Sensitivity readers or new breed of inquisitors?

Abstract: Authors write about people, not for them. Essential nuance and yet misunderstood by editors assisted by ‘sensitivity readers’. A misunderstanding caused by a misconception of the collective?

Bram Stoker redacted by Dracula

Dracula, hired as Bram Stoker’s sensitive reader, rewrote his vampire classic. How did this author of the Barbarian Ages have the audacity to vilify the ancestral diet of his caste? Are we no longer entitled to nourish ourselves according to our natural inclination? Now the famous bestseller is a romance interspersed with exchanges of blood by the natural needles that are the hollow canines of vampires, from which any horrific aspect has been purged.

Sensitivity Readers are reviewers selected by publishers for their close involvement in the subject covered by a book before publication. Return of censorship more stifling than ever? The Sensitivity Readers controversy shows a generational gap between young and mature. In a “sidewalk” of France-Inter, all the young people interviewed are in favor of sensitive proofreading, the oldest are ironic or spit.

Mom, he made a face at me

Is it a collectivist or individualist policy? To not anger anyone, is it the general interest or the interest of angry people? Young people will tend to answer that it’s a general politeness to spare everyone, old people that there’s no need to worry about a few fags… We thus see two contradictory conceptions of the collective emerging, one where the society cannot ignore the slightest individual inconvenience, the other where society must protect freedom of expression. Which is good?

Unfortunately the first conception is wrong. If the rules blindly protect the individual from any unpleasantness, society radicalizes the conflicts. Indeed it resolves none; it only prevents them from occurring… and also having a chance of resolving. To not anger anyone is to lock everyone in an individual ivory tower and destroy transformation through argument. Society of solipsists locked in their inner worlds, overprotected, unable to cope with the slightest external upheaval.

Educational sensitivity for the king

Is it surprising that young people, first generations of overprotected children, have such a conception of the collective? It is to be hoped that the great planetary conflicts, still at the doorstep of the West, do not come to devastate their kindergartens. The second conception is the correct one. The role of society is not to please everyone, to resolve small conflicts on behalf of those concerned, to be a a caring mom. It’s an educator. It does not take the finger off your nose, but teaches you the lack of elegance that attaches to it in public.

Education to live in society is neither to silence one’s identity nor to sanctify it, but to bring it towards others and receive theirs in return. Descend in this way from one’s pedestal as a child-king. Yes to write books that support wokism. Not to rewrite books that make fun of it. This nuance is essential and yet misunderstood by publishers who hire Sensitivity Readers.

A book cover is not a prison door

Authors write about people, not for them. This is a story, not an injunction. A book is a layer of clouds hovering over a world, within which the author’s spirit stands like its invisible divinity. The divinity always has a distance with its creatures, even while identifying herself with them. It is above, integrated into the whole, leaned against the cosmos. Below the puppets are endowed with sensitivity, however the author writes to exhibit it, exacerbate it, certainly not spare it.

As soon as an author transforms her opinion into a story, she loses ownership of it. It becomes a sharing, a meme in which everyone can find themselves. The story joins the great ocean of human adventures, where all the currents are expressed. The Sensitivity Readers build dykes and prisons. With the insensitivity of the reductionnist. And far from the authentic collective sensibility of an editor.

Let’s hope that the redacted old books have the failure they deserve, and that the excesses of the new ones always propel them to the top of sales, alongside new sweet romance collections calibrated for the sensibilities of the moment… Ouch, if I received the advice of erasing this last sentence, would it be to “open up to new experiences”, as Pauline Le Gall whispers in Les Inrocks, or an authentic thought police?


Why France hates “sensitivity readers”, Les Inrocks 2020 (in french)

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