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Old Puritan Wine In New Bottles

"The FBI’s Obscene File: J. Edgar Hoover and the Bureau’s Crusade Against Smut, by Douglas M Charles, University Press of Kansas, 200 pp, £21.50, ISBN: 978-0700618255

“Or as they say in New York, sophisticated …”

As god is my witness, I don’t think it mattered
Whether it was Aemilius’s gob or arse I was smelling.
One’s no cleaner nor dirtier than the other, 
but in fact his arse is both more clean and pleasant, 
because at least it has no teeth. The mouth
has teeth that stretch for a foot, gums like a go-kart,
jaws that always gape wide as the cunt 
of a pissing mule on heat. He fucks all the women 
that he can get, somehow he is quite the charmer, 
or so he thinks. So the mule works the treadmill.
Aren’t we entitled to think that any girl who’d touch him
Would have no problem licking a dirty hangman’s hole?

We can probably agree that this (Catullus 97, my translation) is disgusting, and our poet is clearly attempting to get his reader to share in a disgust that he himself has already felt. But is it obscene? What should we say or do to its maker? In the time when Catullus wrote this, it was not as if poets were free from punishment or persecution; as Ovid found out to his cost, banished to the Black Sea by Augustus for his still unknown “error”. There is nothing in Ovid that is as apparently provocative as what we find in Catullus, however, and the latter more or less lived as he pleased, writing without fear of consequences. So when does something become disgusting to the point of being punishable or requiring legislation? That is the moment of crisis at which we can usually define the obscene.”

Homo: Facebook is the new FBI, both agents of puritanical sex panic,

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