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Naked Lunch On Trial For Obscenity

Boston, Massachusetts has often been the setting of some major trials, including the one going on right now for the Boston Marathon bomber.

But, back in 1962, a book went on trial. Yep, Naked Lunch—William Burroughs’ famous novel—faced the Boston court system after having been labeled obscene. The book, literally, was on trial.

Naked Lunch must have had bad attorneys because it lost.

“BY THE COURT…The supreme Court of the United States has held that, to justify a holding of obscenity, “three elements must coalesce: it must be established that (a) the dominant theme of the material as a whole appeals to a prurient interest in sex (b) the material is offensive because it affronts contemporary community standards.. and (c) the material is utterly without redeeming social value”…”Naked Lunch” may appeal to the prurient interest of deviants and those curious about deviants. To us, it is grossly offensive and is what the author himself says, “brutal, obscene, and disgusting.” –Attorney General during the Boston trial of Naked Lunch.

Four years later, the Massachusetts Supreme Court would overturn the Boston decision, citing that the novel was found to have “some” social value. Not sure what that means, but it’s not really a ringing endorsement. It’s like saying, “Hey there my lady, your nostrils are perfectly round and your eyebrows don’t connect, so you have that in common with attractive women.”

Both Allen Ginsberg and Normal Mailer testified on behalf of Naked Lunch.

Having just read Housekeeping, I’m suffering a serious case of literary whiplash with this one. Naked Lunch is a vile, extremely difficult-to-read novel. It makes Lolita and Money look like kids’ books. I’m not kidding.

That said, I’m never a fan of government-sponsored censorship—even when it involves disgusting novels like this one.

Fair warning if you decide to read Naked Lunch…it’s a tough one.

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10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Stephen McDaniel #

    The overarching problem with censorship has always been that not everyone is offended by the same things. For one viewpoint to impose their standards and tastes on others is oppression in it’s ugliest form. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to read/watch/hear if if you don’t want to. But why prevent others from doing so? And community standards was always a joke. Exactly how many people in the community voted against Naked Lunch? There was no vote of course, the Attorney General just decided his standards were the community’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 17, 2015
  2. Reblogged this on oshriradhekrishnabole.

    Like

    March 17, 2015
  3. Had to be Boston. Those New England arbiters of Good Taste. The thing about this censorship biz is that it joins some very illustrious company: Huckleberry Finn, Ulysses, Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

    Like

    March 17, 2015
  4. From a difficulty perspective, how does it compare to Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake (if you can compare them, that is)?

    Like

    March 17, 2015
    • Nothing is more difficult than Finnegan’s Wake. Might be similar to Ulysses if Ulysses was all about heroin and drug addiction.

      Like

      March 18, 2015
  5. Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    Naked Lunch on trial for obscenity in 1962 Boston. How much has changed since! Thank you Robert….

    Like

    March 17, 2015
  6. Hmm…might skip this one. I have an affinity for reading banned (or previously banned) books. I’ve read Lolita, Huck Finn, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, and others. Lolita is vile but not really graphic, Lady Chatterly is graphic but not vile. I did begin to read De Sade’s, Justine once, but didn’t get very far. That is one book that should have been burned.

    Liked by 2 people

    March 17, 2015
  7. Ok…. now I’m curious!

    Like

    March 17, 2015
    • Go read the opening chapter on Google Books or Amazon. It’s an eye opener!

      Liked by 2 people

      March 18, 2015

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