The Banning Of Books On The Grounds Of Obscenity

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The banning of books on the grounds of obscenity was not an uncommon practice. Countless works of literature were banned for having mention of sexually explicit language or a sexual act, even though the work as a whole did not intend to serve this purpose. Disagreements arose from this premise and there was a lack of clarity as to what dictated obscenity and who decided what is suitable for the public to read. Other legal matters such as the rights protected under the First Amendment were questioned. When the writing of Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl was brought to court, it changed the perception of obscenity in literature. Ginsberg’s first reciting of his poem Howl at the Six Gallery reading in San Francisco was met with praise and applause. The poem caught the attention of the City Lights publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who contacted Ginsberg saying, “I greet you at the beginning of a great career. When do I get a manuscript?” (Charters, n.d.) It was never Ginsberg’s intention to share Howl publicly. Initially written for friend Carl Solomon who had been admitted into a mental institute, the poem contained many personal references and controversial practices such as drug use and homosexuality. Rejecting the conformist post-war society, Ginsberg used words and ideas that incorporated his experiences. He basically defined the Beat Generation with the opening line: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,” and continued with oppositional social behavior and unconventional language (Rehlaender, 2015). Shortly after Howl and Other Poems was published the book caught the attention of another person. This time it was the San Francisco office of the U.S. Customs (Charters, n.d.). ... ... middle of paper ... ...cer had been recently brought to trial in 1953 after being banned in 1934, but the charges were not dropped until 1961, after the Howl trial. Thanks to the victory of Howl, a serious work of literature could no longer be bound by minor sexual implications if it possessed themes of social importance (Rehlaender, 2015). Previously banned literature found its place on the shelves of America once again. The Howl trial has paved the way for many authors to artistically express themselves freely and without restraint. The trial placed an importance on freedom and individuality and shifted the way literature was perceived. Upholding the rights of the First Amendment, Ginsberg’s use of unconventional language allowed him to convey his message and change the perception of obscenity. Disagreements over words and phrases could no longer dictate what the public read.
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