Saturday, September 27, 2014

The naughty bits, 1973: celebrate Banned Books Week with "Slaughterhouse Five"

It's ALA's Banned Books Week, 2014. The outrage of Huckleberry Finn is still a thrill, over 120 years since its publication. Congratulations to Mr. Twain, who continues to make the national conscience uncomfortable more than a hundred years after his death.

Here are the naughty bits of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, a book often banned and often cited as objectionable, as enumerated in the dissenting opinion of Justice Powell in the 1973 Supreme Court decision. For more First Amendment decisions and lots of fun reading, visit the First Amendment Center.


"The excerpts which led the Board to look into the educational suitability of the books in question are set out (with minor corrections after comparison with the text of the books themselves) below. The pagination and the underlinings are retained from the original report used by the board. In newer editions of some of the books, the quotes appear at different pages. 



29 'Get out of the road, you dumb motherfucker.' The last word was still a novelty in the speech of white people in 1944.

It was fresh and astonishing to Billy, who had never fucked anybody . . .'

32 'You stake a guy out on an anthill in the desert -- see? He's facing upward, and you put honey all over his balls and pecker, 
and you cut off his eyelids so he has to stare at the sun till he dies.'

34 'He had a prophylactic kit containing two tough condoms 'For the prevention of disease only!' . . . He had a dirty picture of a woman attempting sexual intercourse with a shetland pony.'

94 & 95 'But the Gospels actually taught this: Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn't well connected . . . The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ who didn't look like much, was actually the son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought . . . 

Oh boy -- they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch this time! And that thought had a brother: There are right people to lynch. 

People not well connected . . . . The visitor from outer space made a gift to Earth of a new Gospel. In it, Jesus really WAS a nobody, and a pain in the neck to a lot of people with better connections then he had . . . . So the people amused themselves one day by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground. There couldn't possibly be any repercussions, the lynchers thought . . . since the new Gospel hammered home again and again what a nobody Jesus was. And then just before the nobody died . . . . The voice of God came crashing down. He told the people that he was adopting the bum as his son . . . God said this: From this moment on, He will punish horribly anybody who torments a bum who has no connections.'

99 'They told him that there could be no Earthling babies without male homosexuals. There could be babies without female homosexuals.'

120 'Why don't you go fuck yourself? Don't think I haven't tried . . . he was going to have revenge, and that revenge was sweet . . . It's the sweetest thing there is, said Lazzaro. People fuck with me, he said, and Jesus Christ are they ever fucking sorry.'

122 'And he'll pull out a gun and shoot his pecker off. The stranger'll let him think a couple of seconds about who Paul Lazzaro is and what life's gonna be like without a pecker. Then he'll shoot him once in the guts and walk away. . . . He died on account of this silly cocksucker here. So I promised him I'd have this silly cocksucker shot after the war.'

134 'In my prison cell I sit . . . With my britches full of shit, And my balls are bouncing gently on the floor. And I see the bloody snag when she bit me in the bag . . . Oh, I'll never fuck a Polack any more.'

173 'And the peckers of the young men would still be semierect, and their muscles would be bulging like cannonballs.'

175 'They didn't have hard-ons . . . Everybody else did.'

177 'The magazine, which was published for lonesome men to jerk off to.'

178 'and one critic said. . . . 'To describe blow-jobs artistically."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard' (Charles Wright)

"After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard" 
(Charles Wright)

East of me, west of me, full summer.
How deeper than elsewhere the dusk is in your own yard.
Birds fly back and forth across the lawn
                                         looking for home
As night drifts up like a little boat.

Day after day, I become of less use to myself.
Like this mockingbird,
                       I flit from one thing to the next.
What do I have to look forward to at fifty-four?
Tomorrow is dark.
                  Day-after-tomorrow is darker still.

The sky dogs are whimpering.
Fireflies are dragging the hush of evening
                                           up from the damp grass.
Into the world's tumult, into the chaos of every day,
Go quietly, quietly.

"After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard" by Charles Wright originally appeared in the collection Chickamauga [1995]. Charles Wright was educated at Davidson College; his first book of poems, The Grave of the Right Hand, was published in 1970. His most recent collection, Caribou, was published this year. In a 1989 Paris Review interview he was asked about his early poetry written in the Army while stationed in Italy. Wright commented:  "If one has to write poorly before one can write well—which I think is true—and if that can be extended to read that one has to write deplorably before one can write extraordinarily well, then I definitely started in the right place for the latter. I suppose it’s nostalgia that makes me keep them. That and the sense of duty that one shouldn’t destroy one’s stunted darlings. Keep them out of sight, yes, but don’t abuse them. Rather like the retarded greataunt in the attic, that mainstay of Southern gothic." He is the current Poet Laureate of the United States.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Captain William Kidd: pirate, rum, fact, and fiction

For "Talk Like a Pirate Day," it seems appropriate to recommend a book about Captain Kidd -- who became the romantic notion of piracy for an entire genre of literature. 

May 23, 1701: Captain William Kidd is fed rum and brandy until he cannot stand and paraded in a cart through the streets of London as hysterical crowds scream and cheer. He is hanged, but the rope breaks, depositing him in a heap of mud, while other condemned men swing overhead. Still in a drunken stupor, he is pulled dripping from the slop and hanged a second and final time. 

His corpse is tarred and placed in a cage and hung on the Thames shorleline as a warning to pirates, where it would remain for nearly two years. An epitaph as abominable for its poetry as for its sentiment is nearby:
Reader, near this Tomb don't stand 
Without some Essence in thy Hand; 
For here Kidd's stinking Corpse does lie, 
The Scent of which may infect thy!!
There is no question Kidd was a pirate, since he was hired for that job by King William III himself. In their charges, the government claimed that his piracy strayed beyond  approved targets -- that is, the government felt the pinch themselves. The truth is hard to know, but it seems likely that Kidd was a scapegoat for powerful interests involved in multiple duplicities concerning the distribution of his booty.

Robert Ritchie's biography Captain Kidd and the War Against the Pirates unravels some strands that bind the facts of high-seas piracy with the romantic fiction that followed it. It's as lively a tale-spinning biography as Kidd himself would enjoy. The author of the Flashman series of historical fictions, George MacDonald Fraser, had words of high praise when the book was published in 1988: The most detailed record I have ever seen of a pirate voyage, with its origins and aftermath; I doubt if there is another like it.

William Kidd was born 22 January 1645. He became one of the two or three best known pirates to emerge from an era in which piracy was an enterprise as much as a threat. His checkered legacy gave rise to legends of buried treasure that still attract treasure hunters today. 

Kidd never set out to become a pirate. There is every reason to believe that his eventual trial and execution for piracy -- which has become the stuff of romantic derring-do and outfoxing authority -- was the result of an establishment cover-up, and that crucial documents that could have led to his acquittal were withheld by the British government.