This seminar will explore the intersection of literature and First Amendment theory in the creation of modern obscenity law in the 1950s and 60s. We'll read a selection of books that had been banned in the United States, thinking about what made these books seem dangerous while examining the cultural changes that supposedly rendered them harmless. We'll also read various legal defenses and decisions around these texts, exploring how the law tends to think about the regulation of literature. And we'll spend some time considering "pornography studies"--the recent critical attempt to define the importance of obscenity within American culture on the whole--and ask whether such approaches can still lead to productive or interesting ways to think about literature within a culture focused on visual images.
Readings may include works by Nabokov, Ginsberg, Lawrence, Miller, and Burroughs, along with court decisions and various critical works by literary critics and obscenity theorists. Requirements will include an interpretive essay, a final research paper, and regular class participation.