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What is obscenity? In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court defined it as anything prurient in nature, devoid of scientific, political, educational, or social value, and in violation of local community standards. Thirty years earlier, Justice Potter Stewart came up with his own memorable definition: "I know it when I see it." No matter what you consider obsceneLady Chatterley's Loveror Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction"the profane has formed part of the tapestry of our culture since its beginnings. Now John Manningtakes a closer look at our fascination with obscenity through the works of some of the greatest writers and artists of all time, from Aristophanes to Shakespeare to Hogarth.Obscenityreveals how such works can be both deliberatively offensive and brilliantly inventive, displaying uncommon erudition and wild, childish exuberance. Despite the best efforts of lobbying groups, religious organizations, and Supreme Court justices, obscenity continues to flourish.Obscenityis an intriguing examination of the art behind the offensive, in all its lewd and alluring forms.
John Manning is professor of English at the University of Wales, Lampeter, and the author of The Emblem, also published by Reaktion Books.