It is that time of the year again, and the Literary Review has announced its nominees for the Bad Sex award, given out to those authors who foolishly include “unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels” (the latter part of which is actually rather a compliment, albeit a backhanded one).
This year’s list includes a couple of Bookkake’s favourite novels from the past 12 months, including Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones (“I came suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg.”) and Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro (“he slips his hands under her wasted buttocks and enters her like a fucking pile driver.”).
It’s a story you’ll struggle to find on any mainstream news service, so thank goodness that technologists tend to be generally liberal and sane as well as technologically knowledgeable and proficient.
The Register has a long report on ‘JFL’, the first person jailed under draconian UK police powers that Ministers said were vital to battle terrorism and serious crime. And he’s a schizophrenic science hobbyist with no previous criminal record.
There are a number of complications, and while it’s possible to read the entire history of the case (which you should) as the hounding of one man by security forces bent on conviction, whose prosecution finally succeeded only on the basis of the accused trying to avoid such harassment, we’re aware that the police are unlikely to simply walk away from a man behaving shiftily while bearing traces of high explosive; to do nothing was never going to be an option.
It’s the methods used, and the inferences drawn, that concern us. JFL was allegedly told, pursuant to demands that he hand over the keys to encrypted computer files, that: “There could be child pornography, there could be bomb-making recipes… Unless you tell us we’re never gonna know… What is anybody gonna think?” The presumption of innocence was a long way off.
The fact is, there were bomb-making recipes, and not in the computer files: the judgement also took into account a number of books in JFL’s possession: “on gun manufacture, a book on methamphetamine production and an encryption textbook” – all, apparently, available from Amazon. (We don’t know what they are, but this, this and this would all fit the bill – covers below.)
The Uncle Fester books in particular (Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture, above centre) have a long and dodgy history. A pseudonym of Steve Preisler, whose other publications include Silent Death (describing routes for manufacturing nerve gases) and Bloody Brazilian Knife Fightin’ Techniques – Fester and his publisher, the much-missed Loompanics, faced many legal challenges over the years, frequently cited in court cases. In 2007, a Denver bookstore successfully fought a court order to turn over purchaser details for one of Loompanic’s Fester titles.
The other book quoted in the Register article is Abbie Hoffman’s seminal Steal This Book, which the judge in JFL’s case described as “a book that detailed how to make a pipe bomb”. It does indeed – as you can see from this online version (Steal This eBook?) – although it also includes advice on starting a pirate radio station, living in a commune, preparing a legal defense, and obtaining a free buffalo from the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Hoffman’s work too has a long history of controversy – not least frequent wrangling with bookstores unhappy that their copies kept going missing.
In the Legal Advice section of Steal This Book, Hoffman gives the following advice to those who find themselves in custody:
Any discussion about what to do while waiting for the lawyer has to be qualified by pointing out that from the moment of arrest through the court appearances, cops tend to disregard a defendant’s rights. Nonetheless, you should play it according to the book whenever possible as you might get your case bounced out on a technicality. When you get busted, rule number one is that you have the right to remain silent. We advise that you give only your name and address. There is a legal dispute about whether or not you are obligated under the law to do even that, but most lawyers feel you should.
It’s a shame to see that a book derided in JFL’s court has as much relevance today as it did in 1971. The defendant’s right to silence was the core liberty overridden by Part III of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) which came into force at the beginning of October 2007, nominally aimed – of course – at terrorism, but employed in this case despite the fact that all suspicion of terrorism was dropped long before trial and JFL was sentenced under RIPA Part III “as a general criminal rather than a threat to national security”. Furthermore, the judge diverted from normal court procedures because, he said, “I was satisfied you would not tell the Probation Service anything significant further that I saw no purpose in obtaining a pre-sentence report which is normally a prerequisite for someone of no previous convictions who has not previously received a prison sentence.” Such reports would have done much to explain JFL’s behaviour.
We’ve only written about Savoy before in the context of the Obscene Publications Act, Savoy having the dubious honour of suffering the last successful prosecution of literature for obscenity in these isles for Lord Horror – a book now so hard to get hold of, you might want to enter Ballardian’s microfiction competition, where an original file copy is first prize. If you’re not familiar with Savoy’s work, then that interview is a good place to start, as is Bookkake contributor Supervert’s introductory essay Horror Panegyric.
From Ballardian wife-swappers to Updike’s nymphomaniacs, we’ve long known that the suburbs are hotbeds of sexual activity. Beyond the clipped lawns, net curtains, valances and ornamental water features lies a world of erotic clichés: bored housewives and hot handymen, car key parties and cross-dressing. So it comes as no surprise that a well-known Swedish furniture-maker has taken the opportunity to enter the specialist adult market, furnishing the adulterers of the green belt with the tools necessary for their pleasures.
We’ve been a bit swamped here at Bookkake towers lately, and although we have some fun, homegrown stuff to share with you shortly, we just wanted to flag up a couple of additions to our Cartography of Human Sexuality thread, which you may remember from our previous post on Sotadic Zones and other possibilities.
LoveHoney, one of the largest UK retailers of adult toys and films, have just released their own Sex Map (above), mapping purchases from their store to different towns and cities across the country. So, we know that Upminster, a suburb of London at the end of the Piccadilly line, is the “sexiest” place in Britain (opinions on what defines sexiness may differ). Well, we know sex is suburban, but according to LoveHoney, the good people of Upminster spend 9.5 times the national average on their sex lives overall, including 17 times the national average on Adult DVDs and 14 times the national average on “Sex Toys for Couples” (we won’t argue with that definition, although many of the bestselling products would appear to be designed more with the single suburbanite in mind).
Last night, I was privileged to be in the audience for a lecture by James Holloway, a PhD student in a graduate of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, at Treadwell’s esoteric bookshop. Holloway talked about the intersections of archaeology and the HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, two subjects he is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about. It was a fascinating and highly enjoyable evening, and what follows are the rough notes I made of the evening. This is my paraphrasing of what he said, and all errors are mine (and – update – James has added his own disclaimer in the comments).
A good, if a little vague, article by Maureen Freely in Saturday’s Guardian brings together two recent news stories in an examination of our changing attitudes to children, art and sexual offences: the arrest of Roman Polanski for a 1977 assault on a minor (on which Steve Lopez writes convincingly, and approvingly, in the LA Times) and the removal of an artwork by Richard Prince from the Tate’s new Pop Life exhibition.
The artwork in question is a reproduction of a 1975 fashion photo of a nude, oiled and heavily made-up 10-year-old Brooke Shields – the same child who appeared naked on celluloid at 12 in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby (available on Amazon), and at 15 in a TV jeans ad with the strapline: “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” (Christopher Turner has a good history of the piece in the same newspaper.)
There’s no question as to the artistic merit of the piece: Prince’s appropriation is a direct questioning of sensuality versus sexuality, of the morality of art and the placing of responsibility for interpretation (Its title, “Spiritual America”, refers to an Alfred Stieglitz photograph of a gelded horse, referencing the breakdown of discussion of sexuality in society). Does the offence, the implicit lust, reside with the artwork, or the viewer? The Metropolitan Police are clear on the issue, or at least, on their opinion of the issue.
There’s an excellent exhibition on at the moment at Raven Row, in London’s Spitalfields. It brings together selected works by Eduardo Paolozzi from the 50s through to the 70s.
Those who only know Paolozzi as a sculptor, and through his mosaics on the London Underground or his massive Newton for the British Library forecourt might not know of his strong political and graphic design interests. Alongside acid-coloured prints (some of the first British Pop Art) and the strange toys the artist scavenged from flea markets, the exhibition presents a selection of collaborations between Paolozzi and Ambit magazine in the late 60s and 70s (although the relationship continued into the 90s).