Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Insanity Clause

The new morality is troubling:
Not long ago, publishers were hailed as countercultural heroes for backing works that offended public sensibilities. Barney Rosset, the publisher of Grove Press, introduced Americans to Samuel Beckett, Jack Kerouac, Malcolm X, Marguerite Duras and Kathy Acker, among scores of other writers considered avant-garde at the time.

Mr. Rosset fought doggedly to overturn laws that were preventing him from publishing D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer,” both of which contained scenes of graphic sex. The “Tropic of Cancer” case made it to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the book was not obscene. The feminist critic Kate Millet attacked Henry Miller’s novels as misogynistic — she was quite right about that — but that didn’t stop the PEN American Center from awarding Mr. Rosset a citation for “the free transmission of the printed word across the barriers of poverty, ignorance, censorship and repression.”

Times change; norms change with them. Morality clauses hand the power to censor to publishers, not the government, so they don’t violate the constitutional right to free speech. But that power is still dangerous.
Whose morality decides?

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