For aficionados of the Beat writers, an obscenity trial in Turkey is a throwback to half a century ago, when Naked Lunch was banned in Boston.
The Turkish publisher and translator of William S. Burroughs' The Soft Machine are facing prison terms of six months to three years for allegedly violating a Turkish law against the publication and writing of pornography. Their trial, which opened in Istanbul on July 6, is the first in Turkey to target the work of a Beat Generation writer.
First published in 1961, The Soft Machine is a classic Burroughs drug-addled narrative, relating the time-travel journey of a secret agent battling with Mayan priests using mind control to direct slaves to harvest maize. The work uses an anti-establishment “broken” literary form called the cut-up method. The book also details Burroughs’ own struggle with drug addiction, which is presented as a form of mind control.
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Maria Eliades is an Istanbul-based writer who covers Turkish literature and culture.