Censorship versus Yiddish and Orthodox Tsnies
This chapter puts forth a term for characterizing and analyzing suppressions of sexual representation in literature and culture. The term is the same one that Yiddish literary critics typically used to describe the regulation of sexual expression in their cultural field: modesty (in Yiddish, tsnies and, in Hebrew, tzniut). Using modesty as a frame for reading the regulation of sexual expression in America, it is argued that American Yiddish literary modernism, which was virtually never subject to government intervention, presaged the situation of American literature in English after Memoirs v. Massachusetts (1966), which established broad First Amendment protections for literature. The chapter also offers a comparative study of two related modesty discourses—early 20th-century Yiddish literary modesty and late 20th-century American cultural modesty as it was rooted in the sources of Orthodox Judaism. It demonstrates that modesty discourses follow from and reflect the diasporization of culture, the uncoupling of cultural production from both the constraints and the opportunities of legal control and state support.
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