Thursday, March 01, 2007

Elisabeth Ladenson's "Dirt for Art's Sake"

Elisabeth Ladenson is an Associate Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and the author of Dirt for Art's Sake: Books on Trial from Madame Bovary to Lolita.

She recently applied the Page 69 Test to her book.

Read the publisher's description and an excerpt from Dirt for Art's Sake.

Among the praise for Dirt for Art's Sake:
"A professor of French and comparative literature, Ladenson sets out to answer the question, 'How does an 'obscene' book become a 'classic?'' with this spry but exhaustive look at the history and culture surrounding the modern world's most controversial literature. Ladenson touches on numerous 'dirty' books, using a handful of landmark titles as jumping-off points for a wide-ranging survey: Madame Bovary, Les Fleurs du Mal, The Well of Loneliness, Ulysses, Lady Chatterley's Lover, Tropic of Cancer and Lolita. Using court records, novelists' letters, newspaper reviews and other books on the subject, Ladenson constructs a vivid composite of society's shifting relationship with such polarizing subjects as adultery, homosexuality and pedophilia — including the suppression thereof as well as the appetite therefor. Tracing the evolution of 'obscenity' from the 1850s to the late 20th century, Ladenson outlines the debates over 'art for art's sake,' as well as the province of realism, illustrating the rocky process of acceptance for the twin concepts and the literature they provoked. Witty, well-written and relevant, including fascinating details from the lives of writers, court cases as recent as the 1960s and as far-flung as Japan, and attempts to reinvent controversial works for contemporary audiences (such as two film versions of Lolita), this highly readable study should make scholars and book junkies as happy as pigs in lit."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A witty and elegant study, written with an exceptional sensitivity to the multiple ironies regarding sex and censorship in literature.... With every text Ladensin so perceptively reads, she has something fresh and arresting to say. She is especially brilliant on Ulysses, along with Madame Bovary the most obvious work of genius under examination here.... Assuredly not an obvious work of genius is Lady Chatterley’s Lover ... [and] Ladenson’s commentary on it is illuminating.... The chapter on Nabokov and Lolita is extremely funny: a chapter of accidents.... We still believe in censorship today. It’s just that we’re too hypocritical to call it censorship, and talk instead of 'inappropriate language' in regard to gender or ethnic stereotyping, and of the need to have our 'awareness raised'. Bah humbug, says Ladenson, in so many words."
—Christopher Hart, Sunday Times (London), 31 December 2006

"Elisabeth Ladenson's witty meditation on literary obscenity pivots on 'irony, paradox, and absurdity.' How, she ruminates, can one generation's 'dirt' be another generation's 'art'? 'How does an obscene work become a classic?' It's a fascinating set of hows. Ladenson takes, as her principal texts, seven ambiguously obscene classic works of literature.... What adds freshness to her discussion is chapters on that infamous period of Gallic censorship when public prosecutor Ernest Pinard took Flaubert and Baudelaire to court. By so doing, he installed himself in the annals of literature — as one of its clowns. They also serve who makes fools of themselves for art."
—John Sutherland, Washington Post

“With far-ranging erudition, a keen eye for analysis, and a great sense of humor, Elisabeth Ladenson looks at the real reasons behind the censorship of masterpieces like Madame Bovary and important but lousy books like The Well of Loneliness. She pinpoints many of the moralistic arguments that are once again rearing their ugly heads in this age of spying and 'Christian' militancy. The censorship of movies was already a recapitulation of the principles that had been applied to literature a century earlier. This book is so entertaining it made me laugh out loud at least once at some expertly skewered absurdity during every chapter.”
—Edmund White
Ladenson's previous book is Proust's Lesbianism.

--Marshal Zeringue