Not many people are aware of the length of time that the British author of dystopian satire A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess, along with his wife Liana, resided in the village of Lija in Malta (1968-1970), partly to avoid the 90% tax his family would have had to pay in Britain. Some of his literary contributions were not actually available to the Maltese public in those days. The censors on the island, pressured by the church in Malta, saw to it that the Maltese were protected from such "occasions of sin".
The Malta Independent have re-published an interview with Burgess that originally appeared in the Times of Malta in 1970, just before the author left Malta because of the censorship he encountered on the island. It is particularly poignant in view of the recent censorship of Anthony Neilson's Stitching in Malta.
You have ‘harshly criticised’ Malta on several occasions. Seeing that we have been under colonial rule for so long, don’t you partly blame your own countrymen for a great many things which have been left undone, say, in the educational and cultural fields? Don’t you think you are expecting far too much from such a small island?
Last question first. I don’t think size has much to do with cultural achievement. Look at what ancient Athens did, as well as Elizabethan London. Blame colonialism by all means, but remember that the British, unlike Napoleon, scrupulously refused to interfere with Maltese traditions and never tried to diminish the power of the Church. Malta has had its own destiny in its hands for many centuries. But by Malta I mean the ruling oligarchy, not the people. The people have always had a rough deal and they are still having it. Otherwise why so much emigration? They have never been encouraged to think for themselves. Their very language has been relegated to a minor place, while the oligarchs talked about art and politics in Italian or English. Who is to blame that Maltese has had an orthography for only a little over a century?
Surely Malta’s paternalism has been a good thing, no drug addiction here, no sexual perversion, not much violence.
We can eradicate any public evil we wish most efficiently if we employ dictatorial methods. The secret of government, as of private morality, is to balance individual freedom of choice with what is considered to be a necessary apparatus of repression. Lead us not into temptation. But it’s only to God that we pray so, it’s not up to the State to keep away the occasions of sin. There should not be any protection at all: it’s up to us as individuals to engage temptation and try to conquer. That’s what free will is about. Malta would try to do away with the concept of the Church Militant altogether and see this theocratic community as a trailer of the Church Triumphant. No fight against sin, no athletic struggle of the soul. Just the flabbiness of virtue achieved through sheer repression. If you can call such virtue virtue.
The Maltese cannot yet discriminate and judge for themselves and the majority are not prepared to cope with a flood of permissive literature, films and so on. What solution do you suggest for giving more intellectual freedom to a people traditionally not encouraged to think for themselves?
Are the Maltese different from any other people in the world? Are they not human beings? Give them what London or Rome already has, progressive cinema, the right to read books written and published in an honest spirit of enquiry as to the nature of man and society. Is Malta in greater need of protection than Rome? Or are Malta’s faith and morality so shaky that they cannot resist the onslaught of new ideas and images of life? Christ came to bring not peace but a sword, meaning, I should have thought, the dialectic of human living through which the faith should be brightened and sharpened. As for a greater permissiveness in the provision of art and literature people don’t have to go to the library or the cinema if they don’t wish. Nothing is being forced on anyone.
Read the interview in full on The Malta Independent on Sunday