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Obscenity and the Limits of Liberalism

Edited by Loren Glass and Charles Francis Williams

Publication Year: 2011

Over the course of the nineteenth century in both Europe and the United States, the state usurped the traditional authority of the church in regulating sexual expression and behavior. In the same century philosophers of classical liberalism identified that state function as a threat to individual liberty. Since then, liberalism has provided the framework for debates over obscenity around the globe. But liberalism has recently been under siege, on the one side from postmodern thinkers skeptical about its andro- and ethnocentric assumptions, and on the other side from religious thinkers doubtful of the moral integrity of the Enlightenment project writ large.The principal challenge for those who conduct academic work in this realm is to formulate new models of research and analysis appropriate to understanding and evaluating speech in the present-day public sphere. Toward those ends, Obscenity and the Limits of Liberalism contains a selection of essays and interventions by prominent authors and artists in a variety of disciplines and media. These writings, taken as a whole, put recent developments into historical and global contexts and chart possible futures for a debate that promises to persist well into the new millennium.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-viii

...First and foremost, we would like to thank Jay Semel, Director of the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, along with his staff—Jennifer New, Karla Tonella, and Carolyn Frisbie—for all their support and assistance in organizing the Humanities Symposium at which the contributions to this collection originated. “Obscenity: An...

Part One: Introduction

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1. Beyond Liberalism?

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pp. 3-13

...1857. Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal, inaugural works of literary modernism, are put on trial for offenses against public morals, and the British Parliament passes Lord Campbell’s Obscene Publications Act, providing statutory authority for the seizure and destruction of material deemed obscene. Two ...

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2. The Obscene in Everyday Life

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pp. 14-22

...JANUARY 1, 2007. My 22-year-old son rents a video from Kim’s, titled Clerks 2, telling me that Clerks 1 was pretty funny, and we sit down to watch it around 8:00 at night, the night before he returns to school. He explains that it is a sort of documentary, showing the lives of people who clerk in stores like a 7-Eleven or a McDonald’s in New Jersey, a place that to the...

Part Two: The Triumph of Liberalism

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3. Defending the F-Word: Freedom!

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pp. 25-49

...Our legal system has always treated sexual expression with singular hostility, relegating it to second-class status under the First Amendment. This discriminatory treatment reflects a broader cultural pattern, which was well captured by Susan Sontag when she wrote, “Since Christianity . . . concentrated on sexual behavior as the root of virtue, everything ...

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4. “Guessing Oneself into Jail”: Morris Ernst and the Assault on American Obscenity Laws in the 1930s

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pp. 50-68

...Morris Leopold Ernst’s name elicits little recognition today, except from those who know the histories of American literary censorship, the birth control movement in the Margaret Sanger era, the early decades of the ACLU, and, to a lesser extent, the history of liberal anticommunism in the United States. Yet a leading scholar in the field of book history ...

Part Three: The Limits of Liberalism

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5. Sex/Body/Self: A Performance and Rant for the Obscenity Conference

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pp. 71-90

...Well that is not really true. My skin is not a map. My skin is what tends to get me in trouble and then we can map that trouble all over the world. Like when I was performing in Tokyo and I walked naked among the audience of 400: a big foreign fag gaijin naked man. I had never felt more naked as I gamboled without clothes through the aisles in Japan and came near a Dokkyo University student whose gaze crept further and further inside her armpit....

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6. Forging Hetero-Collectives: Obscenity Law in India

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pp. 91-114

...On matters of obscenity in India, the law stages more than the now-familiar tussle between censorship and freedom of expression. Sections 292–294 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) codify obscenity within the law. Introduced by British colonial order in the 1860s, these laws have been revised and expanded since, and have been supplemented with ...

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7. “I’m Offended”

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pp. 115-129

...The question of offense and especially aesthetic offense has haunted my work for a long time; in fact it might be the subtext of everything I’ve written. What I mean is this. It’s been my experience that in writing a book you start out trying to answer one question and end up unable to answer another question, which then of course comes to seem like the ...

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8.Pecunia Olet: Affluence, Effluence, and Obscenity

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pp. 130-145

...One of us (Mikita) comes from England, and we begin this essay with a recollection from her childhood: When I was about eight years old, I went to a sleepover at the home of my playmate, the vicar’s daughter. I didn’t know it at the time, but her family was rich. When we were in bed at night, just before going to sleep, my friend’s mother came to the door and asked if either of us would like to “spend a penny” before going to sleep...

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9. Preludes to a Theory of Obscenity

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pp. 146-166

...In pondering pornography one navigates between the political imperative of free expression and the moral hazard of degradation. The default positions in the debate are predictable—if you are an enemy of censorship you are expected to tolerate pornography, and if you are an enemy of pornography you are expected to tolerate censorship, but...

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pp. 167-168


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pp. 169-170


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pp. 171-182

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270707
E-ISBN-10: 0814270700
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814211724
Print-ISBN-10: 0814211720

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 1 photo
Publication Year: 2011