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Turkish publisher in trouble over William S. Burroughs book

July 5, 2011 |  3:58 pm

Adainistanbul

Sel Publishing, a Turkish publishing house, is in trouble for its Turkish-language publication of the William S. Burroughs novel "The Soft Machine." The book was originally published in the U.S. in 1961, two years after the publication of "Naked Lunch," and in 1966, Burroughs published a significantly revised edition.

Sel Publishing, which printed 2,500 copies of the book, has been charged with obscenity under Article 226 of the Turkish penal code and its head, Irfan Sanci, is expected to appear in a Turkish court Wednesday in the first hearing of the case. The book's translator has also been charged.

In 2010, the house was awarded the Freedom to Publish -- Special Award from the Geneva-based International Publishers Assn. The IPA has called for the immediate aquittal of Sanci and "The Soft Machine's" translator. "This is the latest in a series of trials targeting publisher Sancı and his translations of contemporary foreign literature," the organization said in a statement (PDF).

This is the second time Sel Publishing has been charged under Article 226. In 2010, the house's translation of Guillaume Apollonaire's "The Exploits of a  Young Don Juan," originally published in France in 1911, faced the same charges.

Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of another publisher who had published a Turkish-language translation of Apollonaire's "The Eleven Thousand Rods" in 1999. The court found that Turkey had violated freedom of expression laws and "hindered public access to a work belonging to the European literary heritage."

Turkey contends that "The Soft Machine" violates moral norms and is vulgar. The Guarian reports:

Featuring scenes of drug addiction and homosexuality, The Soft Machine develops "attitudes that were permissive to crime by concentrating on the banal, vulgar and weak attributes of humanity", according to a report by the Turkish Prime Ministerial Board for the Protection of Children from Harmful Publications, quoted in Turkish paper Hurriyet.

The Council also accused the novel of "incompliance with moral norms" and "hurting people's moral feelings".

"It is clear and obvious that this case carries no weight or respectability outside of the borders of our country," publisher Sel said in a statement. "We demand an end to investigations that constrain our activities and the prosecution of books for any reason whatsoever."

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William S. Burroughs' lost graphic novel coming in 2011

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: A cafe and bookstore in Istanbul's Istiklal Caddesi selling mostly Turkish books in March 2008. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times

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