By Maria Eliades, Eurasianet.org
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.
An official report from the Board for the Protection of Minors from Obscene Publications, a Turkish government body, found that The Soft Machine, translated as Yumuşak Makine, was “not compatible with the morals of society and the people’s honor,” was “injurious to sexuality” and “seen to be generally repugnant.” Similar rhetoric was used in the United States decades ago to thwart the American publication of Burroughs’ most famous work, Naked Lunch, which was published in Paris in 1959, but did not make its debut on the other side of the Atlantic until 1962.
Under Turkey’s Press Law, translators and publishers of books are considered as accountable as a writer for the content of published materials. Burroughs died in 1997. Members of university Turkish literature departments have been enlisted by authorities to read The Soft Machine in order to help Istanbul’s Second Penal Court determine if Burroughs’ work qualifies as pornography or literature. The trial, expected to last a year, will reconvene on October 11. The law being used to prosecute the defendants contains a broad definition of what constitutes pornography.