Books Magazine

Naked Lunch On Trial For Obscenity

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

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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