William Burroughs: Naked Lunch

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Burroughs, William. Naked Lunch: The Restored Text (New York: Grove Press, 2004)

Although drug use isn't a prerequisite for reading Naked Lunch, it may be an aid for comprehension. The first of Burroughs' "cut-up" novels, Naked Lunch has the hallucinogenic feel of a drug-fueled nightmare gone sour, a bad trip with no guide but the rambling and scattered narrator. Burroughs himself appears in the book under the guise of William Lee, a junkie on the run from the law, but is not a presence in enough of the vignettes (Burroughs calls them "routines") to add any cohesiveness to the book. One strains to find any sort of narrative or thematic substance, but this is to be expected due to the book's genesis. As the editors mention in a note after the body of the novel:

The novel was not created according to a predetermined outline or plan, but accumulated through a decade of travel and turmoil on four continents and continually edited and reedited not only by its author but also by his close friends Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. It went through innumerable partial and "final" drafts, mostly in Tangier, Morocco, and took its final shape only when Maurice Girodias told Burroughs in June 1959 that he needed a finished text within two weeks, for publication by his English-language Olympia Press in Paris. (p. 233, "Editor's Note" by Barry Miles and James Grauerholz)

Burroughs imagines a series of "Steely Dan" dildos (p. 77), and includes an odd "routine" about a man who taught his asshole to talk (pp. 110-12), but the violent sex and sexualized violence are jarring amid the humor. Burroughs' obsessions with anal sex ["...we see God through our assholes in the flash bulb of orgasm...Through these orifices transmute your body...The way OUT is the way IN..." (p. 191)] and ejaculation combine with his descriptions of heroin and hanging to create an undifferentiated mass of disturbing material whose presence in the courtroom should have surprised no one. (The failed 1966 obscenity case against Naked Lunch has the dubious honor of being the last brought against a novel in the United States.)

Naked Lunch's presence on one's bookshelf will likely still raise some eyebrows. The book's series of disturbing visions and its portrayal of drug-induced madness overwhelm the cautionary postscripts from Burroughs on his personal experiences with narcotic addiction. Nietzsche's warning about gazing into the abyss is especially relevant here.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on October 4, 2007 12:12 AM.

Jack Kerouac: On the Road was the previous entry in this blog.

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