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Article

April Alliston

Sexually explicit images are among the oldest known representational artifacts, and yet none of these were ever understood as “pornography” until the word and concept began to emerge in Western European languages during the 19th century. At that time, it was used equally to refer to written texts and visual representations. The word has since entered into much more widespread usage, often referring to any and all sexually explicit material, more often to material that appears specifically designed “to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic feelings” (Oxford English Dictionary). Since the popularization of internet pornography in the late 20th century, the term has even come to be applied to any image considered to emphasize the pleasure and seduction of the viewer over realistic representation (as in “food porn,” “real estate porn,” etc.). Many attempts have been made to define pornography more specifically, but little consensus has been achieved. Courts of law have generally avoided defining the word “pornography,” preferring to categorize sexually explicit or arousing representations in terms of “obscenity.” Feminist scholars have disagreed on the definition of pornography to the extent that the conflict became known as the “Porn Wars” of the last several decades of the 20th century. Sexually explicit or sexually stimulating representations can elicit powerful emotional responses that vary widely, and they are inextricable from questions of social power. Thus, the very act of defining pornography is implicated in political struggles over some of the most fundamental issues of human life: gender, sexuality, social equality, and the nature and power of representations. There remains no general or stable agreement concerning what it is, what effects it may have, or even whether it exists at all.

Article

Ricardo L. Ortiz

For half of his nearly sixty-year writing career, John Rechy was recognized primarily for his contributions to homosexual literature in the United States, even as from the beginning of that career he consistently cast his major protagonists as young men of mixed ethnicity, part-Mexican and part-Scottish, hailing like him from the border city of El Paso, Texas. As the fields of queer and US Latinx literary studies emerged in the 1980s, critics and scholars began to study the important intersectionalities of Rechy’s multiple identities more explicitly and intentionally, and that attention has been sustained ever since, leading to a significant rethinking of earlier responses to Rechy’s literary work, and a significant opening of the possible viable readerly approaches to Rechy’s entire writing career. Underrepresented in this matrix of critical approaches toward Rechy’s work that favor issues of identity, however, is a more direct, committed interest in describing the specifically literary, and aesthetic, aspects of Rechy’s contributions to the cultural traditions to which he matters, regardless of whether that interest foregrounds or not the understandably compelling factors of identity (ethnic, gender, sexual, class, geographic, etc.) that drive so much extant Rechy criticism. That critical project will surely benefit from a greater attention to, for example, Rechy’s experiments with form, style, and the materiality of print across the six decades of his career, very likely discovering there that those experiments can open alternative doors to understanding not only Rechy’s artistry, but also the unique qualities of his queerness, and the unique qualities of his latinidad.

Article

Nicole Moore

Insofar as literature is defined negatively, by what it is not, censorship has had a determining role in its historical constitution. Contemporary scholarship emphasizes the dynamic interplay between literary expression and forms of cultural regulation, recognizing its paradoxically productive capacity to generate as well as suppress meaning. At the same time, accounting for censorship’s role in the history of the world’s literature means coming to grips with the often brutal repression, prohibition, and persecution of writing, writers, performance, and cultural producers by sovereign power underwritten by violence. Tracing the genealogies of literary censorship, from its formulations in ancient Rome, through medieval religious persecution, sedition and heresy charges, theatre controls, early modern print and copyright licensing, to the seeming breakthroughs of the Enlightenment, details the interdependence of modernity and cultural regulation. At stake in this history are defining relations between culture and society, knowledge and power, not least in the manner in which literature traverses the boundary between public and private, and censorship polices that divide. The art-for-art’s-sake defense, which separates the literary from what is offensive—nominally from obscenity, pornography, libel, blasphemy, and sedition and effectively from politics, intimacy, and the real—stumbles and fails in the face of culture’s variant aims and readers’ differing pleasures. And the state’s use of the law to enforce its role as a custosmorum has placed not only art in opposition to the law, as Gustave Flaubert saw, but also culture in opposition to morality, when the state becomes the modern arbiter of culture’s social and political roles. The available frames for understanding censorship, from liberal, materialist, psychoanalytic, linguistic, and poststructuralist positions, face challenges from diversifying and yet synthesizing situations for literature in a global world.