NABOKV-L post 0014354, Mon, 11 Dec 2006 18:04:14 -0500

VN Bibliography: Ladenson, Dirt for Art's Sake
[EDNOTE. Cornell University Press sends this announcement of a
forthcoming book. -- SES]

Dirt for Art's Sake: Books on Trial from Madame Bovary to Lolita

InDirt for Art's Sake, Elisabeth Ladenson recounts the most visible of
modern obscenity trials involving scandalous books and their authors.
What, she asks, do these often-colorful legal histories have to tell us
about the works themselves and about a changing cultural climate that
first treated them as filth and later celebrated them as masterpieces?
Ladenson's narrative starts withMadame Bovary (Flaubert was tried in
France in 1857) and finishes withFanny Hill (written in the eighteenth
century, put on trial in the United States in 1966); she considers,
along the way,Les Fleurs du Mal,Ulysses,The Well of Loneliness,Lady
Chatterley's Lover,Tropic of Cancer,Lolita, and the works of the Marquis
de Sade.
Over the course of roughly a century, Ladenson finds, two ideas that
had been circulating in the form of avant-garde heresy gradually became
accepted as truisms, and eventually as grounds for legal defense. The
first is captured in the formula "art for art's sake"-the notion that a
work of art exists in a realm independent of conventional morality. The
second is realism, vilified by its critics as "dirt for dirt's sake." In
Ladenson's view, the truth of the matter is closer to "dirt for art's
sake"-the idea that the work of art may legitimately include the
representation ofall aspects of life, including the unpleasant and the

Ladenson also considers cinematic adaptations of these novels, among
them Vincente Minnelli'sMadame Bovary, Stanley Kubrick'sLolita and the
1997 remake directed by Adrian Lyne, and various attempts to translate
de Sade's works and life into film, which faced similar censorship
travails. Written with a keen awareness of ongoing debates about free
speech,Dirt for Art's Sake traces the legal and social acceptance of
controversial works with critical acumen and delightful wit.

Elisabeth Ladenson is Associate Professor of French and Comparative
Literature at Columbia University. She is the author ofProust's
Lesbianism, also from Cornell.

Some early praise-
"With far-ranging erudition, a keen eye for analysis, and a great sense
of humor, Elisabeth Ladenson looks at the real reasons behind the
censorship of masterpieces likeMadame Bovary and important but lousy
books likeThe Well of Loneliness. She pinpoints many of the moralistic
arguments that are once again rearing their ugly heads in this age of
spying and 'Christian' militancy. The censorship of movies was already a
recapitulation of the principles that had been applied to literature a
century earlier. This book is so entertaining it made me laugh out loud
at least once at some expertly skewered absurdity during every
chapter."-Edmund White

"This witty, exhilarating romp through a century and a half of literary
culture offers many pleasures and discoveries. It contributes an
important chapter to the study of modernism, it allows us to compare the
different sensibilities of France, Britain, and the United States, and
it deepens the ironies of literary history. Best of all, Elisabeth
Ladenson provides a trenchant critique of both the absurdity of
censorship and the absurdity of imagining that we will ever do away with
censorship. Instead, she demonstrates-to the discomfort of hypocritical
readers everywhere-how perennial, renewable, and irresistible is the
impulse to ban someone else's speech."-David Halperin, W. H. Auden
Collegiate Professor, University of Michigan, author ofSaint Foucault

"Dirt for Art's Sake is a brilliant combination of literary sleuthing,
cultural history, and just plain great storytelling. Why is it that the
literary masterworks of the last two centuries have been prosecuted for
obscenity-and that we continue to consider some words, images, and ideas
to be subversive? Ranging through literature, film, history, and law,
Elisabeth Ladenson's magnificent book suggests some answers. Witty,
ironic, beautifully written, and massively entertaining,Dirt for Art's
Sake easily straddles the worlds of literary page-turner and first-rate
scholarship. All lovers of good writing should bow down before
Ladenson."-Marjorie Heins, Free Expression Policy Project, Brennan
Center for Justice

Questions? Please be in contact with Susan Barnett,

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