An excerpt from a new book which examines gay pornographic writing, showing how literary fiction was both informed by pornography and amounts to a commentary on the genre’s relation to queer male erotic life. —The University of Chicago Press
Vulgar Genres: Gay Pornographic Writing and Contemporary Fiction
by Steven Ruszczycky
University of Chicago Press, 216pp., $30.00
In the United States in the mid-1960s, a case came before the Supreme Court, one intended to settle the question of obscenity addressed by the famous Roth decision of 1957. The nine quarrelsome old men now came to the conclusion that obscenity required a work to be utterly without any redeeming social value. Whammo! There was a thoughtful pause whilst the country digested that—and came to the conclusion that of course there was a revelatory and redeeming social value to even the lousiest suckee-fuckee books. The gates were opened. The flood began. Suddenly all the old four-letter words (and some new ones) appeared in print, almost overnight. Publishers no longer had to write prefatory notes condemning what they were printing; they could merely suggest the social significance of erotica, and lo! all was satisfied. The court’s decision had more holes in it than a colander, and publishing houses sprang up like mushrooms after rain.
In the passage above, pornographer, tattoo artist, and erstwhile literature professor Samuel Steward reflects on a moment whose import for our understanding of gay literary fiction, pornography, and print culture has been largely underappreciated. Steward has in mind the rapid attenuation of US obscenity law at midcentury, when the state’s waning interest in censoring sexually explicit media led to a remarkable change in the kinds of texts available to a general readership. [Read more…]