Obscenity & Bungled Neuter Nouns

Unfortunately, Lawrence’s stylistic preference for dramatic repetitions of the Latin phrases which he employs here simply remove any doubt that it was a mere slip of the pen:

D.H. Lawrence, Pornography and Obscenity:

The same with the word obscene: nobody knows what it means. Suppose it were derived from obscena: that which might not be represented on the stage,—how much further are you? None! What is obscene to Tom is not obscene to Lucy or Joe, and really, the meaning of a word has to wait for majorities to decide it. If a play shocks ten people in an audience, and doesn’t shock the remaining five hundred, then it is obscene to ten and innocuous to five hundred: hence,the play is not obscene, by majority. But Hamlet shocked all the Cromwellian Puritans, and shocks nobody today, and some Aristophanes shocks everybody today, and didn’t galvanise the later Greeks at all, apparently. Man is a changeable beast, and words change their meanings with him, and things are not what they seemed, and what’s what becomes what isn’t,and if we think we know where we are it’s only because we are so rapidly being translated to somewhere else. We have to leave everything to the majority,everything to the majority, everything to the mob, the mob, the mob. They know what is obscene and what isn’t, they do. If the lower ten million doesn’t know better than the upper ten men, then there’s something wrong with mathematics. Take a vote on it! Show hands, and prove it by count! Vox populi, vox Dei. Odi profanum vulgum. Profanum vulgum! profanum vulgum. [sic – Read ‘vulgus’.]

So it comes down to this: if you are talking to the mob, the meaning of your words is the mob-meaning, decided by majority. As somebody wrote to me: the American law on obscenity is very plain, and America is going to enforce the law.—Quite, my dear, quite, quite, quite! The mob knows all about obscenity. Mild little words that rhyme with spit or farce are the height of obscenity. Supposing a printer put “h” in the place of “p”, by mistake, in that mere word spit? Then the great American public knows that this man has committed an obscenity, an indecency,that his act was lewd, and as a compositor he was pornographical. You can’t tamper with the great public, British or American. Vox populi, vox Dei, don’t you know. If you don’t we’ll let you know it.—At the same time,this vox Dei shouts with praise over movie-pictures and books and newspaper accounts that seem, to a sinful nature like mine, completely disgusting and obscene. Like a real prude and Puritan, I have to look the other way. When obscenity becomes mawkish, which is its palatable form for the public, and when the Vox populi, vox Dei is hoarse with sentimental indecency, then I have to steer away,like a Pharisee, afraid of being contaminated. There is a certain kind of sticky universal pitch that I refuse to touch.

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