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Duration 208 pages
Year of publication, Paris, 1959
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Having read Burrough's 'Junky' and his life style notoriety, a natural progression was to flick on six years later - 1959; when Burrough's 'Naked Lunch' was fed to the public, four years on, Kingsley Amis served up a 'naked lunch' of his own in his 1963 'One Fat Englishman.' Another form of fleshy grotesque - no doubt Amis's inspiration came from literature's Burroughs. Over half a century on, the nauseous hasn't lost its potency. Maybe, the timeless style of the Burroughs script has a lot to do with it - a semi-biography from Burroughs protagonist Bill Lee. I say, 'semi' just in case reprisals are formed by literature's purists whose flamingo heads remain beneath the sand when it comes to recognizing unsightly terms connected to narcotics and literature - which was apparent during the late sixteenth century from another addict initialed 'W' 'S' (William Shakespeare) the difference was Burroughs was frank with his narcotic abuse and he did eventually beat his demons - unlike the famous playwright. I can feel the steely stares of literature's purists. 'Naked Lunch' is a self-derailment realization - an abandonment loathing, self depreciation, a longing for a divine cloth to wipe the evil need away, miraculously: 'the Sacred Mushrooms of Mexico enable a man to see God'- the suggestion of such a theme for the addicted was as if it came from the spirit of the almighty. Dopes never saw junk as sacred but quantitative like a currency - a need which Burroughs depicts as being 'The Algebra of Need.' Mathematics enshrined to junk, as the formula of evil twists deeper into the soul - you're left paralysed, 'a naked lunch' for all to see - The hunger still evident, in each whimper or quiver - murmuring like a workaholic zombie, staring at his feet, at a start of a new day. Burroughs Junk is just like money it will always exist so long someone services it - Inevitably, dopes 'line' the street; 'victims of excess' in their own right. Burroughs quest to turn junk into a societal metaphor is plain to see; in our destructive desperate bloodstream depicts 'Naked Lunch' more than just a travelogue of a dope-head.
The difficulty of getting the best out of Burroughs classic could question its readability, those who're medically incline may find Burroughs 'The Examination' part especially clinically formulated, as he writes a type of doctor's note from his first-hand experience. Barbiturates are notably barbaric to get addicted to, the only means is to ingest them in great amounts for a long time - and for that, the medical profession you have to be in, or have links to such a supply, - I gathered through reading 'Junky' this was the same old junk - transcript of, 'what happened next to the Texan lad, who went to Harvard, before going bad' - I envisage Burroughs as a moth fluttering from light fix to light fix, banging his head on hot bulbs. The fact he flutters from parts of conscious states as well as logistical ones, possibly makes 'Naked Lunch' enigmatic. Structurally and subject wise you have to divide the 'Naked Lunch' up, to digest it - unless you're like the state of Boston, Massachusetts; it found 'lunch' as unappetizing as a fermented egg, a delicacy in China, alas, illustrates grotesque lunch in the West. During a time when modernity paid attention to the grotesque, flesh decaying debauchery that summarized Burroughs time in Tangiers. Francis Bacon's triptych; 'The Beauty of the Macabre' of a roaring anus could easily be Burroughs 'Naked Lunch,' the creators of modernity knew each other professionally and from sodomy circles. I'd even go further and claim Bacon's paintings of huddled figures cramped in windowless box rooms, dimly lit by an exposed bulb, illustrates withdrawal to a tee. Bacon and Burroughs were passionate about the Macabre in the creative sense; it was a form of beauty for Bacon - Burroughs was the entity which lived it, through his 'Naked Lunch.'
Sicknesses require the virus to be firstly detected and then eliminated. Dope and junk is a sickness yet the authorities will not eliminate its circulation or supply, fully. The reason, it holds the key to greed and affluence. For me, this is the real pornography that Burroughs describes in his literature and subsequently Bacon in his paintings. These are more than classic literature being just a reading source and an artist expressing the Macabre on canvasses - but recognition of what mankind has become through greed. Burroughs travelogue, a semi-biographical account albeit, semi-hallucinatory, semi-state-of-consciousness blurs - his drug trial narration that leads him into three areas of drug-fuelled-hunger: Mexico, New York and lastly in Tangiers, where the drug trail terminated. The author, pictorial visions of Mexico's dusty baron space, where the air bakes you to a 'Walker's Crisp' - it removed the suffocation of the city and replaced it with drowning spatial awe - too much to swallow; the vastness over-inflates the lungs. His logistical descriptions and spontaneous discourse captured Burroughs fluidity. Greater than a contrite formulated detective tale that writing pundits avidly try to box 'Naked Lunch' into a detective styled cul-de-sac; and greater than a Cronenburg film-noir adaptation - it is a lesson to be learned. 'At all times keep your eyes down when you enter a junk yard, or a junk street.' No eye contact with the eye of the devil (the buyers and dealers) will eliminate the narcotic virus of addiction. Prevention is the only means to a cure.
Naked Lunch is a perfectly readable book as long as you know how to read it and the writing technique employed by Burroughs. Readers looking for a plot or a storyline have every right to feel lost and to make claims that the book is "claptrap"; this is because they are looking for the wrong things. There is no plot and no storyline; there are merely themes, and episodes that highlight and deepen these themes; and these episodes, put together in random order, make up the book Naked Lunch.
So, the theme is: addiction (and, two sides of the same coin, control). Man's addiction to everything (here I'm using "man" as a general term which includes "woman" as well), and the way man is controlled by this addiction by a variety of different forces: the state, the police, and other people. As I said, there is no plot other than this, though there are recurring characters, the most notable being the narrator, of course, as well as Dr Benway and, my personal favourite, "the purple-assed baboon."
The book, despite what some people may claim, isn't disgusting or obscene (it was declared obscene when first published, banned in US, and then declared "not obscene" and "a work of great social importance" by the US courts, in a landmark decision which effectively ended literary censorship in that country); it contains passages and episodes that contain imagery perhaps not fit for general public consumption, but these images are all used for a reason. Mainly satire.
If you are easily offended, this book isn't for you. But if you want a serious, no-holds-barred look at contemporary culture and what is wrong with it, you could do a lot worse than read Naked Lunch. It is also wildly and wickedly funny.
"Control can never be a means to any legitimate end... It can never be a means to anything but more control." - William Burroughs, Naked Lunch.
"As one judge said to the other: 'Be just, and if you can't be just - be arbitrary.'" - Naked Lunch.
This book was recommended many times to me before I read it, Phrases like 'profound' and 'genius' popped up during conversations about it, so obviously I had to read this marvellous book. Can you imagine my disappointment when I was faced with a leaflet of claptrap. During the recommendations of this "fabulous" book I was told countless times to read and reread, to make sure I was always aware of what was going on, but even though I would consider myself to be very patient with books I just couldn't understand the plot, I read it and reread it three times and it just wasn't making sense. I understand that somewhere underneath lies a profound plot, but it is so far underneath the all to graphic gobble-de-gook that it just escapes me. Many times I had got to a point where I would think 'I've got it!!!' then it would change and he would be somewhere completely different, maybe in a hospital or a mental home, and I had absolutely no idea how he got there or why he was there, so I would have to start again. What there was that I could make sense of though was not nice, I had to put the book down when I was reading it travelling to work because I actually felt physically sick, it was disgustingly graphic, for example at one point he was in a prison (at least I think he was, or he thought he was???) and a woman gauged her leg open with a rusty safety pin and put drugs in the hole. I certainly wouldn't recommend trying to read it when you have just eaten. Don't get me wrong it is not that I do not enjoy reading or it was just not my kind of book because I would probably consider myself an avid reader of allsorts and I would never put a book down because the first few pages didn't appeal but those of you out there who do read this book be warned - the first few pages are the rest of the book that's how it continues all the way through and it just doesn't get any be
tter or any clearer. I have to say that that as small as this book is it is certainly not worth going to the library to get and certainly not worth buying. A definate thumbs down!!
Ahhhh...the cliched cult novel....staple of 80s- early 90s students who liked the Smiths, Joy Division, the Socialist Workers Party, putting their thumbs through the hole in the sleeve of their wooly jumper, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley posters and Nirvana...obviously. However, as this is now a dying breed and kids these days don't read anymore, I feel perfectly comfortable writing about this work of genius. 'Naked Lunch' was written in a state of withdrawal by William Burroughs, not strung out on heroin as most people think. The novel comprises of the disjointed hallucinations of withdrawal, and Burroughs apparently has no recollection of ever composing the novel. In fact, he never committed a word to the page himself and dictated it all to fellow Beat writer Jack Kerouac. The book makes little sense in itself. There are grotesque images of sex, violence and drugs. However, these are not gratuitous. Instead Burroughs was trying to subvert the accepted values of his day (very conservative 50s and 60s post-war America). Therefore, all sexuality is elevated to the level of pornography, literary forms are upset by creating his book from media images such as the comic book, 50s sci-fi B-movies (mad scientists etc) and by disturbing traditional narratives by using a stream of consciousness structure. The novel is not about drugs as most people think. It is about power. Drugs, but to be more precise...addiction is used to show how society is controlled by those at the top, by exploiting the addiction of others (to consumerism, sex, money etc). Therefore, a pyramid of need is created with the working class firmly at the bottom. However, despite all of the serious messages the book is trying to send out, there is a great deal of humour, such as the 'talking asshole' which eventually takes over its master, and the complete de-anxietised all-american man, who turns out to be a big black centipede. Serious, funny, imcompr
ehensible, but most of all essential, this is one cult novel that should not be ignored and stands as a testament to the Beat writers. Explore and be disgusted and confused. And don't pretend you understand all of it because not even William Burroughs does.
On it’s release Naked Lunch caused an amazing amount of controversy. Banned in many countries due to its supposed pornographic content. It is this censorship and the furore around Burroughs’ novel, which actually bought into the wider public realm, and helped make it one of the classics of modern literature. Naked Lunch is not an easy book to read, its often disjointed style and leaps in context often make it has to find any continuity. This is a reflection of Burrroughs’ “cut-up technique” where previously written texts are literally cut to pieces and reassembled to create new pieces of work. This seems to create an over complex writing style, which can lead to confusion for the reader. Again this reflects another Burroughs’ idea that of destroying the ‘control machines’ which dominate modern culture leading to mental slavery and mass control. The secret to reading Naked Lunch is to understand what Burroughs was trying to achieve that and repeated reading. Having read Naked Lunch several times I am now able to decode and make connections within the novel and other Burroughs writings and projects. Naked Lunch is partly autobiographical (like a lot of Burroughs’ writing) and part drug infused fiction. Based around the time Burroughs’ spent in Tangiers (Interzone in the novel) it works a series of related and unrelated short stories. Sometimes dealing with Burroughs' homosexuality and drug addiction and others going into wild, grotesque and baroque flights of psychosis. Many of Burroughs' classic characters appear in Naked Lunch from Dr Benway to William Lee (actually Burroughs himself) all fight it out in a society on the verge of collapse. Naked lunch acts as a commentary on this collapse, and is also a metaphor for the problems of Burroughs’ life. The previously mention drugs and sexuality problems and the guilt that Burroughs felt for the accidental death of his wife.
Naked Lunch does require patience, and initially can appear abhorrent, unsettling and confused; repeating readings actually reveals an astonishing tale from Burroughs’ life and genius mind. Just be willing to expect the unexpected and drop any previous notions of how a novel should read