"Can’t and Won’t": a short story by Lydia Davis

A new (very) short work.

I was recently denied a writing prize because, they said, I was lazy
What they meant by lazy was that I used too many contractions: 
for instance, I would not write out in full the words cannot and will not,
but instead contracted them to can’t and won’t.
 
The American writer Lydia Davis was recently awarded the Man Booker International Prize. She is the author of one novel and seven short story collections.

This article first appeared in the 03 June 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Power Christians

Show Hide image

Why the wizarding world is a dystopian, totalitarian nightmare

All the reasons why you don’t want to go to Hogwarts.

Like most nineties kids, I was quietly devastated not to receive an owl on my eleventh birthday. Not getting an acceptance letter from Hogwarts was one of the great tragedies of my young life. Two decades later, no matter how many BuzzFeed quizzes I take revealing I’m a Gryffindor in the streets and a Slytherin in the sheets, I can’t honestly say that I’ve 100% come to terms with being a muggle.

However, I’ve started to console myself that this is largely A Good Thing, because, while I’ll never get to marry Oliver Wood or own a Hippogriff, the wizarding world is actually a complete dystopian nightmare. It’s a totalitarian surveillance state straight out of Orwell, with Pygmy Puffs.

No one cares about the freedom of the press

The wizarding world’s only newspaper, The Daily Prophet, basically functions as the Ministry of Magic’s Pravda. It turns a blind eye to rogue reporters transforming themselves into beetles, literally to bug the conversations of unsuspecting children. And its staff writers openly brag about flouting even basic standards of journalistic ethics.

“On one subject, however, Bathilda is well worth the effort I put into procuring Veritaserum,” writes Rita Skeeter, in her biography of Albus Dumbledore. Can we just contemplate for a moment that it is apparently acceptable to drug an elderly woman suffering from dementia with truth serum, in order to interview her without her consent? It’s like the News of the World cheerfully admitted to phone hacking, and no one minded. Isn’t anyone going to call for a wingardium Levioson inquiry?

The justice system is frankly appalling

Boy wizards may be allowed to bring an owl, OR a cat, OR a toad with them to Hogwarts, but they must leave their right to a fair trial firmly at home. When Harry produces a Patronus in order to defend himself from Dementors, he is threatened with expulsion by the Ministry of Magic. No one reads him his Miranda rights, and he is only granted a stay of execution because Dumbledore waves his wand at the Improper Use of Magic Office and shouts “Habeas Corpus!”

Harry is then summoned to a Ministry hearing worthy of the French Revolutionary Tribunal. What kind of society allows a Kafkaesque show trial where the defendant isn’t informed of his right to legal representation, the prosecution and the judge are the same person, and the jurors are all employed by the judge? They don’t even let Harry know when and where the trial is being held, in the hope of convicting him in absentia – and he is only exonerated because of the surprise appearance of his mysteriously omniscient headmaster. This is not ok, people.

The justice system is frankly appalling, part II

In what world is it acceptable to staff a prison with sadistic guards who torture inmates to the point of insanity, and suck the souls out of anyone who tries to escape? The Wizarding World, apparently. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect more from a society that segregates children into ‘brave’, ‘clever’, ‘evil’, and ‘miscellaneous’ personality types, but is no one interested in rehabilitating criminals? Who in their right mind deliberately brutalises inmates into a state of depressive psychosis before releasing them back into society?

And for the few juvenile defendants who manage to avoid the absolute hellhole that is wizarding prison, their punishment is to be deprived of the right to an education. When poor thirteen-year-old Hagrid is wrongly accused of opening the Chamber of Secrets, he is expelled from Hogwarts and has his wand snapped in half. Statutes of limitations, and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, aren’t things that appear to exercise wizarding bureaucracy much: when the Chamber of Secrets is opened again, fifty years later, Hagrid is imprisoned in Azkaban without trial due to a vague sense that he might be responsible.

Hagrid is then conclusively proved to be innocent on both counts, after Harry reveals that Voldemort is to blame – yet he is released without apology, a new wand, or the offer of night school to compensate for the four years of magical education that he was wrongfully denied. What is this, the DPRK?

Everyone is apparently fine with slavery

No one apart from Hermione seems to mind that an entire humanlike species has been enslaved into domestic service. “They. Like. It. They like being enslaved,” shouts an exasperated Ron of the Hogwarts house elves, after Hermione has the naivety to question whether institutionalised slavery is a bit problematic. Yes, Ron, and I’m sure they also enjoy being ordered to physically punish themselves.

Forced labour is clearly more endemic to the wizarding economy than we might have imagined. Professor Slughorn quaffs elf-made wine, hinting at the extent of indentured servitude in wizarding vineyards. We know that food can’t be magicked out of thin air; because it is of course one of the five exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration. (Ten points to Gryffindor for me.) But we hear of no witch or wizard farmers. Are we to assume that the entire wizarding agricultural sector is based on serfdom?

Hogwarts is actually terrible

Ron spends an entire year of his magical education without a single teacher realising his wand is broken. Professor Binns couldn’t care less about student engagement. Snape bullies three quarters of his students, and no one intervenes. No one has a problem with the fact that the caretaker openly relishes the prospect of physically abusing children. In short: Hogwarts is terrible.

0800 7318496