The Scandal of Pleasure / Edition 1

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Surveying a wide range of cultural controversies, from the Mapplethorpe affair to Salman Rushdie's death sentence, from canon-revision in the academy to the scandals that have surrounded Anthony Blunt, Martin Heidegger, and Paul de Man, Wendy Steiner shows that the fear and outrage they inspired are the result of dangerous misunderstanding about the relationship between art and life.

"Stimulating. . . . A splendid rebuttal of those on the left and right who think that the pleasures induced by art are trivial or dangerous. . . . One of the most powerful defenses of the potentiality of art."—Andrew Delbanco, New York Times Book Review

"A concise and . . . readable account of recent contretemps that have galvanized the debate over the role and purposes of art. . . . [Steiner] writes passionately about what she believes in."—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

"This is one of the few works of cultural criticism that is actually intelligible to the nonspecialist reader. . . . Steiner's perspective is fresh and her perceptions invariably shrewd, far-ranging, and reasonable. A welcome association of sense and sensibility."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Steiner has succeeded so well in [the] task she has undertaken. The Scandal of Pleasure is itself characterized by many of the qualities Steiner demans of art, among them, complexity, tolerance and the pleasures of unfettered thought."—Eleanor Heartly, Art in America

"Steiner . . . provides the best and clearest short presentation of each of [the] debates."—Alexander Nehamas, Boston Book Review

"Steiner has done a fine job as a historian/reporter and as a writer of sophisticated, very clear, cultural criticism. Her reportage alone would be enough to make this a distinguished book."—Mark Edmundson, Lingua Franca

Writing with calm authority for everyone concerned with the values of culture in a democracy, Steiner surveys a wide range of controversies--from the Mapplethorpe affair to political correctness on college campuses--to show that the fear and outrage inspired by these cases rests on a dangerous misunderstanding of the relationship of art to life--a misunderstanding that is fanned by the new conservative order on Capitol Hill. 30 illustrations.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Reviewing the controversy over Robert Mapplethorpe's many photos of sadomasochistic scenes and Andres Serrano's iconoclastic sculpture, University of Pennsylvania English professor Steiner argues that art, however disturbing, cannot be obscene because artworks, as thought-experiments, are always open to personal interpretations. The anti-pornography campaign of Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin ignores reports that no solid evidence exists to link pornography with rape or child abuse, declares Steiner, who castigates their militant feminism as an ``unholy alliance between the far left and the far right.'' Interpreting Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses as a satirical attack on Islamic fundamentalism, she defends his artistic integrity and reads his novel as a work of magic realism. She also ponders the failure of teachers to live up to their precepts, as exemplified by philosopher Martin Heidegger, a dues-paying Nazi. Her brilliant, incisive essays breathe fresh air into the debate over artistic freedom and political correctness. (Dec.)
Library Journal
Steiner (English, Univ. of Pennsylvania) takes on the Mapplethorpe/Serrano/NEA blowup, the Ayatollah's death sentence on Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses, the Dworkin-MacKinnon anti-pornography movement, political correctness, and the disparity between the scholarly and political activities of Anthony Blunt, Martin Heidegger, and Paul de Man. Her intelligent, evenhanded presentation of the events and issues involved in each argues against the literalism of the Left and Right, which both see art as identical to reality. Steiner instead emphasizes that art is a virtual reality whose pleasurable enjoyment can enable us to master the difference between fantasy and reality. Her book is calm and rational-qualities in short supply in the current climate of hysteria over the questions she treats. For literature collections.-Richard Kuczkowski, Dominican Coll., Blauvelt, N.Y.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226772240
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1997
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 251
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
The Arts Embattled
1. The Perfect Moment
2. The Literalism of the Left
3. Fetish or Fatwa?
4. Caliban in the Ivory Tower
5. La Trahison des Clercs
Enlightened Beguilement

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