Reason and Action banned for obscenity
Provo City Library in Provo, Utah, pulled Larry Hall’s Reason and Action from its shelves this week after complaints by library patrons prompted an official review. Upon review, the library board found the book to be in violation of PCL’s obscenity policy. The move comes as a surprise to Hall, who describes the book, a study in the philosophy of action, as “rather dry, really.”
While library officials won’t disclose the number of complaints or their specific contents, one of the complaints was filed by Heather Lord, who chose to come forward to comment on the incident. “Every page was ‘F this’ and ‘F that,’” says Lord, who found the book in her teenage son’s backpack. “And not just people, either. It talked about animals F-ing, robots F-ing—it was some pretty shocking stuff.”
Head librarian Geoff Vigot says that the book was evaluated in light of the library’s long-standing obscenity policy. “The decision wasn’t even close,” he explains. “In one particularly lurid passage, Hall writes, and I quote, ‘While I may not have a reason to F unless F-ing would satisfy some desire of mine, it is not chiefly from my desire to F that I am able to derive the expectation of imminent F-ing.’ It’s certainly not the type of thing that young children should be exposed to.”
The book did have one defender on the review panel, however. Assistant librarian Suzanne Carol, herself having majored in philosophy as an undergraduate, pressed for a more thorough reading of Reason and Action, hoping that context would vindicate Hall’s work. “Unfortunately, that’s when we got to the chapter on group action,” Carol explains, handing me what is now her personal copy of the book, opened to a highlighted passage.
In order for there to be a group F-ing, it is not sufficient that a number of persons individually engage in acts of F-ing within close proximity to each other, nor even that every pairwise combination of such persons be engaged in acts of mutual F-ing. The individuals must, as a group, be coordinated, flexible and sensitive in order for there to be a successful group F-ing. (207)
“And that,” says Carol, “pretty much sealed the deal.”
While she pointed out that ‘F’ is being used to stand for some unspecified action, Carol’s colleagues were not convinced. “You ask me to believe that Hall uses ‘e’ to abbreviate ‘event,’ ‘t’ for ‘time,’ ‘s’ for ‘subject’ and ‘p’ for ‘proposition,’ but he uses ‘F’ for ‘action’?” asks Vigot. “I don’t think so. That may be the cover story, but I think the author’s intent is pretty clear.”
This is not the first time that Hall’s work has come under public scrutiny. His first book, Holes: Probing Nothingness, drew criticism from advocates of abstinence-only sex education in several states. And, while a significant contribution to the philosophy of perception, the follow-up work, A Sensual Investigation of Minor Entities, failed to convince Hall’s critics of his pure intentions.
While Hall has no plans to challenge PCL’s decision, he does say that the ban has led him to reconsider his next book, forthcoming in 2014. “The working title had been ‘The Personal and the Effable,’ but now I’m having second thoughts.”