The Sexual Censorship Controversy
We need to re-examine what needs to be censored and what should not be
Posted Nov 03, 2016
Last week Sky Blue Press published Anaïs Nin’s Auletris Erotica, writings that publisher Paul Herron discovered among the author’s archival papers. He submitted the book to Amazon to sell, and soon thereafter learned that Amazon had flagged it in the “Adult Content Dungeon” category. Basically, they censored the book, meaning that if you searched for the title in the general Amazon search box, it would look like it was unavailable. The only way to purchase the book through Amazon was in the “book” or “ebook” sections of the website, making its purchase arduous. Amazon claimed the book included adult content and had an obscene cover.
It should be noted that other erotica books by Nin, such as Little Birds, are sold on the site. Amazon suggested that Sky Blue Press change the cover of Auletris Erotica, which features an image from an erotic card in Nin’s collection—a beautiful illustration of a cabaret-dressed woman with her tiny nipples (looking like dots) exposed. Asking the publisher to make such a change is like asking artists to alter or revise their creative works—indeed, a ridiculous request that the publisher refused to honor. Instead, Herron chose to aggressively showcase Amazon’s decision through media coverage and also by recommending that readers buy the book. He said, “Amazon should not treat their customers as if they are incapable of making their own decisions about what to read.”
After a media uproar, Amazon wisely decided to reverse its stance and make the book more readily searchable. I find it shocking and unacceptable that Amazon made that initial decision to censor the book, although I give them kudos for reversing their decision. After all, this is 2016, not the first half of the 20th century, when censorship was more prevalent.
Censorship is commonly defined as “the suppression of freedom of speech or any other form of public expression that appears to be harmful, insensitive, or politically incorrect.” If we are to abide by the laws, then many of our politicians should definitely be censored. The inconsistency of what censorship means is absurd. What about The Story of O, which is about sexual domination; or Lolita, the story of an older man’s obsession with, and seduction of, a young girl? These two books certainly push the envelope in terms of sexuality and erotica, and they’re both written by literary geniuses. And what about Fifty Shades of Grey, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, or Tropic of Cancer—all of which have had unparalleled popularity? Why were these books not censored by Amazon?
I’m from the ’60s generation, the era of “Make Love Not War,” and censorship really aggravates me. This is the USA, where we advocate freedom of expression. If you’re uncomfortable with reading erotica, then don’t read it, but this doesn’t mean it should be unavailable to those who are interested in the genre.
As many of my readers know, I’m a huge Anaïs Nin fan (see my website, dianaraab.com), and would have bought the book regardless of the controversy. However, I put a rush on my order in preparation for writing this blog. The book includes two parts: “Life in Provincetown” and “Marcel,” both written in literary prose. The beauty of Nin’s writing, among other things, is that she weaves the psychological with the sensual aspects of intimacy, portraying lovemaking as both the emotional and physical experience it really is. She wasn’t a trained psychologist, but she was very well read in the field and underwent many years of psychotherapy with Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Rank. Some people say she was the mother of all mothers and helped many people, perhaps practicing psychology on her friends without a license.
Here’s one of my favorite Nin passages from Auletris Erotica, which is so telling: “It is strange how the character of a person is reflected in the sexual act. If one is nervous, timid, uneasy, fearful, the sexual act is the same. If one is relaxed and easy going the sexual act is relaxed and enjoyable. Hans’ penis never softens so he takes his time; with the certainty about it, he installs himself inside his pleasure as he installs himself inside of the present moment, to enjoy, calmly, completely, to the last drop. Marcel is more nervous, uneasy, restless. . . .” ( p. 80).
After reading Auletris, I have to conclude that the decision-makers at Amazon must not have read the book from cover to cover. If they had, they would have realized that this work is clearly literary erotica—a genre that needs to be developed in this country. In my opinion, the best and classiest erotica is written by foreign-born individuals such as Nin, who understand the beauty and complexity of intimacy, rather than the crude portrayal evident in so many American erotic works. Viva Anaïs Nin!