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Haunted by Words

Scandalous Texts

Alyson Miller

This book critically examines a wide range of contemporary literary scandals in order to identify the cultural and literary anxieties revealed by controversial works. It explores how scandal predominantly emerges in relation to texts which offer challenging representations concerning children, women, sexuality, religion and authenticity, and how literary controversies bring to the surface a series of concerns about the complex construction of identity, history and reality. Including works such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (1996–2007), Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho (1991), James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces (2003), Misha Defonseca’s Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust (1997), Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (1988) and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (1995–2000), the author analyses a broad spectrum of texts in order to examine why books continue to provoke public debate and outrage, and what the arguments surrounding scandalous works suggest about literature and the world.


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Chapter One - Unsuited to Age Group: The Anxietiesof Children’s Literature 17


17 Chapter One Unsuited To Age Group: The Scandals of Children’s Literature In what has come to be known as the 2007 ‘Mini-Penis Scandal’, US publishers Boyd Mills Press refused to release the German picture storybook Winter-Wimmelbuch on the grounds that it contained in- appropriate illustrations of naked male and female bodies. Before its distribution, the publishers requested that the book, by Rotraut Su- sanne Berner, remove images deemed unacceptable for an American audience, namely, art gallery scenes of a cartoon nude and a seven- millimetre-tall statue of a naked man on a pedestal. The statue’s ‘mini- willy’, Franziska Bossy and Elke Schmitter contend, ‘is hardly even a half-millimetre long’, while the ‘naked woman hanging on the wall […] [is] hardly a realistic depiction of the female anatomy’ (2007). When Berner argued that ‘she could maybe have lived with putting black bars in front of the problem spots, but “invisible censorship” was out’, the publishers declined to print an American version of the book (qu. Bossy & Schmitter, 2007). ‘American kiddies’, Bossy and Schmitter observe, are now ‘safe from shocking German sensibilities’, protected from a potentially harmful exposure to the ‘cartoon boobies and mini-penis’ (2007). As the German newspaper Die Welt declared: ‘Kein deutscher Mini-Penis für die USA’ (qu. Zammarelli, 2007a).2 The scandal of the ‘teenie weenie’ (Deutsche Welle qu. Zam- marelli, 2007a), while focussed on an image, is situated in a long and complex history of controversy about children’s literature. In- deed, since the development of a notion of...

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