Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bloomsday and Free Speech

June 16th is referred to as Bloomsday; all of the events in James' Joyce Ulysses, featuring the characters Leopold and Molly Bloom, occur on June 16.  The event is celebrated in various ways, including this year tweeting the lengthy novel bit by bit, albeit abridged. 483px-Djuna_Barnes_-_Joyce

For free speech afficionados, the novel is best known for its attempted censorship.  In United States v. One Book Called “Ulysses,” 5 F. Supp. 182 (S.D.N.Y. 1933), affirmed by 72 F.2d 705 (2d Cir. 1934), the government brought a forfeiture case against  the book itself to ban its importation.  Professor Stephen Gillers extensively discusses the case in a 2007 article, A Tendency to Deprave and Corrupt: The Transformation of American Obscenity Law from Hicklin to Ulysses II, published at 85 Washington University Law Review 215, available on ssrn.

The opinion issued by respected and erudite federal district judge John Munro Woolsey was used as a preface in editions of the book for 50 years.  But as Gillers argues:

"The opinion is not recognizable as law. It proves why the law should mostly stay out of the censorship business. Twenty-five years later, Learned Hand, one of three judges who heard the government’s appeal from Woolsey’s decision, told his biographer, Gerald Gunther, that Woolsey thought himself “literary” and “That’s a very dangerous thing for a judge to be. I didn’t say it was a bad quality; I said it was a dangerous one . . . .”

For those interested in the British censorship of the novel, Carmelo Medina Casado’s article, Sifting through Censorship: The British Home Office "Ulysses" Files (1922-1936), in the James Joyce Quarterly 37 (3/4) 479-508 (2000) is a must read. 


[image: sketch of James Joyce by Djuana Barnes via]

Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Sexuality, Speech | Permalink

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