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Unclean Lips

Unclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 276
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  • Book Info
    Unclean Lips
    Book Description:

    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 includingUlysses,A Howl,Lady Chatterley's Lover, andTropic 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. InUnclean 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 toCurb Your EnthusiasmandFCC v. Fox,Unclean Lipsanalyzes 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 Lambertis Academic Director of the Yiddish Book Center and Visiting Assistant Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.InThe Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-5158-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (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 novelTropic of Cancer. Visiting six drugstores that sold paperbacks, he succeeded in having all copies of the book pulled from the shelves.¹ He could do this, the First Amendment notwithstanding, because Miller’s novel included what the law regarded as obscenity: obscenity defined, that is, in words with which U.S. Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield characterized Miller’s novel, as “descriptions in minute detail of sexual acts”...

  5. 1 Sexual Anti-Semitism and Pornotopia: Theodore Dreiser, Ludwig Lewisohn, and The Harrad Experiment
    (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. Though he had written about immigrant Jews as a journalist and had included Jews as minor characters in some of his fiction, this play was to be the only one of his literary works in which a Jewish character figured as the protagonist.²

    When Dreiser had finished a...

  6. 2 The Prestige of Dirty Words and Pictures: Horace Liveright, Henry Roth, and the Graphic Novel
    (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 asCall 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.”Woolsey’s decision would “determine whether” James Joyce’s famous novel was “immoral and licentious,” as theNew York Timesphrased it at the end of August, eagerly anticipating the ruling.² Roth readUlyssesin 1925, having borrowed a copy of...

  7. 3 Otherfuckers and Motherfuckers: Reproduction and Allegory in Philip Roth and Adele Wiseman
    (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: it is frequently noted that the firstmitzvah(commandment) that appears in the Torah is פְּרוּ וּדְבוּ (pru urvu), in Genesis 1:28. Typically translated as “Be fruitful and multiply,” this conveys the divine imperative to reproduce. As basic a command as this may seem, rabbinical tradition anticipated contemporary theorists such as Pierre Bourdieu in acknowledging the complex...

  8. 4 Seductive Modesty: Censorship versus Yiddish and Orthodox Tsnies
    (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. Robert Mapplethorpe and other artists were attacked by conservative politicians including Jesse Helms, and criminal charges were brought against the curator of a Cincinnati museum for a show of Mapplethorpe’s photographs.¹ At the same time, prominent conservative politicians were busy appropriating the free-speech rhetoric of previous generations of liberals and...

  9. Conclusion: Dirty Jews and the Christian Right: Larry David and FCC v. Fox
    (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 of Henry Miller’sTropic of Cancer, the narrator of which claims to “speak like a Jew.” It is not clear, though, to what degree, if at all, they regarded their shared Jewishness as relevant to the trial and, in a few cases, whether they...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 187-252)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 253-264)
    (pp. 265-265)