To further observe Banned Book Week, we wanted to turn on readers of the Large Blog to one of our studies on the book banning phenomenon.
In Citizen Critics: Literary Public Spheres. Rosa A. Eberly takes a look at book-related controversies She compares the outrage sparked by the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer with the relative quiescence that greeted the much more violent and sexually explicit content of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho and Andrea Dworkin’s Mercy. Through a close reading of letters to the editor, reviews, media coverage, and court cases, Eberly shows how literary critics and legal experts defused censorship debates by shifting the focus from content to aesthetics and from social values to publicity. By asserting their authority to pass judgments—thus denying the authority of citizen critics—these professionals effectively removed the discussion from literary public spheres.
A passionate advocate for treating reading as a public and rhetorical enterprise rather than solely as a private one, Eberly suggests the potential impact a work of literature may have on the social polity if it is brought into public forums for debate rather than removed to the exclusive rooms of literary criticism.