books · criticism

Under the Redacted

I have spent the last week trying to ignore the fact that I have had a cold. This is how I deal with them. I just carry on regardless, obstinately pretending that I feel absolutely fine. Like my face isn’t leaking from about half of its orifices. I’m not fooling anyone.  I don’t get ill very often. Less than once a year, I think, but it always seems like such an inconvenience when it arrives. The one concession I made to being under the weather this time was a very early bed time, which really cut into my day, as I already have a fairly early bed time to begin with.

‘Under the weather’ is the phrase I prefer to use. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was more than a cold, definitely, but if you say flu it just sounds melodramatic, as though no one on earth had ever suffered from the flu. Like the flu is some exotic ailment that hasn’t struck civilized society since the middle ages. All we get now is the sniffles, and no one is allowed to stop doing anything if all they have it the sniffles.

I spent a good portion of my free time reading Guantanamo Diary. The heavily redacted manuscript of a Guantanamo prisoner that has taken a decade to finally be made public. There are black bars all over it where someone or other has decided that those particular words need to be kept top secret. It makes into a kind of political Blankety Blank, trying to work out what might be hidden underneath.

It is, of course, not a fun read. But it is a socially responsible read, I think. It would be pretty easy to ignore a book like that in favour of doing fun things, but I think it is important to really see the world we live in. To take these kind of accounts and allow them to inform our views. To think critically about everything. Fun is OK, I guess, but fun won’t change you.

Loads has been written about this book elsewhere, stuff about the writer and his philosophical outlook and unseemly humour. The sheer horror of what goes on between its covers. (The cover quotation mentions both Kafka and Orwell, these seem like reasonable points of reference.) For me, a book like this one should be read with disinterest. A lot of it so emotive but I think we owe it to ourselves to read these sorts of things as judiciously as we can. Which is challenging, of course, because a lot of what the book talks about, liberty and freedom and morality and ethics, can stir up such a lot inside of us.

Read it critically, read it with an open mind, read it questioningly. Read it and see what thoughts it leaves you with, see what sticks in your mind when you are done. Read it if you are feeling under the weather, because there is nothing like context to make you feel better.

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