarly American Bible Belt fundamentalist version of Christianity, which Campbell depicts as a materialistic, power-mongering nihilism taking relentless advantage of an innocent-an innocent who, once she has ceased to be innocent, is intelligent enough to get back her own.

The fall 1990 issue of the New England Review presents "Sen-Sen," the second story submitted to the NEA as part of Campbell's fellowship application. While it is stylistically very different from "Sister Love"-a more conventional first person narrative its thematic concerns are the same: a boy whose mother has undergone a conversion experience and become deeply moralistic and repressive meets another boy more or less his own age who is a child evangelist- only to discover that the evangelist-boy is much farther gone in "the ways of the world" than he is, and even more under the thumb of a grasping mother and a collection-skimming Texas preacher who has clearly pederastic designs on him. Like "Sister Love," "Sen- Sen" is, as far as I can see, in no way obscene by any stretch of the imagination. Even if either of these stories contained so called "explicitly sexual material- which they do not- and even if they employed profanity- which they do not- the artfulness of this writing, its obvious intelligence, its splendid craftsmanship, reveal that Campbell's fiction, taken as a whole or even in any of its parts, has patently obvious artistic merit.

What, then, is going on? How could such good writing-including fiction admired by a reputable literary magazine, various editors, anthologists, and reviewers, and the group of Campbell's literary peers who constituted the NEA's literature panel-be flagged in the ultimate stages of consideration at the NEA?

Part of the problem here is that we cannot know the answers to these questions. The NEA isn't saying, the National Council isn't saying. Campbell can't discover the particular reasons for his work's being flagged, and neither can any of the rest of us. (I hesitate even to point out the painfully obvious Kafkaesque irony in this situation: that in a country where every credit card company has access to personal information about us all, a writer has to go through such a ceremony of absurdity, communicating with an arts agency through a congressional middle man, only to be refused information about what has been done with his work in that government agency.)

Certain conclusions, however, can be inferred.

Let me cite again the appropriation bill which forbids funding of projects that "may be considered obscene, including but not limited to, depictions of sadomasochism, homoeroticism, the sexual exploitation of children, or individuals engaged in sex acts and which, when taken as a whole, do not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." And let me refer again to Campbell's own intuition that "when I looked at the topics cited in the congressional language, I realized I could have been suspect on every count." By this he means, I take it, that his stories do refer to sadomasochism, homoeroticism, the sexual exploitation of children, and to individuals engaged in sex acts. Naturally, the problem comes when various people begin to try to determine whether the work nevertheless has "serious literary value." And Campbell's instinct was to suspect that those who are the objects of his satire would be willfully obtuse when push came to shove.

A letter from Jesse Helms to Michael Chitwood, President of the North Carolina Writers Network (dated May 16, 1990) contains a revealing shift of emphasis in the issues involved:

I would emphasize that my amendment "censors" nobody. It does not deprive any "artist" of his or her right of free expression. The amendment simply states that obscene or blasphemous art shall not be financed with federal funds (italics mine). I submit that no artist, or anybody else, has an unqualified "right" to be subsidized by the taxpayers.

The legislation with which the NEA is having to contend does not say a word about religion, although the original bill did contain sanctions against "blasphemy." Committees softened the original proposal- and with good cause. Obscenity has forever been a vexed issue in the Conmess and in the courts: issues having to do with religious freedom and with separation of church and state are far less controversial, far more clear-cut. The legislation as passed was denatured to the point that Helms himself voted against it.

Once again, I am required to state the obvious: obscenity and blasphemy are not the same thing. Campbell's stories, I think, could hardly be ruled obscene by any sane human being; they could, however, be convicted of blasphemy in the star chamber of the god-king (one wonders if they might have escaped special notice if they had not been jointly titled "Sermons"-perhaps instead he might have called them "Obscenities").

Publicity makes clear what the wording of the current legislation conceals: that the obscenity issue is being used as a mask for an essentially religiously-based movement to limit what are now defined as basic American freedoms. What has happened in Ewing Campbell's case-in spite of the immediate outcome of the NEA's fellowship process-is a resonant gesture: logically incoherent, but politically clear. If work this good can fall under a shadow of suspicion-especially a shadow cast, at close range, by people of essentially good will, such as Goodwin and Frohnmayer-then any good writer's work might soon be in trouble.

Or any artist's work might be in trouble as well. This summer Frohnmayer killed grants to four solo theater performers despite the recommendations of the NEA panel to fund the performers. The process was again shrouded in secrecy. The NEA's press release about the grants said "Long-standing Endowment policy precludes the agency from commenting publicly regarding any application rejected in any category." According to news reports, however, Frohnmayer told arts groups in Seattle that "political realities" made it likely that he would kill the grants. In addition to the NEA Literary Five, we now have the NEA Performing Four. Helms continues to rev ail.

Helms, it would appear, is a spokesman for those for whom Americanness is inseparable from Protestant Christianity. He and they are entitled to that opinion. Helms is not, however, entitled to mask one congressional agenda with another, and illegitimate, one. What he fears is that his "picture of the universe" is being contradicted by Campbell's fiction-or by any transgressive art. And so indeed it is. But if he is-as he himself, I am certain, would tell you-a good and patriotic American citizen, then he has a responsibility to uphold Campbell's right to contradict him-and vice versa. True, no artist has an "unqualified 'right' to be subsidized by the taxpayers"-provided the conditions are conditions of fairness and freedom, not conditions of censoriousness and repression. But no U.S. congressman has an unqualified right to legislate the moral universe-even if his constituency insist that he do so. No senator has the right to disenfranchise his own constituency from participation in a vital cultural process by the exercise of incoherence and obfuscation. The argument must go on-and it must be loud and precise; it must be clear.

Salman Rushdie's situation should teach us how fortunate we are to live in a society in which presidents, high priests, and literary critics have separate offices and different job descriptions. What is needed is a means of making certain that the separation of these powers is upheld without producing a commensurate fragmentation of community in which politicians, tolerant adherents of various religions, artists, and the general public are hermetically partitioned. The basic form of the government of the U.S., with its separation of powers under the aegis of a single system and its counterpoise of checks and balances, is an attempt at arriving at such an ideal. If we can replicate that structure in the microcosm of the arts community, then we'll all be the better for it. In the best of all possible worlds, the rattlesnake can lie down with the angel. But if we give critics the power to cut off artists' hands by metaphysical fiat... well, you be the judge.

And likewise, readers of New England Review can judge for themselves the quality of Ewing Campbell's work. Secrecy is the enemy of clarity; the public needs to know precisely what is going on. New England Review makes public in its entirety the substance of the flagged application of one of The NEA Five.

The public needs to see the works, first hand. We need to make our own judgments; we must protect our right to do so, and the right of others to do so. We should make an effort to read Campbell's work or to see the performances of Karen Finley and the other performers criticized by Helms and Frohnmayer. If we don't like their works, fine-we are free to say so and to say so loudly, in an arena that is public and free rather than governmental and secretive. Sadly, some of us are passing judgment on these works, although we haven't seen the works; instead, we base our judgments on official descriptions of these works. We need the energy, intelligence, and will not to rely on Congress to describe and judge these works for us; otherwise, it will become business as usual, and law, that Congress must make our choices for us.


T. R. Hummer is former editor of The Kenyon review and the current editor of New England Review. His fourth book of poems is The 18,000-Ton Olympic Dream (William Morrow).

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