Roadblocks to Publishing Obscenity and Blasphemy in Ulysses and The Satanic Verses
The publishing industry is in such turmoil—thanks to digital publishing platforms which offer higher royalties and instant gratification to authors—that nearly every day a new story comes to light of a bookstore closing, or a digital publishing success, giving doomsayers foretelling the death of the industry and the downfall of publishing houses endless material. While their claims are, in part, correct—the industry cannot go back to the way it was before the introduction of e-readers and Amazon—a glance backward to self-publishing in the past suggests that the industry is constantly in flux, and changes, whether in the realm of obscenity, blasphemy, or technology, inevitably impact the industry. Of course, even using the words “self-publishing” brings to mind a very specific definition, yet this definition has changed over time. Once, it brought to mind images of vanity presses, but now most of the buzz surrounding self-publishing is in the digital world. These developments have given rise to a number of anxieties in the publishing community: how will publishing houses make themselves relevant in the digital publishing world? What is the future of the publishing industry? Does a text carry the same weight as “literature” when published online as when published in print? Do we value literature less when it’s sold at discount prices? While I don’t presume to have the answers to these questions, my hope is that examining cases of self-publishing in the past will shed light on the new developments in the industry. With these issues in mind, in the following pages I will turn to Ulysses, examining three different written texts that appear: Martha’s letter, Deasy’s published letter, and Stephen’s unpublished verse. Turning next to The Satanic Verses, we see that blasphemy, not obscenity, forced Salman Rushdie to evade the traditional publishing system, even though his novel was initially much heralded in literary circles. Then, in a brief final discussion, I will reflect on how these issues of obscenity, blasphemy, and self-publishing play out today in the digital realm.