Hubert Selby Jr.

By: James Parker
July 23, 2009


John Mortimer, the barrister who successfully defended Last Exit To Brooklyn, a novel by HUBERT SELBY JR. (1928-2004), against an obscenity charge in a ’60s British courtroom, would do the same ten years later for the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks. In the first instance, he carried the day with his ingenious “aversion argument,” which proposed that Last Exit was “intentionally disgusting, shocking and outrageous,” that “it made the reader share in the horror it described and thereby so disgusted and outraged him that he would do what he could to eradicate those evils”; in the second, he somehow convinced the court that “bollocks” was a harmless medievalism. Had Johnny Lydon/Rotten read Selby? A later generation of punks were all over this gentle chronicler of human degradation: Henry Rollins, turned onto Selby’s work by Lydia Lunch, sought the older man out and formed an extraordinary friendship with him. As a writer Selby’s secret weapon was pity, that currently despised and un-Rollinsy word. Georgette, the transvestite addict in his story “The Queen Is Dead,” has something to do with Van Morrison’s Madame George: both flit desperately between love-dreams and a heartbreaking daylight, between two realms that are simultaneously visible only to the tear-rinsed eye of pity.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: | Raymond Chandler |

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).


HiLo Heroes, Literature