Ariel Dorfman:

And yet the interaction between censors and those they suppress can be complex, as illustrated by an encounter I had with one of these guardians in the late 1970s while I was in exile in Holland. A compilation of my short stories was under contract with Aufbau, a prestigious East German publishing house, so my wife and I crossed into foreboding East Berlin to discuss the final contents with my editor. Over lunch, he explained that only one of the stories would not appear in the collection. Before he named it, I knew it had to be “Reader.” Its protagonist, Don Alfonso, an eagle-eyed censor serving a Latin American dictatorship, receives the manuscript of a treasonous novel whose main character seems based on his own life, revealing his most secret desires. Ultimately, rather than suppressing that story — akin to suffocating his own image in a mirror — he allows it to circulate, putting himself and his son in danger.

Though I may have been naive to think that such a tale could be published under a regime that was restraining speech in the name of the victorious proletariat, I nevertheless trusted that my editor would find a way to include it. He did not lack courage, having fought for the Spanish Republic and then against Hitler, and I knew that he respected literature that was not typical social-realist fare. But when I asked him what was wrong with the story, he cited aesthetic arguments: it was stylistically awkward, not well constructed. Why embarrass him by pointing out that the real reason behind his decision was political, that my fiction, inspired by events in my native Chile, could be construed as criticism of the government to which he had pledged allegiance? He had Schere im Kopf (scissors in the head) — a phrase that Berkowitz quotes about censors in East Germany.

I did not, however, valiantly withdraw my truncated collection from Aufbau. Choosing compromise over confrontation, I opted not to forfeit the rest of the stories by defending one of them. That sort of calculation also forms part of the history of censorship. There are innumerable authors who have accommodated themselves to the strictures of the state or worked their way around them. One cannot fully grasp how the struggle for free expression has developed without taking into account such maneuvers.