From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Malesherbes’s usage of the term “obscenity” attests to the currency the concept had gained in France by the mid eighteenth century. As Joan DeJean has demonstrated [in The Reinvention of Obscenity], obscenity emerged as a category during the second half of the seventeenth century, following the 1655 publication of L’École des filles, ou la philosophie des dames, the first obscene prose work to appear in French and the inaugural text of the new genre of erotic “philosophy.” The sexually explicit work was deemed unacceptable."--A Monster for Our Times: Reading Sade across the Centuries (2011) by Matthew Bridge
"Pierre Bayle and Julien Offroy de La Mettrie insisted on the differences between [the obscene and the “simply” erotic or licentious ], but Malesherbes, that legislator of the book trade, admitted to being perplexed: “It would certainly be better to suppress them, if one could,” he wrote, referring to erotic texts, “but what would be the certain rule or the fixed boundary in this respect? This is where the difficulty lies” (Mémoires sur la liberté de la presse [1759; Memoirs on the Freedom of the Press])." --Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment
"Does the Bible come within the ruling of the Lord Chief Justice as to obscene literature? Most decidedly it does, and if prosecuted as an obscene book, it must necessarily be condemned, if the law is justly administered." --"Is the Bible Indictable?" (c. 1877), a pamphlet by Annie Besant
"Like the proliferation of highly publicized obscenity trials, that of books about obscenity was principally an American phenomenon. Germany and France produced little on the subject, and Britain not much more, though the very best books of the kind were published in England. Among them should be mentioned Norman St. John-Stevas's Obscenity and the Law (1956), Alec Craig's The Banned Books of England and Other Countries (1962), H. Montgomery Hyde's A History of Pornography (1964), and Donald Thomas's A Long Time Burning (1969). The superiority of these books derives in part from their sociohistorical approach; American studies tended to get bogged down in court proceedings and to read like law textbooks." --The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture, p. 287, Walter Kendrick
Obscenity (in Latin obscenus, meaning "foul, repulsive, detestable", possibly derived from ob caenum, literally "from filth"). The term is most often used in a legal context to describe expressions (words, images, actions) that offend the prevalent sexual morality of the time.
Despite its long formal and informal use with a sexual connotation, the word still retains the meanings of "inspiring disgust" and even "inauspicious; ill-omened", as in such uses as "obscene profits", "the obscenity of war", and the like. It can simply be used to mean profanity, or it can mean anything that is taboo, indecent, abhorrent, or disgusting.
The definition of obscenity differs from culture to culture, between communities within a single culture, and also between individuals within those communities. Many cultures have produced laws to define what is considered to be obscene, and censorship is often used to try to suppress or control materials that are obscene under these definitions, usually including, but not limited to pornographic material. Because the concept of obscenity is often ill-defined, it can be used as a political tool to try to restrict freedom of expression. Thus, the definition of obscenity can be a civil liberties issue.
Dictionary meaning and etymology
- Offensive to current standards of decency or morality
- Lewd or lustful
- Disgusting or repulsive
- Excessive; beyond all reason.
- law Liable to deprave or corrupt
Numerous sources give something on the lines of: from the Latin word obscenus, meaning "foul, repulsive, detestable", and possibly derived from ob caenum, literally "from filth". The book Obscene: The history of an indignation dedicates several pages exploring the different possibilities regarding its etymology.
The first conviction for "obscenity" can be observed in Great Britaiin in 1725 when The Whitehall Evening Post, claims that Lord Townshend was responsible for having Edmund Curll arrested in 1725 because he published "obscene Books and Pamphlets, tending to encourage Vice and Immorality".
Famous obscenity trials
The book Obscene: The History of an Indignation discusses the obscenity trials of Friedrich Schlegel's Lucinde (Jena, 1799), Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (Paris, 1857), Arthur Schnitzler's Round Dance (Berlin, 1920), D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover (London, 1960), and Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer (Los Angeles, 1962). A chapter is also devoted to the crusade of Anthony Comstock and the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.
- United Kingdom obscenity law
- United States obscenity law
- Censorship of obscenity in the United States
- Censorship in the United States
- First Amendment to the United States Constitution
- this list overlaps with Underground literature#Bibliography
- De libris obscoenis (1688) is a book by Johann David Schreber and Adam Rechenberg
- "Explanation Concerning Obscenities" (1702) by Pierre Bayle
- Index Librorum Prohibitorum (1877) by Henry Spencer Ashbee
- "Obscene" Literature and Constitutional Law (1911) by Theodore Schroeder
- To the Pure (1928) by Morris Ernst, William Seagle
- "Pornography and Obscenity" (1929) by D. H. Lawrence
- The Banned Books of England and Other Countries (1962) by Alec Craig
- The End of Obscenity (1968) by American lawyer Charles Rembar
- The Reinvention of Obscenity (2002) by American scholar Joan DeJean
- The Traffic in Obscenity from Byron to Beardsley (2006) by Colette Colligan