Thursday, November 16, 2006

Justice Potter Stewart of the U.S. Supreme Court gave a celebrated response to the question of pornography: "I don't know how to define it, but I know it when I see it." This fairly common remark characterizes the state of confusion that ensues whenever we attempt to define pornography, and it seems to have persisted longer than any definition yet offered. The problem of definition was nowhere nearer to a solution when a panel of experts on pornography, incuding Erica Jong of Fear of Flying fame and Al Goldstein, publisher of Screw magazine, met and discussed the issue for Harper's magazine. The panel launched into an exhaustive probe of pornography but, as expected, could not come to anything resembling an answer. Goldstein, whose attitude toward the subject is nothing if not straightforward, summarized the conclusion in this inclusive statement: "The problem with pornography is that no one really knows what it is, no one knows where to draw the line that separates it from other forms of expression."--Jon Huer, Art, Beauty and Pornography (Prometheus Books, 1987)

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