Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 14. 1967.
Tribunal to decide
Tribunal to decide
We are informed that the Tribunal is to consider two books submitted by the Comptroller or Customs. The first is William Surroughs's The Naked Lunch (Calder and Boyars) which first appeared in New Zealand about the beginning of last year. Of all Burroughs's novels, if they can be accurately described as such, it is his best, and demonstrates his perceptive description of sexual and psychic experience better than his others — The Ticket That Exploded (Calder and Boyars), Dead Fingers Talk (Tandem paperback), and Nova Express (Jonathan Cape).
Burroughs is one of the most important writers today and little more can be said than that he is essential reading for all Interested in the literature of writers who have undergone severe physical and intellectual suffering. Because of Burroughs's reputetion it is unlikely that the Tribunal Would reject at this time The Naked Lunch and its significant interest.
What is likely, however. is that the Tribunal will reject Pauline Reage's Story of O (Grove Press paperback NZ Price $1.01) Which was first published in 1954. Just who "Pauline Reage" is no one knows for certain: she has only published "O" and a preface to Jean de Berg's The Image (described by Grove Press os "a frankly erotic love story").
O is an exclusively female study of masochism which cannot be read without a profound sense of realisation that this must be one of the most powerful fantasies ever written. It is not "erotic" because it transcends sexual stimulation: the fantasy of a woman's total submission to her lover, a wilful and slavish debasement to sexual exploitation, is carried through with merciless logic.
The name of the woman symbolises male sex, the "O" of pleasure, the "O" of tin, and. above all. the cipher she gratefully becomes. Only by erasing her own will and fulfilling that of her lover, Rene, only by abnegating her humanity and suffering eagerly whatever physical and mental pain he chooses to inflict, or causes or permits to be inflicted, can O achieve happiness — "happiness through slavery" as Jean Paulhan describes it.
O undergoes all forms of sexual and physical assault, torture and enslavement from her lover, his English friend Sir Stephen, and various other women who act out their masters' demands. O is finally branded and her head covered in an owl mask, becoming a mere object, a living statue which has lost nearly all feeling. Yet all this, Just because it is so painful and humiliating, and most of all because her body is giving pleasure to her master and his friend without limit or restraint, makes O happier than she had ever imagined possible.
On the final page of the book there is a statement which describes the two suppressed endings: one is that O "seeing that Sir Stephen was about to leave her, said she would prefer to die. Sir Stephen gave her his consent." The Story Of O is a remarkable piece of literature, which as a study of the limits of sexual experience, must be unparalleled in any language. If you can't buy this book openly, borrow it or get someone in the US to smuggle it in for you.
If O is the most remarkable book I've read this year, then last year's was Hubert Selby's Last Exit To Brooklyn (Calder and Boyars) which the Tribunal will soon pass Judgment on, having been considering it for several months. Subject to a censorship law case earlier last year in London, it has been difficult to obtain after the initial import. However. Grove Press will soon be issuing a paperback edition, and extracts are to be found in The Moderns (Mayflower paperback 65c) and New Writing in the United States (Penguin paperback $1).
Finally a word about Peter Fryer's latest book, an anthology of eighteenth century writings compiled in collaboration with Leonard de Vries, Venus Unmasked or "An Enquiry into the Nature and Origin of Passion of Love" (Arthur Barker Ltd., $4.45). The introduction explains the background of this popular literature: of the rise of the puritan-minded middle classes and their desire for self-improvement as well as the improvement of all others.
The female members of this increasingly literate class, we are informed, demanded reading matter free from disturbing sexual realism: the circulating libraries practised censorship for their provincial readers; and the reformers' views about morality became predominant. Literary prudery began to gain ground in the middle of the eighteenth century and had become firmly established by about 1771, the year of Smollett's death.
This expulsion of explicit sex from serious literature reached its apogee in the 1830's and the resulting effect was not to eliminate sex but to drive eroticism completely underground, as is clearly shown m Marcus's The Other Victorians. The writings in the anthology are a representative collection of the tradition of publication of bawdy verses and detached accounts of unorthodox sexual behaviour, not unlike our present-day King's Cross Whisper and Truth (the court cases).
There is no defensible case for "literary merit," but then "merit" is everything when one can claim historical interest. In addition to the laughs, there are also illustrations which clearly demonstrate that "toplessness" is not exclusive to our own sex-crazed society.