The "new" censorship of the arts, some cultural critics say, is just one more item on the "new" Right's agenda, of a piece with attempts to regulate sexuality, curtail female reproductive rights, restrict gays and lesbians, and privatize public institutions. While not contesting this assessment, the writers gathered here expose crucial difficulties in using censorship, old and new, as a tool for cultural criticism. Focusing on historical moments ranging from early-modern Europe to postmodern American, and covering a variety of media from books and paintings to film and photography, their essays seek a deeper understanding of what "censorship", "criticism" and the "public sphere" really mean. Getting rid of the censor, the contributors suggest, does not get rid of the problem of censorship. In varied but complementary ways, their essays view censorship as something more than a negative, unified institutional practice used to repress certain discourses. Instead, the authors contend that censorship actually legitimates discourses - not only by allowing them to circulate, but by joining them in a sort of performance, a staging of oppositions.
These essays move discussions of censorship out of the present discourse of diversity into what might be called a discourse of legitimation. In doing so, they open up the possibility of realignments between those who are disenchanted with both stereotypical right-wing criticisms of political critics and aesthetics, and stereotypical left-wing defences. Richard Burt is the author of "Licensed By Authority: Ben Jonson and the Discourses of Censorship".