Friday, 25 March 2011

"If nothing’s sacred, then we aren’t sacred either": Howard Jacobson speaks up for scepticism at the Index Freedom of Expression Awards

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Howard Jacobson
Last night, I attended Index on Censorship's annual Freedom of Expression Awards, where a selection of very worthy winners and nominees were honoured for their fearless defence of free speech in the face of some of the world's most oppressive regimes. Not all of the winners, who you can read about in detail on the Index website, were at liberty to attend and accept the honour in person – the Law and Campaigning Award went to Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who has been missing since April 2010, and was accepted by his wife Geng He in an emotional video message, while the Special Commendation award was presented to the 42 prisoners of conscience who remain imprisoned following protests over the result of Belarus's election on 19 December last year.

One of the highlights of the evening was the keynote address by Booker Prize-winner Howard Jacobson, who delivered a rousing (and very entertaining) defence of free speech and scepticism. Stressing the need to criticise and hold nothing sacred, he continued:
"For our part — we who possess that power – we must not exempt ourselves from the universality of our scorn. If nothing’s sacred, then we aren’t sacred either. Nor, by the same logic, is any principle. “Objection, evasion, cheerful mistrust, delight in mockery,” Nietzsche said, “are signs of health.” “Everything unconditional,’ he went on, “belongs to pathology.” So we are trapped in a contradiction of our profession’s making. Mockery — sacred; unconditional attachment to mockery — pathological."
That's merely a sample – read the full speech over at Index.
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