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Unclean LipsObscenity, Jews, and American Culture$
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Josh Lambert

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9781479876433

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479876433.001.0001

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The Prestige of Dirty Words and Pictures

The Prestige of Dirty Words and Pictures

Horace Liveright, Henry Roth, and the Graphic Novel

(p.63) 2 The Prestige of Dirty Words and Pictures
Unclean Lips

Josh Lambert

NYU Press

This chapter explores how social and cultural marginalization provided one motivation for the use of obscenity by American Jews. Michel Foucault notes, in The History of Sexuality, that the public discussion of sex carries a “speaker's benefit,” and scholars have since exhibited how directly Foucault's insight can be applied to literary history. Celia Marshik, for example, has shown that in the case of British modernism, while “censorship was repressive,” it also enabled “writers to construct public personae that exercise a strong hold on the imagination of readers even today.” The chapter examines the “speaker's benefit” of obscenity—or its failure to materialize—in the careers of five literary figures: two publishers, Horace Liveright and Samuel Roth; one novelist, Henry Roth; and two pioneers of the graphic novel, Will Eisner and Jules Feiffer. In each case, a different constellation of marginalization, Jewishness, and obscenity emerged, and each suggests a different way that participating in the production of American literature could make someone's name—or ruin it.

Keywords:   American Jews, obscenity, Horace Liveright, Samuel Roth, Henry Roth, Will Eisner, Jules Feiffer, Jewishness, American literature

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