Dirt for Art's Sake
Books on Trial from "Madame Bovary" to "Lolita"
Publication Year: 2007
Ladenson's narrative starts with Madame Bovary (Flaubert was tried in France in 1857) and finishes with Fanny Hill (written in the eighteenth century, put on trial in the United States in 1966); she considers, along the way, Les Fleurs du Mal, Ulysses, The Well of Loneliness, Lady Chatterley's Lover, Tropic of Cancer, Lolita, and the works of the Marquis de Sade. Over the course of roughly a century, Ladenson finds, two ideas that had been circulating in the form of avant-garde heresy gradually became accepted as truisms, and eventually as grounds for legal defense. The first is captured in the formula "art for art's sake"-the notion that a work of art exists in a realm independent of conventional morality. The second is realism, vilified by its critics as "dirt for dirt's sake." In Ladenson's view, the truth of the matter is closer to -dirt for art's sake-"the idea that the work of art may legitimately include the representation of all aspects of life, including the unpleasant and the sordid.
Ladenson also considers cinematic adaptations of these novels, among them Vincente Minnelli's Madame Bovary, Stanley Kubrick's Lolita and the 1997 remake directed by Adrian Lyne, and various attempts to translate de Sade's works and life into film, which faced similar censorship travails. Written with a keen awareness of ongoing debates about free speech, Dirt for Art's Sake traces the legal and social acceptance of controversial works with critical acumen and delightful wit.
Published by: Cornell University Press
Dirt for Art’s Sake
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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Preface: Red Hot Chili Peppers
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In the spring of 2001, as I was beginning work on this book, a strangething happened. I was at Berkeley, on leave from the University of Vir-ginia on a visiting appointment, and I had seemingly endless problemsgetting my e-mail account to function properly. When I ﬁnally resolvedthe difficulty, I wrote a message to a friend and colleague describing myelectronic travails. In my frustration I used a number of what used to becalled “Anglo-Saxon” four-letter terms in my description, and when I hit...
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Embarking on a project of this scope I needed help, and I ampleased to report that a number of intelligent and qualiﬁed peoplehave been generous enough to read and comment on parts of thisbook and thereby reduce my chances of making a fool of myself in public.Sherry Sable, Suzanne Nash, Inès Weikel, Laure Murat, Mary McKinley,Julian Barnes, Priscilla Ferguson, Lenard Berlanstein, Sophia Rosenfeld,Joseph Valente, John Lyons, Julian Connolly, Isabelle Chagnon, Joanna...
Prologue: History Repeats Itself
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Art can be morally good, lifting men to higher levels. This has been donethrough good music, great painting, authentic ﬁction, poetry, drama.Art can be morally evil in its effects. This is the case clearly enough withunclean art, indecent books, suggestive drama. The effects on the lives of1857 was a landmark year in the history of literary obscenity. In England...
Chapter One: Gustave Flaubert: Emma Bovary Goes to Hollywood
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...allusions that shocked the prudish philistine government of NapoleonIII. Indeed, the novel was actually tried in a court of justice for obscenity.Just imagine that. As if the work of an artist could ever be obscene. I amglad to say that Flaubert won his case. That was exactly a hundred yearsFew books are as closely associated with their legal histories as isMadame Bovary. Most editions of Ulysses include in a preface JudgeJohn M. Woolsey’s 1933 decision allowing Joyce’s novel into the...
Chapter Two: Charles Baudelaire: Florist of Evil
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All those bourgeois imbeciles who are constantly saying “immoral,immorality, morality in art” and other nonsense make me think of LouiseVilledieu, a two-bit whore who once came with me to the Louvre, whereshe’d never been, started blushing, covering her face, and pulling me bythe sleeve, asked me, in front of the immortal statues and paintings, how...
Chapter Three: James Joyce: Leopold Bloom’s Trip to the Outhouse
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He compared the barmaids with Homer’s Sirens, pointing out that thebarmaids, with careful hair-do, make-up, and smart blouses, looked wellonly to the waist, and that below the waist they wore old stained skirts,broken and comfortable shoes, and mended stockings. Again, when Ionce admired the phrase ‘Thalatta! Thalatta! She is our great sweet...
Chapter Four: Radclyffe Hall: The Well of Prussic Acid
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As for being poisoned by a book, there is no such thing as that. Art hasno inﬂuence upon action. It annihilates the desire to act. It is superblysterile. The books that the world calls immoral are books that show theAt ﬁrst glance it might seem difficult to imagine a work less likeUlysses than The Well of Loneliness. Where Joyce’s epic offers a spec-tacular series of variations on the theme of nothing at all—and bythe same token everything—elaborated on the unpromising basis of an...
Chapter Five: D. H. Lawrence: Sexual Intercourse Begins
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Man is a changeable beast, and words change their meanings with him,and things are not what they seemed, and what’s what becomes whatisn’t, and if we think we know where we are it’s only because we are soLady Chatterley’s Loveroccasioned without a doubt the most notoriousliterary obscenity battle of the twentieth century. In 1960, morethan thirty years after Lawrence’s novel was originally published inItaly after being rejected out of hand by publishers in England and Amer-...
Chapter Six: Henry Miller: A Gob of Spit in the Face of Art
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This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation ofcharacter. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, thisis a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pantsto God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty ...what you will. I am goingto sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you...
Chapter Seven: Vladimir Nabokov: Lolitigation
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The question about everything was, would it bring a blush into the cheekof the young person? And the inconvenience of the young person wasthat, according to Mr Podsnap, she seemed always liable to burst intoblushes when there was no need at all. There appeared to be no line of demarcation between the young person’s excessive innocence, and...
Epilogue: The Return of the Repressed
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The greatest men, those of the ﬁrst and most leading taste, will not scruple adorning their private closets with nudities, though, incompliance with vulgar prejudices they may not think them decentI am in the habit of reading at breakfast, but I found that Les 120 Journéesn 1957, the year of the Roth decision and therefore the turning point...
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Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2007