The Boston Trial of Naked Lunch

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Boston, Mass., once the scene of such famous censorship trials as those involving Forever Amber, God’s Little Acre, and, more recently, Tropic of Cancer, again attracted a distinguished gathering of literary luminaries on January 12, 1965, when “A Book Named Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs” found itself the defendant in Boston Superior Court before Judge J. Hudson.1 The witnesses who testified on behalf of Naked Lunch included Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, John Ciardi, Paul Hollander, Gabriele B. Jackson, Norman Holland, Stanley E. Eldred, John B. Sturrock, and Thomas H. Jackson. The attorney appearing in behalf of the book and its publisher, Grove Press, Inc., was Edward de Grazia, assisted by Daniel Klubock. As we go to press the court has still to hand down its decision. What follows are excerpts from the testimony of Mr. Mailer and Mr. Ginsberg, concluded by a statement from Mr. de GRAZIA.

EDWARD DE GRAZIA: Mr. Mailer, you have referred to the fact that in some of your writings you deal with political matters. Would it be unfair to say that in much of your writing, both as a novelist and as an essayist, you deal with moral questions and moral matters?

NORMAN MAILER: Well, I try to. It’s like saying —

Q. What’s good and bad.

A. If you’re a ballplayer you would not like to say you are a good third baseman, you try to play third base. You try to deal with moral questions. Whether you deal with them well is another matter.

Q. When I use the word “moral,” there, I mean, you are trying to deal with questions of good and bad and good and evil?

A. Yes. I try to deal with such questions.

Q. You have read NAKED LUNCH, the book before the Court?

A. Yes, I have.

Q. Do you have some opinion as to its importance?

A. I have a changing opinion as to its importance, because I have now read the book, not completely, but I have read the book completely twice. I have read more than two-thirds of the book, in other words, three times. I have encountered the book over a period of about three or four years; or to be more precise, I first encountered it in 1959, in the magazine Big Table. I read an excerpt from it; then I read the book entirely about two years ago, when it came out. In the last few days I have read it very slowly and carefully. I have read the first hundred and ten pages.

THE COURT: What is the association between Big Table and NAKED LUNCH?

MAILER: Big Table is a magazine.

THE COURT: I assume it is a trade magazine.

MAILER: Big Table was a magazine that was put out by some editors who had left the Chicago Review, which was a literary magazine of the University of Chicago.

DE GRAZIA: Mr. Mailer, would you now tell us, in your own words, the importance that you see in the novel, changing as it may be?

MAILER: Well, the change I have mentioned, the change — because what is interesting about it to me — I started reading the book. I liked the book very much when I read it. The last time I said, “Fine thing.” I started to read it with trepidation, whether I didn’t like it as much.

THE COURT: Did that concern you too much?

MAILER: Well, if I am going to testify on it —

THE COURT: In that light, pardon me.

MAILER: So, I found, as I read it —

THE COURT: If you read a book once and took a fancy to it and read it a second time and didn’t like it, you wouldn’t want to take your life under those circumstances, would you?

MAILER: No, sir. At any rate I found I had more respect for the reading of it this time. I haven’t finished it. I had to read slowly and think about it a great deal, as to my respect for it. I have a feeling that it is much more of a literary work than I felt the previous time, even though the previous time I felt it was a work of high talent. The man has extraordinary talent. Possibly he is the most talented writer in America. As a professional writer I don’t like to go about bestowing credit on any other writers.

THE COURT: Have you read him before?

MAILER: I read a book, JUNKY; and I read it in a paperback; and it is just a very good, hardboiled sort of novel. It is a false novel. He wrote it to make some money; but it is well written. Small portions of it, as a matter of fact, appear in NAKED LUNCH as one of the themes.

But I felt, reading it through this last time, I had the feeling that the work presents a kind of complexity which I will not compare to James Joyce’s ULYSSES, I’d say it is not without comparison. It’s possible, as a work that would take considerable inquiry and study. I found it considerably less shocking as I read it this time. I felt it more and more, the purpose in the various parts of it. The first time through I thought it was well-written. The man has extraordinary style. He catches just a little of the beauty. I think he catches the beauty, at the same time the viciousness and the meanness and the excitement, you see, of ordinary talk, the talk of criminals, of soldiers, athletes, junkies.

There is a kind of speech that is referred to as gutter talk that often has a very fine, incisive, dramatic line to it; and Burroughs captures that speech like no American writer I know. He also — and this makes it impressive to me as a writer — he also has an exquisite poetic sense. His poetic images are intense. They are often disgusting; but at the same time there is a sense of collision in them, of montage that is quite unusual. And, as I say, all this together gives me great respect for his style. But I also began to feel that really this time there is more to his intent than I had ever recognized before; that the work was more of a deep work, a calculated work, a planned work. In other words, the artistry in it was more deliberate and more profound than I thought before. So, as a matter of fact, after this case is over, I am looking forward to finishing it. As I say, I have read just the first half this time through.

DE GRAZIA: Mr. Mailer, while you are on that subject, there was a reference earlier by Mr. Cowin (Assistant Attorney General,) to the question of the notes, of his notes of which he has no precise memory of having written, which later became the basis of NAKED LUNCH; and I was wondering, as a writer, if you could give us your opinion what may have been involved here?

A. Yes. I listened to that very carefully because I remembered reading that in the beginning of the book; and it seemed to me, as I was reading the book, I started thinking about a matter that is one of the mysteries of writing. It is very often you can wake up in the morning and start writing and you have this experience: what you are writing about is what you haven’t been thinking about. It will come out in detail. One’s best writing seems to bear no relation to what one is thinking about. There is an unconscious calculation that seems to go on in one’s sleep. The work is done while you sleep, and the discipline of writing is almost to keep from interfering with that creative work that is done by the unconscious. In other words, if a man is working on a novel, that his habits are regular and precise — I am getting longwinded here for a point. The best of his habits are regular because he doesn’t portray the work he is performing while conscious.

In Burroughs’ work I think something quite extraordinary is going on here, since the man is a self-confessed drug addict. I have heard various versions of how he wrote NAKED LUNCH. He seems to have been writing — he wrote somewhere, he used to write coming out of drug addictions, at other times he says he wrote it in drug addictions, while he was a drug addict. It is possible he wrote this book in all three phases. I am just guessing this. Possibly it was written while an addict, while withdrawing, and while he was withdrawn from addiction.

But what is fascinating to me is that there is a structure to the book, you see, which is doubtless imperfect. I think one reason we can’t call it a great book like REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST or ULYSSES, the imperfection of this structure. There is no doubt as to the man’s talent while it was, perhaps, excited and inflamed by drug addiction, it was also hurt. This man might have been one of the greatest geniuses of the English language if he had never been an addict. Through this there is a feeling of great torture in the composition of the book. What comes through to me is that there also is style, the subconscious going through all the various trials and ordeals of addiction, he still holds on to a scheme in the book; and there is a deep meaning. It is curious the way these themes keep recurring.

I have no idea how the book was put together. The ingredients are so exceptional, like you have a banquet of thirty, forty components. You may eat in any order. You may shift them. The themes are so deeply entwined; any page put with another page creates an aura. It was so profoundly conceived.

Well, it may be this book was so — as I say, has no other structure than the profundity of the experience that the author had, the particular ordeal the man went through in his life; or it may be that there is a firm structure to it. It is just on the basis of these three readings. I feel the work is sufficiently complex I couldn’t begin to see — I found it absolutely fascinating because it draws me to read it further and further, the way ULYSSES did when I read that in college, as if there are mysteries to be uncovered when I read it.

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?

A. It has enormous importance to me as writer.

Q. Before, you mentioned the unconscious and subconscious. Do you have a feeling, as a writer, that one of the important tests of a writer is to be able to summon up, to evoke unconscious material and put it into artistic form, and that in order to make his contribution, as a writer, to society? Is this part of your feeling of one of the writer’s tasks or problems? And if so, has Burroughs done this very well?

A. Well, I think that I don’t want to go to great length about what I think.

Q. Let me rephrase the question more simply. Do you think that Burroughs in this book has drawn up out of the unconscious, in one way or another, a great deal of material which has become useful, which by being placed in artistic form, has become unique?

1 think it is not only unique and useful, but I think that he has given a portrait in this work. I think this work, as one of the gentlemen who testified earlier spoke of St. Augustine, I wouldn’t begin to think of St. Augustine. To me this is a simple portrayal of Hell. It is Hell precisely. In fact, Your Honor, I have written a little bit about that to bring in — Should I read that, if you wish?

Q. You have some notes. I think?

THE COURT: You have some notes?

MAILER: I have some notes.

THE COURT: You may.

MAILER: Well, in these notes, I said —

THE COURT: Incidentally, when did you draw up these notes?

MAILER: I wrote them on Sunday. I have written about William Burroughs before; and I wrote about him in Esquire two years ago, I think, a year and a half ago. But I felt I didn’t want to even look back at that. The remarks were complimentary, but I felt I wanted it freshly. If you wish I can give this to you?

Q. Go ahead, Mr. Mailer.

A. William Burroughs is in my opinion — whatever his conscious intention may be — a religious writer. There is a sense in NAKED LUNCH of the destruction of soul, which is more intense than any I have encountered in any other modern novel. It is a vision of how mankind would act if man was totally divorced from eternity. What gives this vision a machine-gun-edged clarity is an utter lack of sentimentality. The expression of sentimentality in religious matters comes forth usually as a sort of saccharine piety which revolts any idea of religious sentiment in those who are sensitive, discriminating, or deep of feeling. Burroughs avoids even the possibility of such sentimentality (which would, of course, destroy the value of his work), by attaching a stringent, mordant vocabulary to a series of precise and horrific events, a species of gallows humor which is a defeated man’s last pride, the pride that he has, at least, not lost his bitterness. So it is the sort of humor which flourishes in prisons, in the Army, among junkies, race tracks and pool halls, a graffiti of cool, even livid wit, based on bodily functions and the frailties of the body, the slights, humiliations and tortures a body can undergo. It is a wild and deadly humor, as even and implacable as a sales tax; it is the small coin of communication in every one of those worlds. Bitter as alkali, it pickles every serious subject in the caustic of the harshest experience; what is left untouched is as dry and silver as a bone. It is this sort of fine, dry residue which is the emotional substance of Burroughs’ work for me.

Just as Hieronymus Bosch set down the most diabolical and blood-curdling details with a delicacy of line and a Puckish humor which left one with a sense of the mansions of horror attendant upon Hell, so, too, does Burroughs leave you with an intimate, detailed vision of what Hell might be like, a Hell which may be waiting as the culmination, the final product, of the scientific revolution. At the end of medicine is dope; at the end of life is death; at the end of man may be the Hell which arrives from the vanities of the mind. Nowhere, as in NAKED LUNCH’S collection of monsters, half mad geniuses, cripples, mountebanks, criminals, perverts, and putrefying beasts is there such a modern panoply of the vanities of the human will, of the excesses of evil which occur when the idea of personal or intellectual power reigns superior to the compassions of the flesh.

We are richer for that record; and we are more impressive as a nation because a publisher can print that record and sell it in an open bookstore, sell it legally. It even offers a hint that the “Great Society,” which Lyndon Johnson speaks of, may not be merely a politician’s high wind, but indeed may have the hard seed of a new truth; for no ordinary society could have the bravery and moral honesty to stare down into the abyss of NAKED LUNCH. But a Great Society can look into the chasm of its own potential Hell and recognize that it is stronger as a nation for possessing an artistwho can come back from Hell with a portrait of its dimensions.

And I would add, and so warrants all, perhaps.

DE GRAZIA: I have no more questions.

DE GRAZIA: Mr. Ginsberg, have you read the book entitled NAKED LUNCH by William Burroughs?


Q. More than once?

A. Yes a number of times.

Q. Would you specify before me, for the Court, a few examples or illustrations of ideas having social importance which you feel are expressed in this book?

A. Yes. Well, there are a great number of ideas in it that have social importance; and they are all interrelated in the presentation of the book. One of the main ideas is a theory of junk addiction or a theory of heroin addiction applied as a model for addiction to many other things besides drugs. It is usually referred to in the book as “The Algebra of Need,” and the other addictions which are mentioned in the book, here treated dramatically — addiction to homosexuality, which is considered by Burroughs also a sort of addiction, and on a larger scale what he conceives of as the United States addiction to materialistic goods and properties. Addiction to money is mentioned in the book a number of times; and most of all, an addiction to power or addiction to controlling other people by having power over them. So throughout the book there are dramatic illustrations of people whose composition or lust is for control over the minds and hearts and souls of other people.

At the very beginning of the book this general theory of addiction, “The Algebra of Need,” is mentioned in the introduction, Latin numbers v to xvi; and it is referred to again on page 21 and on page 168 of the book.

Q. Just before you referred thus to the pages of the book, where the “Algebra of Need” is referred to, you indicated Burroughs — that this book is concerned with the problems of controls over other individuals, of institutions over individuals. Did you mean to limit the — I think you said — spiritual?

A. This would be political controls.

Q. I think you may not have mentioned sexual and I wonder if you meant to?

A. Yes.

Q. That is, Mr. Jackson a few minutes ago testified to a couple of episodes where the horror of the situation seemed to involve the homosexual relation, almost enforced, socially enforced! homosexual relationship. Well then, going back to your last answer —

A. This theme that you are referring to, of sexual control, certainly plays a very large part in the book and is referred to at great length in the episodes involving Carl and also in the practices of Dr. Benway in brainwashing some of his patients.

Q.. Have you found in the book, among the many ideas that you have indicated, the book contains an idea relating to the issue, the social issue of whether punitive or medical psychiatric treatment addicts is the wiser or better method?

A. Yes. The book treats this problem from any number of different angles. I think it is the opinion of the author of the book, as he expresses it very directly in the Introduction and also, I believe, in the Appendix, at the conclusion, that a medical treatment for heroin addiction is to be preferred over punitive treatment. And he illustrates, or gives example of, his opinions, by dramatic representation of addicts being treated punitively and carrying these representations to fantastical or weird extremes: such as the pictures that he gives on page 16 and thereafter of Bradley the Buyer, who is an agent for the punitive forces and takes pleasure in the power that he has over the junkie, and finally can get no pleasure at all unless he is in direct physical contact with a junkie.

THE COURT: Mr. Ginsberg, do you concede that this book is obscene?

GINSBERG: Not really, no, sir.

THE COURT: Well, would you be surprised if the author himself admitted it was obscene and must be necessarily obscene in order to convey his thoughts and impressions?

GINSBERG: The sentence you are referring to —

THE COURT: Well, it’s on page xii of the Introduction: “Since NAKED LUNCH treats this health problem, it is necessarily brutal, obscene and disgusting. Sickness is often repulsive details not for weak stomachs.”

GINSBERG: Yes, he has said that. I don’t think he intends that to be obscene in any legal sense or even obscene as seen through his own eyes or through the eyes of a sympathetic reader. He is dealing with matters very basic and very frightening.

THE COURT: What do you understand him to mean by the phrase: “As always the lunch is naked”? Do you mind my asking these questions?

DE GRAZIA: No, Your Honor.

GINSBERG: That phrase occurs when he is discussing capital punishment, I think.

THE COURT: Where does he discuss capital punishment?

GINSBERG: Right in that.

THE COURT: He discusses it in the foreword, or the introduction?

GINSBERG: In the paragraph on the same page. “Let them see what is on the end of that long newspaper spoon.”

THE COURT: What is a “newspaper spoon”?

GINSBERG: We are presented or spoonfed with news about death, about capital punishment, or executions.

THE COURT: Does he use the expression, “newspaper spoon”?


THE COURT: What page is that?

GINSBERG: The same page you were reading from, page xii, “Since NAKED LUNCH treats this health problem,” — the next paragraph beginning: “Certain passages in the book,” the end of the paragraph: “Let them see what is on the end of that long newspaper spoon.”

THE COURT: You think the title, NAKED LUNCH relates to capital punishment?

GINSBERG: No, no. It relates to nakedness of seeing, to be able to see clearly without any confusing disguises, to see through the disguise.

THE COURT: That is your interpretation of the title?


THE COURT: Or the meaning of the title?

GINSBERG: Of the word, “Naked,” in the title; and “Lunch” would be a complete banquet of all this naked awareness.

THE COURT: All right.

DE GRAZIA: Among the ideas you have noticed in this book, you have spoken of the idea of control and the problems surrounding control, individual over individual, institution over individual. Does this have some relationship to the control of the addict as it is used in the book, the term, “control addict”?

A. Yes. The concept of addiction is carried out to include, in Burroughs’ phrase, “control addicts,” or people who are habituated or pushing other people around. What it boils down to, controlling them sexually, politically, socially. From page 21 on we have a picture of Dr. Benway, who is specifically referred to as a very highly specialized, scientifically prepared, technologically adept control addict. There is one who, in this case, is one who is addicted to controlling and brainwashing large social groups. He is sort of a — this is a parody in a sense of a super, modern, efficient bureaucrat. And also in the pages that follow page 21 and later on, throughout the book, in the Freeland and in the next sections there are almost scientific expositions given by the author of techniques of mass brainwash and mass control, and theories of modern dictatorships, theories of modern police states, presented suggestions for the possibility of using both drugs and electrical shock, somewhere else nerve gasses.

Q. When these suggestions appear or are dealt with, are they dealt with in the sense of being recommended or being fearful things?

A. No. I think he is laconically, satirically analyzing them and presenting evidences of these activities in our modern culture, now and then in a science-fiction style, projecting them into the future, nightmare situations if control took over.

THE COURT: Mr. Ginsberg, have you the book in front of you?

GINSBERG: Yes, I have a copy, sir.

THE COURT: Will you refer to page xiv in the forward?

MR.GINSBERG: The preface?

THE COURT: Yes. The third paragraph: “And some of us are on Different Kicks and that’s a thing oat in the open the way I like to see what I eat and visa versa mutatis mutandis as the case may be. Bill’s Naked Lunch Room . . . Step right up . . . Good for young and old, man and bestial. Nothing like a little snake oil to grease the wheels and get a show on the track Jack. Which side are you on? Fro-Zen Hydraulic? Or you want to take a look around with honest Bill”?

Now, is there any association between that and the title? And if so, what does it mean to you?

A. He is referring, I think here he is referring to the whole book as Bill Burroughs’ NAKED LUNCH Room, a lunch room, so, “Step right up,” or step in, take a look around. These are the goods he is offering, or these are the ideas he is offering; and he is doing it here in a funny, carnival pitchman style when he is talking about “snake oil” and “good for young and old, man and bestial.” The goods he is offering in this paragraph, the ideas he is referring to are ideas about what he speaks of in the next paragraph, the number one World’s Health Problem, which, he feels, is this tendency on the part of — the tendency in a mechanized civilization for very few people to get control of enormous amounts of power.

THE COURT: You wouldn’t even remotely associate the title with any incidents in this book which portrayal unnatural acts?

GINSBERG: Yes, that part of it, too. The unnatural acts portrayed are part of exhibitions of control.

THE COURT: Would you go so far as to say it is associated with a description of a person eating excrement, served on a plate here in the front part of the book?

GINSBERG: That particular association had not literally ever occurred to me.

THE COURT: Well, what do you say now?

GINSBERG: I am sure that could be included, too. Certainly that would be included also. All levels in the title would be acceptable, I think.

THE COURT: All right.

DE GRAZIA: Is there a discussion in this book of ideas which may be associated with present or future political parties, perhaps, somewhat in the nature of H. G. Wells’ and Kafka’s writings?

A. Yes.

Q. Would you just tell us a little bit about your opinion of the meaning of these?

A. Yes. From page 144 on, maybe to, say, page 165 or 169, you have a complete and very detailed exposition of about four imaginary political parties. This is the political meat of the book; and the one ultimately of the most interesting parts of the book, and the most significant.

THE COURT: Is there a conservative party?

GINSBERG: Oh, yes, there are two conservative Parties.

THE COURT: Would you mind pointing that out to me?

GINSBERG: It depends upon your definition of “conservative.” If you want a really respectable conservative party, there is the Factualists. They are the ones who weren’t against future police state control. They warned of control of the whole, control of the public, as with Dr. Benway. They take, in a sense, a very anti-State or anti-creeping State position.

THE COURT: Under what guise does the Political Party travel in this book?

GINSBERG: Since Mr. Burroughs, himself, considers himself a Factualist, then the Factualists might also be considered radical. Burroughs considers himself a Factualist. The Extremist party would be both of the left and the right. They would be the Liquefactionists.

THE COURT: The Birch Society deals with factuality, doesn’t it?

GINSBERG: Actually I haven’t read their prose.

THE COURT: All right.

DE GRAZIA. Are there extremist parties here?

A. Yes. There are two extremist parties. There is the Liquefactionists. They are dealt with on page 163.

Q. In commonsense terms might these be compared with Fascists?

A. Very much so. The word liquefy comes from Fascists or Communists, the liquidation policies spoken of by Stalin. They want to liquidate or liquefy all opposition and everybody is to be liquefied or eliminated except one controlling personality to run the whole world.

Q. How about Divisionists?

A. They have a different method of taking over. They have one faction or one man who they refer to as the Sender, who is going to survive by inundating the world with his own replicas. He will divide in two and make replicas of himself. Wherever he travels he will have someone to talk to. He won’t feel lonesome any more.

THE COURT: Divisionists are the homosexuals?

GINSBERG: Yes. The Divisionist is a parody of a homosexual situation also; but Burroughs is attacking the homosexuals in this book also.

THE COURT: Do the conservatives fall into any particular sex class in this book?

GINSBERG: Well, I think the conservatives, if we consider the Factualist to be conservative, I think they have a feeling of laissez-faire, whatever is natural, whatever does no harm will be acceptable. When the homosexuality becomes an obsession or a compulsion or an attempt to control other people, then it is to be disapproved of. And I think the Factualists, as a conservative party, have issued several tentative bulletins which are given, I think, on page 167, dealing with this matter.

THE COURT: Lest anyone take this seriously, of course, obviously it is fantasy.


THE COURT: And I think it should be certainly pointed out here, there is absolutely no connection with any political party in the United States, as you and I understand.

DE GRAZIA: I think it is futuristic.

GINSBERG: Yes, as I say, these are anecdotes of imaginary political parties. I think Burroughs would say these are representative of major forces moving in the world today. Perhaps that can be justified, in as much as there in the world that are police states.

THE COURT: Is there some serious relevance on futuristic political parties?

GINSBERG: Even present political patterns necessarily in America, but all over America, also in America.

DE GRAZIA: Do you think, for example, when he speaks of the Divisionist party or the sexist group that’s been mentioned a fear ago, that although he is speaking of projecting a kind of futuristic party, that he is really, that he is dealing with, not political parties, but groups today, social groups today that are involved in struggles in the United States?

A. Yes.

THE COURT: What political struggles sexuals involved in?

GINSBERG: That may be a matter of opinion, sir.

DE GRAZIA: I think he testified they were only a part of the Divisionists.

GINSBERG: Homosexuality, as seen here, is only one attempt to control other people. Other ways of doing it besides direct sexual manipulation; another is by brainwashing, equating a brainwasher who tries to sadistically trying to — who is sadistically trying to dominate another person — with a homosexual who tries to dominate another person.

THE COURT: Let me ask again: Do you think that he is seriously suggesting that some time future that a political party will be concerned with sex?

GINSBERG: I think so, yes, yes.

DEGRAZIA: Did 1984

THE COURT: Excuse me. When I say, “Concerned with sex,” I don’t mean in an attempt to reform perversion. I am not talking about any crusade to make the world a better world in which to live, as you and I understand it today; but I am suggesting that from your answer, what he is trying to portray here, is that in the future there will be a political party, for instance, made up of homosexuals?

GINSBERG: Well, I think, saying that, this has already happened in a sense — or of sex perverts — and we can point to Hitler, Germany under Hitler, that was a political party that was sexually not right.

THE COURT: There may be homosexuals in every political party, but I don’t think they are predominant.

DEGRAZIA: I don’t think Mr. Ginsberg is trying to testify to the truth as to whether or not Hitler was perverse or whether or not Fascism or Hitler’s political party was homosexual or anything of this kind; but I think that what we are trying, what Mr. Ginsberg is trying to point out is that as the author deals with these questions and some of these categories of people and of parties that he is involved in; and he is dealing with issues of political importance and issues which have a bearing and a relationship to things like even present political parties or political parties of the recent past.

GINSBERG: May I make a comment. sir?


GINSBERG: It might clear some of this up. A party, an imaginary party like Divisionists, though homosexuality is one aspect of Divisionism, there are other political aspects. It is not just exclusively — Divisionists are not exclusively another name for homosexuality. The Divisionists in the book have other intentions, like, they are involved in a lot of dealing, with international deals with defective produce, back and forth at one point with the other group, the Liquefactionists. For instance, I think he would compare them, not with the sexual group, but with a race group. He would compare the Liquefactionists with the racists. The Liquefactionists want everybody to be liquefied or eliminated except themselves. They want their image to be dominant over the group here. There would be no sexual connection between the political parties; and the names here, as Liquefactionists, I am saying it applies to more than a sexual level. That is one of the puns that is intended.

DE GRAZIA: Mr. Ginsberg, there are references in the book to the character, the County Clerk?

A. Yes.

Q. Which was mentioned —

THE COURT: That is within those pages 144 to 165?

GINSBERG: The County Clerk follows immediately on page 169. We have, I would say, an example of one of the Liquefactionists. It is a complete portrait; but down to modern, down-to-earth newspaper terms, in terms of kinds of people that we have read about in the newspaper, of anti-Negro, and anti-Northern, anti-Semitic, the Southern, white racist bureaucrat. The portrait is perhaps set here as a contemporary example of what Burroughs would refer to as Liquefactionists. I think this is actually one of the most funny and brilliant sections of the book, because it was written, you must remember, before these people came so much into prominence in the newspapers; and it is written in a very beautiful prose style, in the sense that the actual kind of vulgarism and slang of language of the character portrayed is set down very accurately by the author.

THE COURT: Particularly with reference to the Dalton Street Drugstore.

GINSBERG: Well, the section goes on, I think, 169 to 177. It’s a long monologue by a Southern Sheriff or County Clerk, on page 177, at the end, beginning with: “The Clerk looked at the card suspiciously: ‘You don’t look like a bone feed mast-fed Razor Back to me…. What you think about the Jeeeeews…?”

“Well, Mr. Anker, you know yourself all a Jew wants to do is doodle a Christian girl…. One of these days we’ll cut the rest of it off.”

THE COURT: What page are you on now?

GINSBERG: Page 177. It’s very funny actually.

THE COURT: Well, let me ask you this: Is that sentence offensive, grossly offensive to you?

GINSBERG: I am Jewish; and I should be offended. What Burroughs is doing, he is parodying this monster; he is parodying this anti-semite.

THE COURT: It is not offensive to you?

GINSBERG: No. Burroughs is defending the Jews here. Don’t you realize he is making a parody of the monstrous speech and thought processes of a red-necked Southern, hate-filled type, who hates everybody, Jews, Negroes, Northerners. Burroughs is taking a very moral position, like defending the good here, I think.

DE GRAZIA: Would you, Mr. Ginsberg, please tell the Court whether or not, or to what extent NAKED LUNCH the book, as a book has had importance for your own creative work?

A. It has had a great deal.

Q. Whether in its experimental or other forms.

A. It’s had a great deal of effect and influence on me over the many years that I have read and reread the book — and other books — by the writer, this time, particularly, because it was an enormous breakthrough into truthful expression of exactly really what was going on inside his head, with no holds barred. He really confessed completely, put everything down so that anybody could see it.

He found a way to put it down as economically as possible. He found a sort of mosaic method to place all these different elements in order. But the important thing that struck me was the enormous courage it took to make such a total confession. There is absolutely nothing hidden or left out.

Q. What about the art involved?

THE COURT: The literary art.

A. So far as literary art —

Q.In answering that question, when you are saying the “enormous courage,” etc.

A. That is part of the literary art, really, I think.

Q. That he was able to put into artistic form?

A. Yes. That kind of courage and that kind of impulse as a kind of idealism on the part of the author, I feel is an integral part of literary art. On a more superficial level there is the question of style of composition, like mosaic, I was saying. The passages put in place like a mosaic, dealt with great finesse and great beauty in this book, that the main literary qualities that I have noticed and many other people have noticed have been, first of all — he’s got a fantastic ear for common speech, like a doctor giving a lecture on medicine, a junkie dunking pound cake, a narcotics officer confronting the District Supervisor, an Arab street boy in North Africa, a middle-aged suburban housewife, a southern County Clerk. This is a fantastic gamut of speech rhythms, diction and still-life style, to be able to reproduce with great, short, economic exactness.

Q. In this way and the other ways you have indicated you, as a poet, have learned from this book, and others like you, others you know have also learned from it?

A. Yes. And also there is another thing which is — there is a great deal of very pure language and pure poetry in this book that is as great as any poetry being written in America in my opinion, specifically one line which I would like to read. “Motel, motel, motel, broken neon arabesque, loneliness moans across the continent like fog horns over still oily water of oily rivers.,,”

Q. Didn’t you once write a poem about NAKED LUNCH?

A. Yes, a long time ago.

Q . Do you have It?

A . Yes

Q. What does this appear in?

A. A book of my own that is called REALITY SANDWICHES.

THE COURT: Where will I find that book?

GINSBERG: Probably in Cambridge. It’s a poem I wrote early on reading passages here. That was “On Burroughs’ Work.” May I read it?

Q. Yes. please do.

A. The method must be purest meat
and no symbolic dressing,
actual visions & actual prisons,
as seen then and now.

Prisons and visions presented
with rare descriptions
corresponding exactly to those
of Alcatraz and Rose.

A Naked Lunch is natural to us, we eat reality sandwiches.
But allegories are so much lettuce.
Don’t hide the madness.

DE GRAZIA: No more questions.

DE GRAZIA: …. With Your Honor’s permission, I would like at this point to read from a letter I received not very long ago from William Burroughs. “The question: What is sex? And the concomitant questions as to what is obscene, impure, is not asked, let alone answered, precisely because of barriers of semantic anxiety which precludes our free or, I think, objective scientific examination of sexual phenomena. How can these phenomena be studied if one is forbidden to write or think about them?

“Unless and until a free examination of sexual manifestations is allowed, man will continue to be controlled by sex rather than controlling. A phenomenon totally unknown because deliberately ignored and ruled out as a subject for writing and research.

“What we are dealing with here is a barrier of what can only be termed medieval superstition and fear, precisely the same barrier that held up the natural sciences for some hundreds of years with dogma rather than examination and research. In short, the same objective methods that have been applied to natural science should now be applied to sexual phenomena with a view to understand and control these manifestations. A doctor is not criticized for describing the manifestations and symptoms of an illness, even though the symptoms may be disgusting.

“I feel that a writer has the right to the same freedom. In fact, I think that the time has come for the line between literature and science, a purely arbitrary line, to be erased.”

That is the end of the quote.

Your Honor, we were taught this long ago — that is the sentiment expressed by Mr. Burroughs, which I have adopted in my concluding argument — a long time ago, that artists and writers had contributions to make to civilization’s knowledge and learning, as great, perhaps, as our scientists do.

Let me quote once more, very briefly this time, from the founder of modern psychiatric science, Sigmund Freud: “Imaginative writers are valuable colleagues and their testimony is to be rated very highly because they draw on sources that we have not yet made accessible to science. The portrayal of the psychic life of human beings is, of course, the imaginative writer’s most special demand. He has always been the forerunner of science and thus scientific psychology, too.” A very similar expression was made by one of this country’s leading educators, John Dewey; and I quote: “The freeing of the artist in literary presentation is as much a precondition of the desirable creation of adequate opinion on public matters as is the freeing of social inquiry. Artists have always been the real purveyors of news, for it is not the outward happening in itself which is news, but the kindling by it of emotion, perception and appreciation.”

Your Honor, I agree, I think the witnesses we heard here today, who have read NAKED LUNCH, and have testified for the Court and for us and for you, also agree; I am sure the United States Supreme Court will, if necessary, agree: I hope you agree.

Two weeks after the trial of Naked Lunch in Boston, the novel also engaged the attention of a Los Angeles jury, but was ruled not obscene by Municipal Judge Allen G. Campbell. Before the judge made his ruling, the following courtroom scene, reproduced verbatim from the trial record, took place between him and Assistant Los Angeles City Attorney Roland Fairfield, who was prosecuting the case:

MR. FAIRFIELD: Your Honor, before saying anything about the law may I direct the Court’s attention to one other aspect of the book?

THE COURT: That is what we are here for sir, for you to give me all the assistance that you can and for counsel for the defense to offer similar or other assistance.

MR. FAIRFIELD: Before mentioning the law, Your Honor, I would just like to point out to the Court that the following words are used in the book a total of 234 times on 235 pages; and I will spell them rather than save them in the court —

THE COURT: Go ahead and say them. We hear them here probably at least once a week.

MR. FAIRFIELD Fuck, shit, ass, cunt, prick, asshole, cock-sucker.

Two hundred thirty-four times on two hundred thirty-five pages.

THE COURT: You mean each of those happens to be used exactly the same number of times?

MR. FAIRFIELD: No, Your Honor, that is the total number of times that those words are used.


1. While Naked Lunch was having its day in court in Boston, a Los Angeles judge, in the only other censorship action against the book since its U.S. publication in 1962, freed the novel from a charge of obscenity in 8 decision which said, in part: “It appears to me to abundantly clear that book, in almost every page goes substantially beyond the customary limits of candor can’t in its description and representation of nudity, sex an excretion and that applying contemporary standards appeal taken as a whole is to prurient interest, that to such shameful or morbid interest. I cannot say that its predominant appeal is such or that it is matter which is utterly without redeeming social importance, that as a whole. It appears to me, therefore, and I find that the material is not obscene within the meaning of Statute.”

This trial transcript first appeared in the June 1965 issue of the Evergreen Review. (Maynard & Miles C118) Subsequently it was included in the first paperback edition of Naked Lunch published by Grove Press in 1966 in New York. (Maynard & Miles A2d) Afterward it was frequently included in publications of Burroughs’ masterwork. This electronic edition was proofread and corrected.

2 thoughts on “The Boston Trial of Naked Lunch

  1. Thanks a lot for putting this online.
    It was very instructive, educating, and funny.
    This trial could be published itself alone.
    Keep up the good work.

  2. Was very interesting task to read the case, what Mailer and Ginsberg had on their minds. Never cared to read much Mailer beforehands; always thought he is just a tad too mainstream to my taste (and I always thought him a climber). I was of course aware about his “possesed by genius” -statement and some of his bright journalistic writings. Ginsberg is more familiar to me as a poet and a person… But I have to say that Mailer’s testimony turned up better than I thought it would. He had honest opinion about Burroughs and remarkable things to say about the general significance of Naked Lunch. All and all Mailer didn’t appear as an opportunistic man here

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