Banned Books Awareness: “Naked Lunch”

Share:

200px-NakedLunch1steditionNaked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs, was originally published in 1959 and is included in Time magazine’s “100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005”. Burroughs stated that the chapters, or “routines” as he calls them- are a collection of loosely-connected vignettes and intended to be read in any order which follow the adventures of junkie William Lee, who takes on various aliases from the U.S. to Mexico and other places. The stories come from Burroughs’ own experiences and his addiction to drugs (heroin, morphine, and while in Tangier, “Majoun”- a strong marijuana confection-, as well as a German opiate called Eukodol, of which he wrote about frequently).

It was originally published as The Naked Lunch in Paris in July 1959 by Olympia Press, but due to U.S. obscenity laws a complete American edition did not follow until 1962 and was titled Naked Lunch. This edition was noticeably different from the Olympia Press edition because it was based on an earlier 1958 manuscript in Allen Ginsberg’s possession. The article “the” added to the title was never proposed by Burroughs and added by the editors of Olympia Press.

Burroughs states in his introduction that Jack Kerouac suggested the title. “The title means exactly what it states: naked lunch- a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.”

Naked Lunch is Burroughs’ signature work and considered today one of the pillars of American literary history despite being quite controversial with subjects such as drug use and homosexuality.

Sections of the original manuscript were published in the Spring 1958 edition of Robert Creeley’s Black Mountain Review and the Spring 1958 edition of the University of Chicago’s student-run publication The Chicago Review. The student edition was poorly received and caused the university’s administration to discuss the future censorship of the Winter 1959 edition of the Review, resulting in the resignation of all but one of the editors. When the editor, Paul Carroll, published BIG TABLE Magazine (Issue No. 1, Spring 1959) alongside former Chicago Review editor Irving Rosenthal, he was found guilty of sending obscene material through the U.S. mail for including “Ten Episodes from Naked Lunch”, a piece of writing the Judicial Officer for the United States Postal Service deemed “undisciplined prose, far more akin to the early work of experimental adolescents than to anything of literary merit” and initially judged it as non-mailable under the provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 1461.

The book was banned in Boston and Los Angeles in 1962 and several European publishers were harassed.

The controversy even resulted in an infamous 1965 obscenity trial taking issue with its inclusion of child murder and acts of pedophilia, but that decision was reversed in 1966 by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The Appeals Court found the book did not violate obscenity statutes and ruled it to have some social value. The hearing included testimony in support of the work by Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer.

For a further- and thoroughly-interesting read- here is a link to a partial transcript from the trial involving testimony by Ginsberg and noted author Norman Mailer. Here’s a snippet:

Q: When you use the words, “absolutely fascinating,” and so on, do you mean also, it has importance to you as a writer and other writers? Are you expressing notion of its importance?

Mailer: It has enormous importance to me as writer.

As for its social value, that is derived from the social discourse the work prompts on various subjects- specifically the death penalty. In Burroughs’ “Deposition: A Testimony Concerning A Sickness”, “The Blue Movies” which appear in the routine “A.J.’s Annual Party”, is considered “a tract against capital punishment.”

Naked Lunch was also banned in Australia from 1960-1973 and labeled as “hard-core pornography” by Customs after an imported copy was seized at Port Adelaide in February 1960.

Chairman Kenneth Binn’s report on ‘Naked Lunch’, 3 October 1963

In September 1963 the Literature Censorship Board received an application from Clem Christesen, founder of the literary and cultural affairs journal Meanjin, to import the novel under Regulation 4A of the Customs Act, which allowed prohibited literary books to be placed on restricted circulation. The Board didn’t agree with the Customs Department’s decision to ban Naked Lunch as pornographic recommended that Christesen’s request be approved. However, the censors unanimously agreed to retain the ban on the general sale of the book. Chairman Kenneth Binns concluded that “there is no need to note any particularly objectionable scene or passage for the book is so full of them and the general writing so extremely coarse that one need only consider the general character and tone.”

By July 1973, Naked Lunch was one of the last literary works to remain on Australia’s prohibited list. John Allen wrote to Customs Minister Don Chipp in 1972: “(sic) Being well aware that book censorship has to some extent been liberalised during your present term of office, I am most perplexed that Burroughs’ work should still be unavailable here.”

The Board agreed and removed the ban as well as on two other titles by Burroughs. What’s disturbing is the reasoning behind the decision. It wasn’t logic or an acknowledgment that censorship in any form is wrong. The official reason to lift the ban was because “none of them [are] likely to be popular reading, [and] had already been on the list for some time”.

The full 44 page customs report from 1973 can be viewed on the National Archives of Australia’s website.

For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://bbark.deepforestproductions.com/

Sources: Wikipedia, American Library Association, University of Melbourne, National Archives of Australia
© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

Share:

Written in 1937 by Zora Neale Hurston, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” tells the story of Janie Crawford, a 16-year-old whose grandmother decides to marry her off to a well-respected man in the community.

Fellow censored author, Alice Walker, had this to say about the book: “There is no book more important to me than this one.”

Walker was an exception, though; as the novel’s negative public reaction came mostly from black critics and essayists. Interestingly, the positive reviews came from the white mainstream press.

The poor reception resulted from Hurston’s rejection of Racial Uplift literature- an ideology that educated blacks are responsible for the welfare of the majority of the race-, which was a response to the denial of African-American civil and political rights in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Today, however, it has come to be regarded as a pivotal work in both African-American and women’s literature. TIME magazine has included the novel in its 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.

In 1927, long before writing her novel, Hurston traveled the South to collect folk songs and tales through an anthropological research fellowship and the setting of the all-black Eatonville is based on the real, all-black town of the same name in which Hurston grew up. The town’s weekly announced in 1889, “Colored People of the United States: Solve the great race problem by securing a home in Eatonville, Florida, a Negro city governed by Negroes.”

Since its publication, there has been objection to the language in the novel. These objections haven’t been about profanity but rather a criticism against characters speaking in a phonetic dialect, which is taken by some to be a mocking of how English is spoken among the black community.

Hurston’s rejection to the Racial Uplift efforts was that it presented African Americans in a way that would accommodate the cultural standards of the white majority and she asserted that her writing was distinct from other works of the Harlem Renaissance- which she described as the “sobbing school of Negrohood” that portrayed the lives of black people as constantly miserable, subjugated, and poor. Instead, Hurston celebrated the rural, southern communities as she saw them and especially refused to censor women’s sexuality, using innuendo to embrace the physical length of Janie’s various romances.

Add to that a story dealing with rape, inter-racial relationships, murder (even if it was in self-defense), and forced marriage it illustrates how it would be considered controversial from the start, but these subjects are just as emotionally charged in modern times: in 1997, a parent complained of language and sexual explicitness to the Stonewall Jackson High School in Brentsville, Virginia. After debate it was retained in their advanced reading list.

Janie’s story is one of self-identity and control of one’s own fate. Nearly 80 years after being published, its underlying theme of a journey toward self-realization still shoots right to the heart of readers of all ages and backgrounds. Humans, who are walking, running, and, sometimes, blindly stumbling along life’s path toward a common goal of personal fulfillment.

The power and importance of this universal struggle is summed up in a passage toward the end of the book, when Janie’s home is about to be destroyed by a hurricane:

“The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”
For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://bbark.deepforestproductions.com/

Sources: Wikipedia, American Library Association
© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Celebrating Freedom: Banned Books Week 2014

Share:

I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the power of Banned Books Week than to share something wonderful and deeply touching.

In the last several months leading up to this year’s Banned Books Week I have been humbled and honored to read and share comments and letters I have received from people all over the world touched and inspired by the work of Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge. Some of them have been words of gratitude and some have included pictures of banned book displays- such as my most recent column about a California bookstore.

In January I shared an email I received from a woman dealing with a censorship effort at her former high school of Toni Morrison’s Bluest Eye and several other titles. You can read about it in my article, A Multitude of Drops. Tonight I received an update to that effort and knew immediately that I had to share it.

“I’m not sure I ever updated you on the progress of my campaign with my former high school. I’ve been to your website numerous times since and returned today figuring you’d have something awesome posted about Banned Books Week and I was right! Reading your newest post just reminded me the power we have to speak up for books. My former school did not ban THE BLUEST EYE by Toni Morrison and other titles have remained in the library as well. I posted a few months ago about book banning and the power of books on my blog and mentioned some of the amazing things you had to say as well. But this being Banned Books Week, I thought I would speak about it again, as you encouraged me to do so many months ago. If you’d like you can check out the post on my blog written under my pen name here: Kayla King Books: Beware the Book

I just wanted to thank you again for your wonderful website and the resource it offers other readers and even people who don’t understand the power of books. At the end of the day, I suppose it’s nice to know there are people like you willing to stand up for something that simply shouldn’t happen. Books are too important to turn a blind eye to this issue. So thank you (one last time) for making people see how important stories and words are to the world.”

KEEP CALM AND READ ON!

~Kayla

Imagine what can be accomplished and what kind of world we could build if everyone had the willingness to act instead of mutter “Well, I just (insert excuse here)…”

Whether it is censorship, general injustice, or whatever issue you hold dear, this underscores in a huge way just how powerful and meaningful a single voice can be. Let these stories of courageous people inspire you to stand up for truth and freedom. I am proud of each of these people. I welcome and applaud their efforts to  stand against ignorance, fear, and intolerance.

Total darkness can not exist amid a single flicker of light. Set the world ablaze with light!