This introductory chapter begins with a brief survey of American Jews' interventions in debates about obscenity law. In particular, it discusses the trial spawned by the pullout of Henry Miller's notorious 1934 novel Tropic of Cancer from shelves in 1961. It then sets out the book's purpose, which is to examine the role of Jews in the history of obscenity in 20th-century American culture. The book argues that American Jews often engaged with obscenity—produced it, defended it, wrote about it—for precisely the same reasons that many of their Protestant, Catholic, and nonreligious peers did so: to make money, to seek sexual gratification, to express antisocial rage. None of these motivations is any more Jewish than it is non-Jewish. Nonetheless, Jewishness served as a crucial factor in the decisions made by many of the participants in the long, strange history of American obscenity, especially because of the complexity of the roles Jews played in American publishing and literary culture.
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