We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Unclean Lips

Jews, Obscenity, and American Culture

Josh Lambert

Publication Year: 2013

Jews have played an integral role in the history of obscenity in America. For most of the 20th century, Jewish entrepreneurs and editors led the charge against obscenity laws. Jewish lawyers battled literary censorship even when their non-Jewish counterparts refused to do so, and they won court decisions in favor of texts including UlyssesA HowlLady Chatterley’s Lover, and Tropic of Cancer. Jewish literary critics have provided some of the most influential courtroom testimony on behalf of freedom of expression.
The anti-Semitic stereotype of the lascivious Jew has made many historians hesitant to draw a direct link between Jewishness and obscenity. In Unclean Lips, Josh Lambert addresses the Jewishness of participants in obscenity controversies in the U.S. directly, exploring the transformative roles played by a host of neglected figures in the development of modern and postmodern American culture.
The diversity of American Jewry means that there is no single explanation for Jews' interventions in this field. Rejecting generalizations, this bookoffers case studies that pair cultural histories with close readings of both contested texts and trial transcripts to reveal the ways in which specific engagements with obscenity mattered to particular American Jews at discrete historical moments.
Reading American culture from Theodore Dreiser and Henry Miller to Curb Your Enthusiasm and FCC v. FoxUnclean Lips analyzes the variable historical and cultural factors that account for the central role Jews have played in the struggles over obscenity and censorship in the modern United States.
Josh Lambert is Academic Director of the Yiddish Book Center and Visiting Assistant Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
In The Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History

Published by: NYU Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (195.1 KB)
pp. 1-7


pdf iconDownload PDF (83.0 KB)
pp. vii-viii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (88.8 KB)
pp. ix-xii

At the University of Michigan, where the project began, I had the privilege of studying with a remarkable group of scholars and teachers. Jonathan Freedman, Anita Norich, Deborah Dash Moore, Julian Levinson, and June Howard in particular continue to serve as mentors, models, and inspiration. ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (202.0 KB)
pp. 1-24

In late October 1961, the police chief of Mount Prospect, a Chicago suburb, took action against what he perceived to be a disturbing threat to his community: a paperback edition of Henry Miller’s notorious 1934 novel Tropic of Cancer. Visiting six drugstores that sold paperbacks, he succeeded in having all copies of the book pulled from the shelves.1 ...

read more

1. Sexual Anti-Semitism and Pornotopia: Theodore Dreiser, Ludwig Lewisohn, and The Harrad Experiment

pdf iconDownload PDF (292.4 KB)
pp. 25-62

One Friday night in 1917, Theodore Dreiser accompanied Irwin Granich, a young Jewish playwright associated with the Provincetown Players, to the apartment on Chrystie Street, on New York’s Lower East Side, where Granich and his mother lived.1 Dreiser wanted atmospheric details for a play he had been writing about poor tenement dwellers. ...

read more

2. The Prestige of Dirty Words and Pictures: Horace Liveright, Henry Roth, and the Graphic Novel

pdf iconDownload PDF (279.9 KB)
pp. 63-98

On September 14, 1933, Henry Roth wrote a note in his journal: “The novel is finished.”1 He had completed a draft of the manuscript that was to be published as Call It Sleep. Twelve weeks later, on December 6, federal judge John Woolsey announced his verdict in a case that must have interested Roth, United States v. One Book Called “Ulysses.” ...

read more

3. Otherfuckers and Motherfuckers: Reproduction and Allegory in Philip Roth and Adele Wiseman

pdf iconDownload PDF (319.2 KB)
pp. 99-140

Another way that the debates about the law of obscenity resonated with particular intensity for some American Jews is in relation to their shifting anxieties about reproduction, both biological and cultural. The emphasis on reproduction in rabbinic Judaism would be hard to overstate: ...

read more

4. Seductive Modesty: Censorship versus Yiddish and Orthodox Tsnies

pdf iconDownload PDF (249.3 KB)
pp. 141-174

In the late 1980s and 1990s, scholarly treatments of literary censorship in the United States changed in reaction to a series of cultural and political developments. On the one hand, under the Reagan and Bush administrations, artists’ work was subject to renewed attempts by the government to suppress sexual explicitness. ...

read more

Conclusion: Dirty Jews and the Christian Right: Larry David and FCC v. Fox

pdf iconDownload PDF (143.4 KB)
pp. 175-186

The gathering with which this book began—the encounter, real and figural, of half a dozen American Jews in a Chicago courtroom in 1961—has its analogue in the structure of this study. Those men found themselves working together to establish the legal right of Chicagoans and other Americans to purchase and read a paperback copy ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (498.6 KB)
pp. 187-252


pdf iconDownload PDF (653.6 KB)
pp. 253-264

read more

About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (47.4 KB)
pp. 265-278

Josh Lambert is Academic Director of the Yiddish Book Center and Visiting Assistant Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

E-ISBN-13: 9781479851584
Print-ISBN-13: 9781479876433
Print-ISBN-10: 1479876437

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2013