November 8th, 2004

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"They passed a law."

I'm back from the truly remarkable "Mars as a New Utopia" colloquium with LibertyFund. My colleagues in the discussion came from fields as diverse as urban economics, bioethics, and classical literature. Even the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology was represented. It was a special treat to meet and talk with scholar/author Frederick Turner, who one evening after dinner read to us from his science fiction epic poem Genesis.

Now I'm here in town long enough to repack, and then I'm off to give a talk at Duke University. After that my travel schedule should be less insane through the end of the year.

My quote for the day is from "Usher II" by Ray Bradbury, one of my favorite sections of The Martian Chronicles. In the story a man flees from censorship to Mars, only to have the censors follow him. In the end he builds a monument to banned fiction, a new House of Usher in the spirit of Poe, which falls, taking the Inspectors of Moral Climates along with it into the dust.

And the quote:

"Does the name Usher mean nothing to you?"


"Well, what about this name: Edgar Allan Poe?"

Mr. Bigelow shook his head.

"Of course." Stendahl snorted delicately, a combination of dismay and contempt. "How could I expect you to know blessed Mr. Poe? He died a long while ago, before Lincoln. All of his books were burned in the Great Fire. That's thirty years ago -- 1975."

"Ah," said Mr. Bigelow wisely. "One of those!"

"Yes, one of those, Bigelow. He and Lovecraft and Hawthorne and Ambrose Bierce and all the tales of terror and fantasy and horror and, for that matter, tales of the future were burned. Heartlessly. They passed a law. Oh, it started very small. In 1950 and '60 it was a grain of sand. They began by controlling books of cartoons and then detective books and, of course, films, one way or another, one group or another, political bias, religious prejudice, union pressures; there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves."

from Ray Bradbury, "Usher II," The Martian Chronicles
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