Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The only constant is change

When I worked on an assembly line, one of my coworkers would sometimes say the title to this post. It was kind of ironic because on an assembly line things do not change very much. But he had worked there a long time and could remember when the assembly line was run much differently.

I reflected on this saying when I read the New York Times obituary for Edward de Grazia. As the obituary notes, Mr. de Grazia first became prominent in the 1955 when he sued the United States Postal Service over its seizure of a rare volume of the play Lysistrata. The Postal Service wanted to destroy the book because the play was “obscene, lewd and lascivious" according to then-Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield.  The obituary notes that the Postal Service also banned Candide by Voltaire. As a result of Mr. de Garzia's efforts the Postal Service released the seized volume before trial.

Fast forward ahead 25 years to a small Roman Catholic high school in a very conservative part of Wisconsin. The first assignment that all incoming freshmen received in Sister Michael's English class was to read Lysistrata. The following year, sophomores taking World Literature were assigned Candide. Whether those students wish to thank Mr. de Garzia for his efforts in making those works of literature available is unknown. But we all ought to be able to agree that the change from finding a play obscene, lewd, and lascivious to finding that play acceptable reading for fourteen-year-olds is a remarkable change and Mr. de Garzia was on the forefront of that change. 

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