Unlawful Fictions: Literature, Obscenity, Psychoanalysis

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • William Simms

Abstract

This thesis uses four legal trials as case studies: the 1914 prosecution of D.H Lawrence’s The Rainbow, the 1921 prosecution of James Joyce’s Ulysses, the subsequent re-trial of Ulysses in 1933, and the 1960 trial of Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Joyce and Lawrence’s oeuvres present us with very different modes of writing, a difference that literary criticism has worked to preserve and intensify. Joyce and Lawrence, amongst their respective champions, come to represent a binary, a choice for the subject about the function and truth of literature. These critics have argued for their choice as the author who best represents life, the other offering a moral or aesthetic death. The law, however, made no such distinction between the two authors, finding both author’s texts to be obscene and then, later, as works of significant artistic merit. This thesis is an exploration of the tension between the forms of truth produced by the literary text, the law, and literary criticism and the ways in which these discourse conflict or form allegiances in an effort to name the truth of a given text. By reading the trials in this manner, not seeking the truth of the text but the manner in which a claim to truth is produced, the fantasmatic investments operative within the law and the culture in which those laws govern become apparent. The emergence of the literary movement termed modernism was paralleled by a proliferation of legal prosecutions for obscenity. This thesis examines the intersection between the production of experimental literary texts and the law’s attempts to police and decide upon those texts’ effects upon the reader. Most readings of this period have posited a narrative that begins with a repressive law ignorant of the truth of the text towards a more permissive and benevolent law that recognizes the cultural benefits of literature. This thesis challenges this narrative by arguing that the transition from the literary text as a threat to society to the literary text as a support for public morality is not a question of the proper perception of the truth of the literary text. Rather, this thesis analyses the investments and labour required for both statements to be the case: The literary text’s undecidability allows the text to function as both an embodiment of death and of life, an ambiguity that requires, at first, the law’s intervention and, later, the intervention of literary criticism. The discourse of psychoanalysis, concomitant with both the emergence of modernism and this period of increased prosecution of literary texts, provides a means of reading both the trials and the texts in a manner which remains aware of the presence of desire in the apparently neutral work of the law and literary criticism. Psychoanalysis offers a form of reading attentive to a fundamental ambivalence at play within these texts, their trials and the law itself. It can help us discern how a literary text can be an embodiment of the death drive at one time and a means of combating that same destructive enjoyment at another.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date1 Aug 2019