October 04, 2007

Quotes: Vapid Innocuous Euphemism

These are the final paragraphs from the Times article about Ginsberg's Howl not being broadcast on the radio. (Despite the fact that the classic poem has been aired repeatedly for decades, since Janet Jackson's nipple, there has been a "sea change" & the F.C.C. now issues bankrupting "draconian fines.")

Mr. Ferlinghetti, 88, who owns the landmark City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, said that when “Howl” was labeled obscene, first by United States Customs agents and then by the San Francisco police, it “wasn’t really the four-letter words.” He added, “It was that it was a direct attack on American society and the American way of life.”

Mr. Ferlinghetti quoted the unpublished 1957 opinion by San Francisco Municipal Judge Clayton W. Horn, whom he noted was “a God-fearing Sunday school teacher”: “Would there be any freedom of press or speech if one must reduce his vocabulary to vapid innocuous euphemism?” Judge Horn wrote. “An author should be real in treating his subject and be allowed to express his thoughts and ideas in his own words.”

This also brings to mind the court decision on December 6th, 1933, by the Hon. John M. Woolsey, lifting the ban on James Joyce's Ulysses. The decision is brilliantly written & printed at the beginning of all American editions of the book - go read it even if you don't ever plan to read Ulysses!

I am quite aware that owing to some of its scenes Ulysses is rather a strong draught to ask some sensitive, though normal, persons to take. But my considered opinion, after long reflection, is that whilst in many places the effect of Ulysses on the reader undoubtedly is somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac. Ulysses may, therefore, be admitted into the United States.

Another case point is John Milton, certainly "god-fearing", with quite conservative views on sin, but whose speech Areopagitica argues against censorship.

As good almost kill a man as kill a good book; who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye. [...]
And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play on the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?

Really, at the very least, the F.C.C. should have a "classic poetry clause" for the radio, if only to let Howl be read.


James Welsch said...

The Wiktionary defines "emetic" to mean "causing nausea & vomiting." Far preferable in a work of art to pornographic intent.

sarah said...

so what we can learn from these quotes is:

reasons to censor literature:
-direct attack on american society and american way of life

reasons not to censor literature:
-four-letter words
-to let truth grapple with falsehood