The thesis of Bookleggers and Smuthounds is that there is a profound symbiosis between the erotica distributor (who appeals to prurience to make money) and the censor. It functions to keep the connection between sex and shame intact, despite the distributors’ claims to be martyrs for free expression. I think DHL’s contempt for both censorship and what he (arbitrarily) called “true pornography” is relevant to this symbiosis. The distributor and prosecutor of erotica are engaged in a relationship which reminds me of the one that Gertler’s “Merry Go Round” painting exemplifies. Lawrence wrote of how Gertler captured a “violent mechanized rotation and complete involution, and ghastly utterly mindless human intensity of sensational extremity....” (9 Oct. 1916). That sounds like the process, and often the commercialized result: a cynical, voyeuristic, furtive piece of writing (or drawing). DHL. saw it in the book by Ben Hecht, Fantazius Mallare, which he reviewed in Laughing Horse no. 4 in Oct. 1922; it was published, in expurgated form, under was “Chère Jeunesse.” (It’s been published separately as “A Letter to ‘Laughing Horse’” by the Yerba BuenaPress in 1936). DHL sneers at the drawings and text as pretentiously “would be,” intended to shock and to generate masturbatory fantasies–sex in the head. Hecht and his publisher, Covici, were no mercenaries, but they had gotten into the symbiotic cycle which associates sex with the furtive and the sinister: pornography, holding images in one’s mind to allow the individual to spend sexual energies, with the aid of mechanical reproductions and without any of the personal risks of needing a partner or prioritizing sensation over material security. “I don’t keep my passions, or reactions, or even sensations in my head. They stay down where they belong,” L said in his review.
I think the psychic damage of being in the businesses of selling sex or morality is powerfully encapsulated in Women in Love in Loerke’s “knowledge” of the power and the beauty of the machine. Loerke’s impoverished upbringing forced him to become a kind of soulless predator, and the erotica distributors I studied, immigrants or sons of immigrants, similarly had to take dirty jobs to survive. Their stories–esp. that of Samuel Roth–do show, in addition to amazing toughness, resourcefulness, and chutzpah, a kind of self-hatred, and an inability to face the way in which the cycle of exploitation and being exploited has harmed them. L. felt sorry for Gertler for being so aware of this kind of cycle: “I realize how superficial your human relationships must be and what a violent maelstrom of destruction and horror your inner soul must be... you seem to be flying like a moth into a flame.” Of course, if Gertler had just told L to bugger off (esp. because of the “takes a Jew to paint this picture” bit), that would be hard to criticize. However, Lawrence does not allow people to get away with that kind of reaction.