Since the Tribune has decided that I must join Facebook to participate in discussions here, I am rather limited to letters. Ms. Turley-Hanson’s censorship campaign does deserve an answer, so here it is.
I have dealt in pornography for half a century. Spent time in a jail cell for it. Specifically for selling a book titled “Memoirs of Hecate County” to an undercover NYC policeman. Written by Edmund Wilson, the father of literary modernism, it is a classic and at the time was taught at NYU, a few blocks from my Fourth Avenue bookstore.
My opinion of its “pornographic” elements mirrored that of Raymond Chandler, that Wilson managed to “make (deleted word) as dull as a railroad timetable.” In the box beneath the counter, at the time, resided Nabokov’s “Lolita”, Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch”, Corso’s “The American Express”, Ginsberg’s “Howl”, several works by De Sade, Theophile Gautier, Apollonaire and others by author’s who shaped, and at the time were shaping literature.
I have been in trouble over Jock Sturgis’ “Radiant Identities”, David Hamilton’s “Sisters” and “The Age of Innocence”. Books of photographs that are hung in major art museums. This is what happens in societies that start with censorship of “pornography”.
According to Jeremy Bentham “As to the evil which results from a censorship, it is impossible to measure it, for it is impossible to tell where it ends.” Martha Graham called it “...the height of Vanity.”
The sad truth is that if your artists aren’t free, neither are you. “Pornography” has no meaning, no definition, it is a word meaning someone else wants control of your mind. Open the Pandora’s box of censorship in it’s name and the result will be Henry Steel Commager’s assessment “The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion.”
In the interest of balance, however, Mae West did say “I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.”
Editor’s note: The above letter is in response to a commentary by Linda Turley-Hansen that first appeared online this week. The column is also appearing in this edition of the Tribune, on page 16.