Tuesday, July 28, 2015

freedom of expression; (freedom of Yikes)

Yesterday here we were considering Freedom and What Do We Use It For?

During the twentieth century, in the years before most of us were born, but not that long before, battles were fought, challenges were brought, and court decisions were sought about what people could write in novels, and have it sold or put on library shelves.... 

If it was "indecent" it might be "banned in Boston."  One the other hand, we were supposed to have Freedom of Speech.  On the other hand from that, there were community standards.

There was the rather infamous court decision which stated basically that "pornography" could not be defined but the judge darn well knew it when he saw it, adding to people's bemusement and eyebrow-raising....

In 1995 novelist William Styron

(Sophie's Choice; The Confessions of Nat Turner; Lie Down in Darkness) wrote,

That time -- the late 1940s and early '50s -- was a watershed period in our literature.  Although some years earlier Ulysses had been approved by the federal courts for adult consumption, Joyce's masterpiece was virtually unique in being exempt from the scrutiny of the censors and the puritans. 

But in the years following World War II there began a profound if gradual change toward permitting writers to express themselves more freely, particularly in the use of the vulgar vernacular and in matters of sex.  I emphasize the gradualness of the transition.  For example, in The Naked and the Dead, published in 1948, Norman Mailer

was forced to use, for the common vulgarism describing sexual intercourse, not the four-letter word but a foreshortened three-letter epithet, fug.  Among other results, this prompted ... actress Tallulah Bankhead,

upon meeting young Mailer for the first time, to say, "Oh, you're the writer who doesn't know how to spell fuck."   

But the times were changing.  The first book in American literature to employ this and other Anglo-Saxon expletives with absolute freedom was James Jones's From Here to Eternity; and even The Catcher in the Rye, published in that same year, 1951, used the word, although in a way that was intended to demonstrate its offensiveness. 

It's interesting, by the way, that even today The Catcher in the Rye is among the books most frequently yanked off the library shelves of public schools, usually at the behest of angry parents who, ironically...seem to be unaware that in this one case the word is seen by the young hero, Holden Caulfield, as objectionable....

What I've said does show you how, at midcentury, there still existed in certain quarters in America a point of view about free expression that was severely circumscribed, still profoundly in thrall to nineteenth-century standards and to a prudery that now seems so quaint as to be almost touching. 

It could be said, of course, that we have gone over the edge;

indeed, there have been some books published in recent years that I've found so scabrous and loathsome that I've yearned, at least for a moment, for a return to Victorian decorum and restraint.  Yet my yearning is almost always short-lived.  People, after all, are not forced to read garbage, which, even if it overwhelms us -- or seems to at times -- is preferable to censorship. ------------- [end Styron excerpt]--------
{excerpt, My Generation.  Collected Nonfiction.  William Styron.  Foreword by Tom Brokaw.  2015 - Random House, New York}


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