Event Mar 21

Abstract Sep 01

Obscenity and the Warren Court: Finding the Boundaries of Freedom of Speech (NEMLA 2013)

Event: 03/21/2013 - 03/24/2013
Abstract: 09/01/2012
Categories: American, 1865-1914, 20th & 21st Century, Gender & Sexuality, Interdisciplinary, Aesthetics, Anthropology/Sociology, Cultural Studies, Film, TV, & Media, History, Philosophy, Popular Culture, Literary Theory
Location: Boston, MA
Organization: Northeast Modern Language Association

In 1957, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren—the same court that decided Brown v. Board of Education, Loving v. Virginia, and Miranda v. Arizona—ruled on Roth v. United States, significantly restricting the ability of the state to ban published material. This case was the first of a series of cases demonstrating the Warren Court’s (and to a lesser extent that of the Burger Court that succeeded it) deeply vested interest in establishing and fixing just what types of speech should be considered obscene and therefore outside the First Amendment’s protections. Under consideration were not only pornographic materials like those at issue in Roth, but also literary and cinematic texts such as Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and the French film Les Amants (in Grove Press v. Gerstein and Jacobellis v. Ohio, respectively, both decided in 1964). The three-prong standard ultimately developed in 1973’s Miller v. California—relying on community standards, judgment of the offensiveness of the material, and requiring a wholesale lack of redeeming artistic value—remains the determining test today that draws the line between material that offends and material that is criminally obscene. This panel invites submission of papers exploring the continuing significance of the discourse of obscenity generated during this tumultuous time in American history, particularly as it pertains to literary and artistic texts. Papers might address texts that have run afoul of community standards, legal discourses surrounding the publication of obscene materials, continuing debates about banning books or fine arts, and other areas of inquiry. Because the Court’s rulings evidence a keen awareness of historical precedent for prohibitions of speech, other productive areas of inquiry might include clashes between texts and obscenity standards in earlier periods or the impact of early obscene material on later cultural formations. The purpose of the panel is to more fully understand the importance of the threshold between our tolerance for material that offends but might have merit and rejection of that which is ruled entirely transgressive; at its root, this necessitates a consideration of what value cultural texts have and what we are willing to tolerate in the name of that value.

Please submit abstracts of roughly 250 words to Patrick.lawrence@uconn.edu.

Deadline: September 1, 2011

Please include with your abstract:
Name and Affiliation
Email address
Postal address
Telephone number
A/V requirements (if any; $10 handling fee with registration)

The 2013 NeMLA convention continues the Association's tradition of sharing innovative scholarship in an engaging and generative location. The 44th annual event will be held in historic Boston, Massachusetts, a city known for its national and maritime history, academic facilities and collections, vibrant art, theatre, and food scenes, and blend of architecture. The Convention, located centrally near BostonCommonsand the Theatre District at the Hyatt Regency, will include keynote and guest speakers, literary readings, film screenings, tours and workshops.



Contact Email: patrick.lawrence@uconn.edu