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October 17, 2004

1971: A Banner Year for Pornography

by Ron Hogan

In the course of my book reviewing duties, I've recently had to read "Pornography, Obscenity and the Case for Censorship," a 1971 NYT Sunday Magazine article by Irving Kristol containing the following howler:

A pornographic novel has a far better chance of being published today than a non-pornographic one, and quite a few pretty good novels are not being published at all simply because they are not pornographic, and are therefore less likely to sell.

Now, I'm no historian of literature, not by a long shot, but I am willing to match dimes with dollars that the vast majority of novels published in 1971 were, in fact, non-pornographic. And I'd also be very curious as to just how Kristol knew about thse "pretty good novels" that never got published because they were too tame for the 1971 marketplace. Is there any way to find out what they were, or have their very titles been lost to history now? As you can imagine, I'm not even all that convinced by his overall thesis, which is that strong censorship of pornography may well be necessary to the preservation of American/Western civilization, but that kind of hyperbolic rhetoric certainly doesn't sell the argument.

That said, Kristol does get in a rather perceptive comment as a total aside: "Science fiction, as every student of the genre knows, is a peculiar vision of power: what it is really about is politics." And, thinking about it, damned if he isn't often right, from Asimov's Foundation trilogy to Robinson's Mars trilogy, not to mention much of Heinlein, nearly all of Herbert... And yet it strikes me that some science fiction is about ethics (I'm thinking particularly of "The Cold Equations") and some is about metaphysics (Philip K. Dick and Philip José Farmer's Riverworld series...though that also has its political side as well, upon reflection...). At any rate, it's something I'll now have lodged in my mind whenever I read a science fiction novel.


I think if you substitute "buttfucking memoir" for "pornographic novel," then you've pretty much got the 2004 zeitgeist.

Posted by: Jimmy Beck at October 18, 2004 08:51 AM
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