DAZED DIGITAL: Anthony Burgess’s essay on pornography to be released

This article was first published on Dazed Digital (June 2017), to view my full profile visit: http://www.dazeddigital.com/user/harrietkean


Anthony Burgess’s controversial lecture about pornography is going to published for the first time.Obscenity and the Arts, an upcoming book, will feature the essay. It’s the first piece of work in 20 years from the author of the cult novel A Clockwork Orange.

While living in Malta in 1970, Burgess was invited by the Malta Library Association to give a lecture to a large audience, which included members of the Catholic clergy and government officials. Burgess’s lecture vehemently argued that sexually explicit books should not be banned, describing Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus as a “story of rape, murder and cannibalism”. The author reasoned that we should instead judge pornography by its literary merit, citing passages from the Old Testament and John Milton’s Areopagitica – a text that opposes licensing and strict censorship.

However, the ‘sordid’ nature of the talk offended the Maltese authorities to the point that they confiscated Burgess’s house. Only when the Guardian printed the story on its front page was his house returned to him. However the experience obviously deeply affected the author, as he refused to return to Malta, and the subject featured in his novels M/F and Earthly Powers.

Burgess had fled to Malta in 1968 to escape the high tax rates enforced by the UK’sLabour government. According to Andrew Biswell, a professor at Manchester Metropolitan University, the Maltese authorities had already provoked Burgess when he first moved to the island, adding that the author “was trying to move in with his library when quite a large chunk of it was seized by the Maltese post office.” His collection included DH Lawrence and largely featured the topics of homosexuality. It is understood that he was only allowed to reclaim his books after the Maltese government had read them.

Published by Pariah Press together with The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, the lecture will appear alongside unseen photographs and an essay Burgess wrote about his life on the island. An impassioned counter-argument, written by the academic, feminist and close friend of BurgessGermaine Greer, will also be printed within the book.

Burgess’s talk is radically forward-thinking, and as the publisher of Pariah Press adds, explores the contemporary problem of the freedom of speech and censorship. The book’s publication date will mark the centenary of Burgess’s birth.

A crowdfunder was set up to fundraise for the release of the novelisation of his previously unpublished screenplay, The Black Prince, written in the 1970s. A dictionary of invented slang Nadsat, which Burgess created for A Clockwork Orange, was recently discovered at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation by staff. There’s no word yet on whether or not it will be published or made available to the public though.


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