Cover image for Literary Obscenities: U.S. Case Law and Naturalism after Modernism By Erik M. Bachman

Literary Obscenities

U.S. Case Law and Naturalism after Modernism

Erik M. Bachman

COMING IN APRIL

$84.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-08005-5
Coming in April

200 pages
7" × 9.5"
8 b&w illustrations
2018

Refiguring Modernism

Literary Obscenities

U.S. Case Law and Naturalism after Modernism

Erik M. Bachman

“A welcome and profound reassessment not only of American censorship issues, Literary Obscenities joins the current rethinking of modernist studies, particularly in terms of the paperback revolution and its long-term cultural impact. This welcome addition to the ongoing discourse in legal studies, book history, cultural studies, and the philosophy of modernism is cause for celebration. Bachman’s well-researched, acutely insightful, accessibly written study will take its place alongside Marjorie Heins’s Not in Front of the Children as a staple in university courses.”

 

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This comparative historical study explores the broad sociocultural factors at play in the relationships among U.S. obscenity laws and literary modernism and naturalism in the early twentieth century. Putting obscenity case law’s crisis of legitimation and modernism’s crisis of representation into dialogue, Erik Bachman shows how obscenity trials and other attempts to suppress allegedly vulgar writing in the United States affected a wide-ranging debate about the power of the printed word to incite emotion and shape behavior.

Far from seeking simply to transgress cultural norms or sexual boundaries, Bachman argues, proscribed authors such as Wyndham Lewis, Erskine Caldwell, Lillian Smith, and James T. Farrell refigured the capacity of writing to evoke the obscene so that readers might become aware of the social processes by which they were being turned into mass consumers, voyeurs, and racialized subjects. Through such efforts, these writers participated in debates about the libidinal efficacy of language with a range of contemporaries, from behavioral psychologists and advertising executives to book cover illustrators, magazine publishers, civil rights activists, and judges.

Focusing on case law and the social circumstances informing it, Literary Obscenities provides an alternative conceptual framework for understanding obscenity’s subjugation of human bodies, desires, and identities to abstract social forces. It will appeal especially to scholars of American literature, American studies, and U.S. legal history.

“A welcome and profound reassessment not only of American censorship issues, Literary Obscenities joins the current rethinking of modernist studies, particularly in terms of the paperback revolution and its long-term cultural impact. This welcome addition to the ongoing discourse in legal studies, book history, cultural studies, and the philosophy of modernism is cause for celebration. Bachman’s well-researched, acutely insightful, accessibly written study will take its place alongside Marjorie Heins’s Not in Front of the Children as a staple in university courses.”

Erik M. Bachman is Lecturer of Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz and coeditor of the Lukács Library at Brill.

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