Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fill In The Blanks

Samuel S. Goldberg was a New York lawyer who apparently had some connection with Frances Steloff’s Gotham Book Mart. [1] He befriended both Anais Nin [2] and Henry Miller in the early 1940s. Two personal letters from Miller to Goldberg went up for auction last year through Swann Galleries in New York. This original listing is still viewable on ArtFact.com.

The first letter was written to Goldberg from Miller in Big Sur on July 3, 1944. Miller's works, in large part, were still banned in the United States--including Tropic of Cancer. Miller has come up with a fascinating idea to circumvent the forces of expression oppression. If he had gone through with this idea, its modern collector’s value would probably be quite substantial. Imagine this: a copy of Tropic Of Cancer in which Miller has personally hand-written all the naughty bits into the blank spaces left by the publisher.

"Would you please tell me if I would be within the law in publishing the banned books with blank spaces for censorable words or phrases, assuming that in the fly leaf it read after this fashion: 'If you are curious about the blank spaces write the author.’ I would send him a printed slip giving words or phrases deleted,” wrote Miller to Goldman, seeking legal advice. “If the above plan is not viable, what of this--? State in the fly-leaf that [the] book is for the serious adult reader only . . . that blanks were left in order not to incriminate the printer. . . . I would, upon request, write in the missing words in my own hand . . . and thus assume all responsibilities myself.”

"In short, I am endeavoring to find a way to defeat a stupid censorship while remaining within the law. Will it work?"

Responding to Miller’s unconventional idea, Goldberg replied: “Frankly, as a lawyer, I would veto the proposals . . . The criminal law appears to be a lot stronger than many people think … The vicious part of the law is rather the elastic way in which Courts define the word ‘Obscene.’ I wish I could say that a stupid law can be beaten.”

On September 31 [sic], 1944, Miller sat down to write a response in kind to Goldberg. “'[T]he four freedoms’ won't help a god-damn bit. We need a ninth or a 15th freedom, it seems to me--or--just freedom, what?”
Ten years later, Miller was still struggling with ways to deal with state censorship, for his novel Plexus.
REFERENCES: [1] So says p.351 of Stuhlman's A Literate Passion, in reference to a letter from Miller to Anais Nin regarding a manuscript being sent to Goldberg in 1943. I've found very little about Goldberg, except that he was later a friend of Saul Bellow; [2] Goldberg had loaned money to Nin for her to re-print her first two books (Nin's "The Story of My Printing Press.").

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