Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Barney Rosset (1922-2012)

Barney Rosset (1922-2012)

... After [the 1959 obscenity trial of] Lady Chatterley, [the Post Office] never got involved in obscenity suits again. They learned their lesson, I think.

But if the post office doesn’t arrest you, there are still many other possibilities for arrest. The local police can go into a store and say, Take this book off the shelves, and arrest the bookseller. In Brooklyn they came after me, the publisher, and charged me with conspiracy. They claimed that Henry Miller and I conspired to have him write Tropic of Cancer — that I commissioned him to write it in Brooklyn in 1933! That was a mistake, right? I would have been ten years old, and anyway he wrote the book in Paris. It was insane.

Then John Ciardi wrote a two-page editorial in the Saturday Review blasting the government, absolutely ridiculing the district attorney. In the course of blasting them, he told the history of the book, and that really helped us. I was brought before a grand jury. It was a big room. The jury looked like nice people. The district attorney got up and said, I understand that the children of these people on the grand jury are able to buy Tropic of Cancer at their local newsstand. I said, Well, that’s very good. And if their children bought that book and read it all the way through, then those parents should be congratulated! The district attorney just got laughed out of there by the grand jury.

All the cops in America had settled on page seven or something as the page that made the book arrestable. It’s the page where the woman is shitting five-franc pieces out of her cunt, and there are wild chickens running around — the DA asked me to read it aloud. I did, and that’s when the jury really started laughing. And then he started laughing. And so they dropped it. The grand jury would not indict me. That was only one of hundreds of cases, all over the country, in every state — literally. ...

An excerpt from Ken Jordan's Winter 1997 interview with Barney Rosset in The Paris Review. Photo by Lu Okolski from Studio360.

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