Pointless on Pornography

Have you ever heard or used the argument, ‘I know it when I see it’? It comes from a pornography decision by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, uttered in 1964 when he ruled on Jacobellis vs. Ohio, where he had to decide if Ohio’s claim that the French movie Les Amants is obscene was right.

Nowadays it is sometimes invoked when self-proclaimed scholars try to define literary genres, if a certain work [novel or movie] is one genre or another, or even when moral judgements are asked for. In short: it’s the learned man’s cop-out. Not that women are better.

Interestingly Justice Potter Stewart later took back his most famous claim, when he declared – in Miller vs. California – his former position untenable. So, it does not work for something rather clear-cut as pornography. But some still think it works when applied to even bigger and more complex phenomena in the humanities …

Notes:
1. No it isn’t and wasn’t; as Potter Stewart put it: ‘[T]he motion picture involved in this case is not that.’
No it isn’t and wasn’t; as Potter Stewart put it: ‘[T]he motion picture involved in this case is not that.’

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