Eroticism in Literature Summary

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Historically, erotic literature has been marked by censorship. Various religious groups and community watchdogs have long sought to impose their morality on others by banning books they view as damaging. In many cases the censors’ attempts at prohibition backfire, drawing attention to the book’s power and even increasing its readership. Notable examples include the attempt to block the importation of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn (1939), both of which were subject to seizure at the border of the United States. Regarding Miller’s book, the Supreme Court ruled in 1964 that obscenity was too subjective to remain a legal matter and instead placed its definition within the hands of academics. Even so, the debate over whether particular texts should be banned continues to rage.

Particularly offensive to some, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955) came under fire for its treatment of pedophilia, or eroticism and children, while William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959) was banned for depicting homosexuality. The rise of gay rights and feminism in the 1960’s and 1970’s saw a decrease in censorship, with such writers as Allen Ginsberg and Erica Jong at the forefront of eroticism, but the 1980’s created a conservative backlash which again called for the exclusion of certain texts from, for example, college and secondary school libraries.