The book is structured as a series of loosely connected vignettes. Burroughs stated that the chapters are intended to be read in any order. The reader follows the narration of junkie William Lee, who takes on various aliases, from the U.S. to Mexico, eventually to Tangier and the dreamlike Interzone.
The vignettes are drawn from Burroughs' own experiences in these places and his addiction to drugs (heroin, morphine, and while in Tangier, majoun [a strong hashish confection] as well as a German opioid, brand name Eukodol, of which he wrote frequently).
William Seward Burroughs II, (also known by his pen name William Lee) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer. A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th century". His influence is considered to have affected a range of popular culture as well as literature. Burroughs wrote 18 novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays. Five books have been published of his interviews and correspondences. He also collaborated on projects and recordings with numerous performers and musicians, and made many appearances in films. He was born to a wealthy family in St. Louis, Missouri, grandson of the inventor and founder of the Burroughs Corporation, William Seward Burroughs I, and nephew of public relations manager Ivy Lee. Burroughs began writing essays and journals in early adolescence. He left home in 1932 to attend Harvard University, studied English, and anthropology as a postgraduate, and later attended medical school in Vienna. After being turned down by the Office of Strategic Services and U.S. Navy in 1942 to serve in World War II, he dropped out and became afflicted with the drug addiction that affected him for the rest of his life, while working a variety of jobs. In 1943 while living in New York City, he befriended Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, the mutually influential foundation of what became the countercultural movement of the Beat Generation. Much of Burroughs's work is semi-autobiographical, primarily drawn from his experiences as a heroin addict, as he lived throughout Mexico City, London, Paris, Berlin, the South American Amazon and Tangier in Morocco. Finding success with his confessional first novel, Junkie (1953), Burroughs is perhaps best known for his third novel Naked Lunch (1959), a controversy-fraught work that underwent a court case under the U.S. sodomy laws. With Brion Gysin, he also popularized the literary cut-up technique in works such as The Nova Trilogy (1961–64). In 1983, Burroughs was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1984 was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France. Jack Kerouac called Burroughs the "greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift", a reputation he owes to his "lifelong subversion" of the moral, political and economic systems of modern American society, articulated in often darkly humorous sardonicism. J. G. Ballard considered Burroughs to be "the most important writer to emerge since the Second World War", while Norman Mailer declared him "the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius". Burroughs had one child, William Seward Burroughs III (1947-1981), with his second wife Joan Vollmer. Vollmer died in 1951 in Mexico City. Burroughs was convicted of manslaughter in Vollmer's death, an event that deeply permeated all of his writings. Burroughs died at his home in Lawrence, Kansas, after suffering a heart attack in 1997.
”The title means exactly what the words say: NAKED lunch--a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of the fork.” The book title was suggested by Jack Kerouac.
If not for the intervention of William S. Burroughs friends, Naked Lunch would have never seen the light of day. Peter Orlovsky, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac decided to visit Burroughs in Tangiers and see if they could salvage any of the fragmented writing that had been dripping from the mind of Burroughs while he was nursing addictions to heroin and young male prostitutes. This is not a novel and if you venture into it thinking it is going to be a novel, with a linear plot line, you will be disappointed from the get go. This is a collection of horrors, fears built upon a wicket of paranoia, fantasies shared with brutal honesty, and demented, unhinged sex. Love does not tread through the shadows of this delusional; and yet, dare I say brilliant work of writing.
You can cut into Naked Lunch at any intersection point...I have written many prefaces. They atrophy and amputate spontaneous like the little toe amputates in a West African disease confined to the Negro race and the passing blonde shows her brass ankle as a manicured toe bounces across the club terrace, retrieved and laid at her feet by her Afghan hound... Naked Lunch is a blueprint, a How-To-Book...Abstract concepts, bare as algebra, narrow down to a black turd or a pair of aging conjones...
Naked Lunch influenced music, most famously: Kurt Cobain, Bob Dylan, and Lou Reed. Band names emerged from characters in the book including Steely Dan. References to Burroughs spring up in literature and his influence is apparent in the works of Martin Amis and Will Self. Norman Mailer once referred to Burroughs as, “possibly the only living American writer of genius.” Essayists speculate that Mailer may have only said that to irritate the trio of Roth, Updike, and Bellow. Mailer was always the guy on the outside looking in.
So the Beat Generation ambassadors that sat down and tried to make sense out of the ramblings of the haphazardly collected writings, found among this mess of a manuscript something fresh and scary. The publishers they took it to saw the mess more than they saw the brilliance. Only after a few bits were published in a magazine called Big Table in 1959 and the writing was declared obscene and prosecuted did Maurice Girodias of Olympia Press, always spoiling for a fight on censorship, decided to publish. Ahhhh nothing like banning books to generate sales.
Edith Sitwell loftily rejected this “filth”. ”I do not wish to spend the rest of my life with my nose nailed to other people’s lavatories. I prefer Chanel No 5.”
Can’t you just see Burroughs laughing gleefully, rubbing his hands together, at all the press: good, bad, and indifferent? He must have been thrilled that Sitwell even deigned to crack the cover of his book.
You might be still a babe in the woods who has not armchaired travelled down the stench filled alley of a Naked Lunch inspired nightmare. You might be thinking at this point in the review that you might want to read this book. I can assure you that you may NOT want to read this book. If you are a person who intends to be a serious writer then... yes... you really should read this book. It does open up vistas of thought if you can relax your moral compass for about 215 pages. Burroughs was riding fifteen years of addiction and self-indulgence. These writings, to me, were merely an outlet to get some of the muttering ideas out of his head. The process may have curbed the ragged edge of insanity.
I suppose some titillation can be gleaned from these writings. Perversity and obscenity has appeal. Pain has a following. ”She seized a safety pin caked with blood and rust, gouged a great hole in her leg which seemed to hang open like an obscene, festering mouth waiting for unspeakable congress with the dropper which she now plunged out of sight into the gaping wound. But her hideous galvanized need (hunger of insects in dry places) has broken the dropper off deep in the flesh of her ravaged thigh (looking rather like a poster on soil erosion).”
Writing about sex and desire is always of interest.
”I was young myself once and heard the siren call of easy money and women and tight boy-ass and land’s sake don’t get my blood up I am subject to tell a tale make your cock stand up and yip the pink pearly way of young cunt or the lovely brown mucus-covered palpitating tune of the young boy-ass play your cock like a recorder...and when you hit the prostate pearl sharp diamonds gather in the golden lad balls inexorable as a kidney stone.”
At times Burroughs is whimsical.
”The nostalgia fit is on me boys and will out willy silly...boys walk down the carny midway eating pink spun sugar...goose each other at the peep show...jack off in the Ferris wheel...throw sperm at the moon rising red and smoky over the foundries across the river.”
He shares his junky dreams.
”Cooking smells of all countries hang over the City, a haze of opium, hashish, the resinous red smoke of yage, smell of the jungle and salt water and the rotting river and dried excrement and sweat and genitals.”
The scream shot out of his flesh through empty locker rooms and barracks, musty resort hotels, and spectral, coughing corridors of T.B. sanitariums, the muttering, hawking, grey fishwater smell of flophouses and Old Men’s Homes, great, dusty customs sheds and warehouses, through broken porticoes and smeared arabesques, iron urinals worn paper thin by the urine of a million fairies, deserted weed-grown privies with a musty smell of shit turning back to the soil, erect wooden phallus on the grave of dying peoples plaintive as leaves in the wind, across the great brown river where whole trees float with green snakes in the branches and sad-eyed lemurs watch the shore out over a vast plain (vulture wings husk in the dry air). The way is strewn with broken condoms and empty H caps and K.Y. tubes squeezed dry as bone meal in the summer sun.”
Anybody want a hit of H?
Burroughs during a William Tell reenactment with his wife, after I’m sure copious amounts of alcohol and chemical assistance had been inhaled, attempted to shoot a drink off her head for the entertainment of their friends. He missed. She died. He called his lawyer.
The quotes I’ve selected to share in this review are nowhere near the worse or most perverse of the writing that will be experienced in this book. If anyone has been offended I am truly sorry, but I do not want people reading a book that is not a good fit for them. Consider these quotes to be a warning sign to decide if you want to avoid more of the same (only much more shocking) or that you are game to see what else Burroughs can fling on you, can etch into your skin, can smear in your hair, can wiggle into your brain, can “hot lick” your...
This book put me in mind of the first time I went to a strip club, which happened to be in Kansas City. At first I was looking around like a farm boy fresh off the back of the turnip truck, jaw dropped, eyeballs extended amazed at all the BOOBS just walking around everywhere. After about a half hour, my brain made adjustments, and it became... well... boring isn’t the right word but the shock value had worn off. I was ready to go somewhere else, do something else. My reaction to this book was similar, even though it was my second trip through it, still for about the first fifty pages I was uncomfortable and second guessing my decision to reread it and horrified at the thought of trying to review it. I hung in there mainly because I’d survived the experience once and had a feeling that I would adjust. As I advanced through the pages, Burroughs would continue to stick needles into my morality, but I was becoming more immune. In fact, at times the book started to feel repetitive. I even reached a point where I could say “hey Burroughs I got it, you can quit hitting me with the hammer now”.
I could have written a series of reviews espousing the reasons for giving this book one star up to five stars. It has had an impact on the literary and musical landscape (art as well if you count his shotgun splatter paintings), and not necessarily a negative one. I landed on four stars because Burroughs, in whatever level of hell he is residing in (if you believe in that stuff), will not get the satisfaction of yet another negative review. Bad press has been very, very good to him.
WARNING: nasty language ahead, including the use of some of my favorite phrases from the novel; these include such choice nuggets as mugwump jism and to turn a massacre into a sex orgy and a bubbly thick stagnant sound, a sound you could smell and the subject will come at his whistle, shit on the floor if he but say Open Sesame. anyway,
I’ll be honest, mugwump jism, it took me a while to get into Naked Lunch, to turn a massacre into a sex orgy. Three attempts, to be exact, a bubbly thick stagnant sound, a sound you could smell. I don’t mind stream-of-conscious writing, I don’t mind the Beats, I don’t mind postmodernism, I don’t mind graphic sexual and violent imagery, I don’t mind experimental narratives, the subject will come at his whistle, shit on the floor if he but say Open Sesame. But a work that combines all of those things in one fetid stew, in such an in-your-face way that could care less about creating any kind of empathy, and has such a complete disinterest in establishing easily-digestible form or meaning... well, it was off-putting mugwump jism. In a way it made me angry at Burroughs, to turn a massacre into a sex orgy. Who the fuck did he think he was, grinding my face in the muck and telling me that this foul nonsense was the new Now, a bubbly thick stagnant sound, a sound you could smell? I didn’t like how every fourth phrase seemed to be about shit or jism or asses or toothless mouths, the subject will come at his whistle, shit on the floor if he but say Open Sesame. I thought the extreme homoeroticism was gruesome and not very erotic, and it actually made me feel rather homophobic – and this is coming from a bonafide cocksucker, mugwump jism.
But the third try worked like a charm to turn a massacre into a sex orgy. Maybe I just needed to grow into the novel, and not take its challenging ways so personally, a bubbly thick stagnant sound, a sound you could smell. The writing became amazing to me – overindulgent (obviously) but also masterful, profound even, in its hair-raising descriptive passages, its deadpan dialogue, its drooling emphasis on bodily functions, decay, death, degradation, the subject will come at his whistle, shit on the floor if he but say Open Sesame. Its paranoia was no longer oppressive – if anything, it was freeing, mugwump jism. Naked Lunch’s ability to convey not just the darkness but the strangeness and black humor at the heart of both addiction and the various possible and existing forms of societal control became fascinating, to turn a massacre into a sex orgy. The radical changes in perspective, the decentralized plot and oblique narrative, all the grotesque, taboo fantasias suddenly felt mordantly playful and, well, “naked” in their need to convey a state of mind, a world view, a way of looking at the systems of the world... all of that actually became inspirational, in both the challenge of its intent and the radical nature of its result; and so the subject will come at his whistle, shit on the floor if he but say Open Sesame.
The flaw of the 5-star rating system is in trying figure out whether you should award stars based on how much you liked a book, or based on how "good" you think a book is. These two criteria are often distinct from each other, and Naked Lunch, at least for me, is a perfect example of this. I think that Naked Lunch is a brilliant book, an that Burroughs is one of our century's great literary geniuses. So, that makes it a five star book. But did I enjoy reading it? Sometimes very much, sometimes not at all. Burroughs's slang is simultaneously grotesque and sparkling. He is often very funny and sometimes prone to accidental fits of beauty. But he's an experimentalist at heart, which, for me at least, makes him challenging to read. This sounds really fussy school-marmy (because it is), but I sometimes long for him to just use punctuation like a normal person. In a way, reading Burroughs is like reading the Bible... (God, I loved making that comparison.) You can't really just plow through it like a regular novel, because it's too winding and strange. It follows only a vague timeline that it adheres to only when the mood takes it. Plotwise, all bets are off. You kind of have to read it in spurts and fits, which is probably how it was written. That said, I've read Naked Lunch at least four times, but never read it all the way through, from front to back. There are certain things that you do this with in your life...for instance, it took me years before I could rent either Time Bandits or Brazil before I could manage to stay awake to watch the whole film. What I finally discovered was that I'd never been old enough to appreciate Brazil before. Now it's one of my favorite movies. And Time Bandits is just really boring.
So here goes. I will read Naked Lunch from cover to cover, and finally figure out how I feel about it. The Bible is gonna have to wait its turn.
I've just seen that there is a David Cronenburg film of this book. It's the perfect pairing. The only other person who could have filmed this is perhaps John Waters, and he's maybe a bit friendly.
If you've read the book and ever watched a Cronenburg film, you're eyes just bugged out and jaw dropped at the idea of it, right? If not, why not? Explain.
The book is sparklingly brilliant, awful, nasty, wicked and beautiful. The work of a genius. There are a lot of good reviews out there, I'm not up to it. But a recommendation - if you like Burroughs, try Jean Genet, especially Our Lady of the Flowers. Burroughs and Genet, felons and addicts both, Genet the more lyrical of the two, both soared to the highest heights of twentieth century experimental fiction.
So, basically, the meaningless drivel of the very first circuit boi? Seriously? Maybe I would have liked it better if I weren't already sick to death of all the hallucinatory narratives this book spawned. This is a structure that needed to be created only once to get the bastard over with and properly buried.
Drug narratives are always only autobiographies obsessed with the author's secret obscene wishes and (inevitably) Neanderthal politics. They are the literary equivalent of a frotteur on the subway recounting an especially long and boring dream.
As a dear friend once told me, "Shut the fuck up, you stupid stoner."
"Agenbite of Inwit." (repeat until exhausted...) James Joyce
I don't think I ever saw the point of Burroughs' title - but I have a hunch it's the same stark lunch many of our shamefully-unsung vets see on their plates when their awful PTSD kicks in - God save 'em all!
Way back in 1967 I caught the Postmodern English Lit bug.
I celebrated New Year by gorging my literary appetite on the short stories of Franz Kafka. I started Joyce’s Ulysses (agenbite of inwit...) after reading his autobiography of Stephen Daedalus, whom I mistook for myself.
Suddenly I had an attitude.
And travelling to Montréal that summer for Expo - The World’s Fair - I immersed myself in its heady postmodernism, and discovered there a cornucopia of literary leads that would take me down fictional rabbit holes throughout my twenties.
Back home, I blasted Thelonius Monk and Charlie Rouse from my book-strewn room and digested the countercultural babblings of Evergreen Magazine, shyly purchased in Montréal.
That was my teenaged attempt at an Identity Statement!
I think it was in the latter publication that I first heard of Burroughs.
Finding a copy at my Mom’s (avant-gardiste!) public library, I stuck it into my backpack for a weekend at my longtime friend David’s family cottage, along with our buddy, Rob.
Neither of them raised an eyebrow. There was a lot of ferment back in the 60’s!
We hitchhiked to the crossroads from which a long, dusty hike past five miles of cornfields awaited us.
At the cottage there was a hand pump for water and no electricity, but I slogged through this book in the daylight hours.
To an innocent like me it was largely incomprehensible.
There, laid out before my ignorant eyes, were multitudinous arcane references to the mysterious paraphernalia of heroin addiction.
Oh, and homosexuality - to which I have similarly remained a green stranger - and for which fact Burroughs was forced to wage a battle all the way to the US Supreme Court.
But the writing itself was to die for.
Burroughs writes like a doomed angel, and the strangled strains of the golden voice of this Man With the Golden Arm catch our hearts with their angry passion.
And there was one golden message that has never failed to set off the red alarm button for me, even fifty years plus after reading it: “You’ve GOT to see what’s ON THE END OF YOUR FORK.”
That’s no joke, folks. Modern Life is NO GAME. It’s playing Hardball with us even as we sleep.
Yet it was all too much for this straight kid. And even now I’m still trying now to attain Burrough’s clarity.
That first attempt to ingratiate myself to the farthest-fetched postmodernism failed.
I was bowled over - but not won over.
But reading books like this goes a long way towards explaining why -
In my dotage -
I have become such a quiet and banal, ordinary househusband. Still trying to WAKE UP... as slowly as humanly possible!
Πόσο αξιολογώ την ευχαρίστηση και την πληρότητα που αισθάνθηκα διαβάζοντας το "γυμνό γεύμα" 2/5. Πόσο αξιολογώ την αξία του βιβλίου ως απευθείας διεργασία σε περιοχές του ψυχισμού επιτελώντας συγκεκριμένη λειτουργία. 5/5
Θεωρώ πως δεν πρέπει να πιάσει κανείς στα χέρια του το συγκεκριμένο βιβλίο εαν πρώτα δεν μάθει τα πάντα για την θρυλικά δραματική ζωή του Γουίλιαμ Μπάροουζ.
Είναι ένα φρικαλέο,απαίσιο, σιχαμερό,προσβλητικό,σκανδαλώδες,χυδαίο,ανήθικο, διεφθαρμένο,hardcore πορνογράφημα,μυθικά σατιρικό και θρυλικά ώμο. Όπως ακριβώς και η ζωή του Μπάροουζ. Και εδώ είναι το σημείο αναφοράς. Αν νιώσεις τη βιογραφία του συγγραφέα,αυτομάτως κατανοείς την αξία του βιβλίου.
Το "γυμνό γεύμα" δεν γράφτηκε για να διασκεδάσει ή να κερδίσει εντυπώσεις. Είναι ένα ανορθόδοξο,βιωματικό και σοκαριστικό βιβλίο αφιερωμένο στην αρρώστεια και την αντικουλτούρα της λογοτεχνίας και της κοινωνίας του κόσμου.
Ο συγγραφέας είναι ένας μποέμ παρείσακτος ψυχασθενής, απόφοιτος του Χάρβαρντ, γόνος εύπορης οικογένειας και περιθωριακά αντισυμβατικός. Εθισμένος σε σκληρές ναρκωτικές ουσίες,περιπλανητής του κόσμου, ομοφυλόφιλος,τυχοδιώκτης,συζυγοκτόνος και προφητική μορφή στην εξέλιξη της λογοτεχνίας.
Μια σιχαμένη ιδιοφυΐα,ένα απαίσιο μεγαλοφυές μυαλό που πιστεύει πως η γλώσσα είναι ένας ιός απο το διάστημα. Μια διεστραμμένη φιγούρα της κοινωνίας που γράφει στη δεκαετία του '50 στην Ταγγέρη το συγκεκριμένο βιβλίο σε μορφή επιστολών-σκέψεων-σημειώσεων χωρίς αρχή-μέση-τέλος,αναμειγνύοντας τη μυθοπλασία ��ε φοβερές δόσεις πραγματικότητας.
Εκείνη την εποχή εθισμένος σε παραισθησιογόνες ουσίες προσπαθεί παράλληλα να αποκτήσει το χάρισμα της τηλεπάθειας. Πριν και μετά,αυτό το διανοητικά άρρωστο και εθισμένο ... Μέλος της Αμερικανικής Ακαδημίας και Ινστιτούτου Τεχνών και Γραμμάτων - επικεφαλής του Τάγματος Γραμμάτων και Τεχνών της Γαλλίας, αναμειγνύεται με τις σκιές του πλανήτη μας και προκαλεί.
Το "γυμνό γεύμα" είναι μια έκρηξη απόγνωσης. Μια σχιζοφρενική και αρχικά ακαταλαβίστικη περιγραφή ενός φρικτού μαγικό-ναρκωτικού σύμπαντος σε αδιευκρίνιστο χωροχρόνο.
Αποτελεί σίγουρα προφητική περιγραφή μελλοντικών εξελίξεων και ως πραγματική ουσία του μυθιστορήματος περιγράφεται « η Αποκαθήλωση και η Βεβήλωση της Ανθρώπινης εικόνας απο τους ελεγχομανείς που διασπείρουν τον ιό του εθισμού».
Για να φτάσουμε σε αυτό το συμπέρασμα όμως περνάμε απο ένα καταδικασμένο και χυδαίο πορνογράφημα με σκληρές σκηνές παιδοφιλικού σεξ,φόνους ανηλίκων,φρικαλέων σοδομιστικών και σαδιστικών περιγραφών και κανιβαλισμού. Βουτάμε στην ταπείνωση και την εξαθλίωση. Πνιγόμαστε απο δυσφορία και μιζέρια άρρωστης κατάντιας και εξαχρείωσης. Υποφέρουμε απο όλες τις μορφές εθισμού τοξικών και κοινωνικών εθισμών.
Το «γυμνό γεύμα» ανεξαρτήτως υποκειμενικών εντυπώσεων ή συμπερασμάτων,αποτελεί σίγουρα ένα συνεχές αναθεωρούμενο,άσεμνο και εύστοχο χειρόγραφο τοξικού ρεαλισμού.
Ίσως να συστήνεται με λιγότερη επιφύλαξη το κινηματογραφικό "γυμνό γεύμα" απο τον Ντέιβιντ Κρόνενμπεργκ που ομολογουμένως επιχείρησε το ασύλληπτο.
I made it just a little bit past the passage mentioning Steely Dan the dildo (actually, it's three generations of dildos all thriving under the Steely Dan name). And then, at the request of my old man who was sick of hearing me complain and puzzle over this book, I put it down for good. I don't like to leave books unfinished, but a girl can only swallow so many reiterations of the same tired orgiastic death-by-hanging scenario before she puts her foot down and says NO MORE! I almost liked the book for this over-the-top ghastliness alone. Complex, acrobatic sex scenes abound, and there's something charming about the way it just gets nastier and nastier until the outlandishness of the unending orgies becomes laughable. But the redundancy of the themes and prose eventually became cloying. For example, Burroughs used the phrase "cancelled eyes" conspicuously often. While it's an apt enough way to describe the expression of someone floating through a drug haze, his overuse of the term struck me as a little too self-congratulatory, as if he was thinking, "Burroughs, you magnificent bastard! What a clever turn of phrase! Do it again!" And that sort of characterized the whole half of the book I finished--it seemed like Burroughs' critical abilities were blinded by his love for his own shock-value-saturated meanderings. On the whole (or, rather, on the half, since that's all I finished), reading Naked Lunch was like listening to someone tell you their weird dream from last night. Vaguely interesting, especially when it makes narrative sense, but, as it drones on, too zanily bizarre to keep my attention.
This book is beautiful in a sick-grotesque-wild-hilarious-creative-mind-bending-outlandish-drug-filled-dirty-brave kind of way. If I could use one word to describe it, it would be “bizarre”; although “hilarious” and “important” could work, too. In Naked Lunch you are taken into the mind of William S. Burroughs -- a twisted, drug addicted man, who also happens to be genius.
When considering its content, it’s no wonder Naked Lunch was banned and railed against when it was first released; it’s also no surprise that it was as popular as it was, given its creative brilliance. I can’t recommend Naked Luncht to anyone; it’s as graphic as the imagination allows. In fact, I would say that it’s the sickest book I’ve ever read, but I just happened to read Bataille’s Story of the Eye the other day, too. Between the two, there’s really no way of telling which pushes the limits more: Naked Lunch describes events such as young men being hung by nooses while they cum and shit on other young men. Story of the Eye contains scenes such as those involving a just-plucked eyeball, drenched in urine, being immersed in a young women’s vagina and asshole. So you see, it’s tough to decide which is more bizarre; which is sicker. Novels like these -- that stretch limitations -- are important, though, because they remind us of our baser instincts. Becoming aware of and familiarizing ourselves with the sicknesses that can exist in human beings can actually further our empathy and appreciation; it can increase the likelihood that we note everyday acts of generosity, and therefore increase the chances that we, in kind, continuously act in such a way.
But I know that Naked Lunch isn’t for everybody. If you can’t handle or don’t like this kind of thing, that’s fine with me: what you prefer and decide to read affects me very little; and it’s your right, really. Read a worthless, mind-numbing romance novel for all I care. But don’t you dare try to take a book -- no matter how graphic or nasty -- out of the hands of others. Sure there are gross books out there that have no deeper meaning; but even these, I believe, have every right to be read. After all, who are you -- in your blatant subjectivity -- to choose what defines worthwhile art for others?
But that’s beside the point, really, because Naked Lunch is powerfully imaginative and creative. If you can take its vile nature, waste no time in adding it to your “to read” list, because it can open-up some perceptual doorways.
Glenn Russell --- Speak to us straight about your Lunch that’s bare Twisted, dirty and anything but fair. Your words like needles sticking in our veins As you write of dopefiends, coke bugs and dames.
William S. Burroughs --- Rube, the word we use in this world is junk You’ll hear straight without funny stuff or funk. Read the damn book; I have nothing more to add For embellishing perfection has never been a fad.
This is a one-of-a-kind novel. Couldn't help myself with the Alexander Pope-style heroic couplets since Burroughs is at the extreme opposite end of the literary spectrum from the great Alexander Pope, and that's understatement!
A merry-go-round of grotesqueries & infinite pain. The life of the junky means nothing and so the experience is circular-- a self-(or is it?)punishment, an act of extreme nihilism--this is a cry from the very depths of hell, and the last time I checked the most successful account of it was by a man named Dante Alighieri.
Burroughs out-writes those terribly true duds of literary fame, mainly Henry Miller, Kerouac, et al. This is incendiary, fantastic, simply put, a bonafide WORK OF ART. In my mind "On the Road" is but a dull Norman Rockwell, "Naked Lunch" an overpowering "Guernica."
Experience this hell-on-page & immediately go out to the world to enjoy your heaven!
P.S. What a difference ten years makes! I tried to read this right after high school & failed. I feel better for my innocence.
Oh boy. One part of me wants to throw this novel away because some parts are written like a 15-year-old's first foray into erotic fanfiction while another part of me wants to hail this as a masterpiece of filth that would make John Waters sick. So I'm going to settle in the middle. There are some parts of this novel that made me go "what the actual fuck" but I like that. I like it when literally every boundary is pushed as far as it can go. The prose is nonsensical and disorientating which is probably what Burroughs wanted. He was a Beat of course. I enjoyed this novel. The majority of it makes absolutely no sense and it isn't meant to.
This was freakishly amazing, simultaneously making me wish I was on a full H binge with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Infinite Jest, and a whole slew of Stephen King books to cap off this horrific tome of pure poetry.
1959. And still absolutely harrowing today.
I thought movies like Requiem For A Dream or tv shows like The Wire were the most absolutely effective anti-drug memoir ever created by richly immersing us in the addict's life... but no.
Naked Lunch tips the reader right off a cliff into the deep end of an Heroin Dream, starting us right at the gross end of bodies breaking down, moving on to 1984-like Reconditioning Centers for total mental reprogramming, thank you very much, and then moving into the skull of a paranoid delusional fever dream of homosexuality and then alien societies.
If I could pick all of the heaviest hot-topics of the day and cram them all together into the heaviest fever pitch of a "normal's" fear, paranoia, misconceptions, and conspiracy theories, making the prose into a Beat-Poetry slam, and then fearlessly drowning the reader in jizz, then this is the book I'd point to as the poster child of all the books that would come after.
Seriously. The impact of this book on mainstream druggie fiction CANNOT be underestimated. Whole horror genres have spawned off of this book in the 80's. Talking assholes? A man who stole an opium suppository from his own grandmother's ass? Spontaneous liquefaction of bodies as a bug's-eye view of our modern society?
This stuff is RICH. It's also disgusting.
Hell, I'm a huge fan of Chuck Palahniuk and Peter Jackson's Dead Alive, and even these guys didn't quite go off the deep end as far as William S. Burroughs.
Hats off. Total Respect. Even if it's an enormously wild button-pusher, it's not like it's un-factual. The drugs are real. The lives of homosexuals were probably quite real for the day and age. The explosion of the importance and the wild revelry makes these things into a realm of All-Importance in this novel, though, making it at first horrifying, then surreal, and then almost pure science fiction. :) Truly a delight. :)
It's also a perfect piece to prepare for Halloween. Perfect for the feels, NOT the camp. I got scared. :)
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs is a corrosive mash-up of Hunter S. Thompson, George Carlin and a hoarse whisper of Jim Morrison, (and the good doctor Thompson no doubt kept a volume of Burroughs on his desk between the dictionary and the thesaurus).
Wake up Charles Bukowski at noon, scrape him off the floor of an Oakland flophouse, feed him, sober him cold, clean him up with a shower and shave and tailor a nice suit around him and you APPROACH the simmering rage of Burroughs, the feral, haunted shot of moral depravity that he summons up from the locked up basements of our collective soul.
But then consider that this was published in 1959 and the depth of the virulent impact on our literary culture begins to take shape. If Burroughs was not the original anti-hero, he was at least its dark robed disciple and if not a voice crying out in the wilderness, he was a raspy wheeze coughing up a bawdy limerick in a back alley. The rancid, pugilistic stream of consciousness diatribe will lose many readers early on, but I waded through Norman Mailer’s Why Are We in Vietnam? so I could not be scared away by some junkie ramblings.
Glad I did, because looking back on the rubbish heap climbed reveals a depth of thought and a sensitive, tortured beauty, like a wildflower sprouting up from amidst the bones of a carcass. All that said, it is still a profane, ugly book. Not for the squeamish.
Ugh. I'm sure this is very brilliant and all, but it's extremely unpleasant to read. Physically repulsive, it's enough to scare anyone away from heroin, and yet, in some ways, it glorifies the experience in a self-indulgent way. Mind you, the book has no plot, and is just one drug-induced hallucination after another. It gets pretty boring after a while. Even extreme disgust gets old after about 50 pages. You're so numb after a few pages that Burrough's attempts to get nastier and nastier and shock more and more are mostly lost.
I'm still trying to figure out the literary value of stuff like this. Any English profs out there care to explain why this made it into the canon? I ask this in all seriousness - I really can't figure it out. Maybe it does belong on the list - in which case, I want to know the purpose of such lists.
I don't feel like I read this so much as survived it. You can bet I will not be reading the other two Burroughs novels on the 1001 books list. What do they take me for, some kind of masochist? So that means I only have to read 999 books, which is fine by me. Though I have a feeling that a couple of others on the list are going to turn me off in the same way.
I guess this is one you're supposed to read in the interests of being engaged in pop and drug culture, but my rec? Stay away. You don't want to be this engaged.
This book is not easy to read if your idea of reading is that it has a linear plot, characters that are either good, bad or somewhere in between, spirit-uplifting narratives and dialogues and inspiring theme.
This book has none of those. Yet, this is one of the best-written books that I've ever read. Reading this was just a different experience: you don't know where Burroughs would take you every time you lift the page, you don't know who would appear as the characters and what they would say or do, you don't know how he could write with brilliant originality and fluidity. It is like being taken for a ride but you know that the ride would be simply a memorable one because you gasp as you go through each line of this book.
Yes, it is about drugs (marijuana, heroin, morphine), sex, crime, pedophilia, sadism and all the monstrosities that you can think of as a normal human being. But think Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (5 stars), Hubert Selby, Jr.'s Last Exit To Brooklyn (4 stars), Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange (4 stars), J.G. Ballard's Crash or even Maquis de Sade's monumental The 120 Days of Sodom. Their subjects are all monstrous but the writings are unparalleled and unequaled. This is postmodern and thus hard to understand. The trick is for you to just read and let the words wash over you and somewhere in the middle of your reading you will start to get the drift until you find yourself marching with the grove and then you will find it unputdownable.
The plot is fragmented that makes it not really a plot but a collection of short stories or even hallucinations (there is no story, like your "typical" story). It has some characters that appear in more than one instance like the Agent William Lee, the pirate AJ or the doctor Benjay. But their characters are not developed just like in most novels. You just have to take them as they are. There is also some kind of political undertones in some of the stories that reminded me of George Orwell's 1984 (4 stars) but it feels like just a side dish and not the main course. Being an artist belonging to the Beat generation, this book also reminded me of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
This book also surprised me a bit: it is rare that I like a book with zero relatability to me. I mean, I had no experience whatsoever with any prohibited drugs and still I found this book amazing. It used to be that I would only like books that speak to me. Maybe my literary taste is maturing since I am in my fourth year of voracious reading. Thank you, Goodreads.
My second Burroughs and he is still to disappoint. In fact, he, for me, is one of the best American novelists. Simply amazing work here.
What can you say about Uncle Bill that hasn't already been said? I know that there was an obscenity trial over this book back in the day, but it still amazes me that he wasn't killed by an angry mob in the streets. Remember this was published in an America that didn't allow married couples on television shows to sleep in the same bed or use the word "pregnant". The text is obviously extremely disturbing. Make no mistake, reading this book is an endurance test. If you make it through you will feel like you have tainted your soul forever. It reads as if the author had a Harvard education and a severe drug problem, which was the reality for Burroughs at this point in time. However, I am of the opinion that almost every sub-genre of fiction since can be traced back to Burroughs. What the Beatles are to rock music, he is to literature. He is one of those bad news guys for aspiring writers. The reason for this is that any crazy scenario or plot twist that we can think of, he has already weighed, tested, and shotgunned sometime between the 1960's to mid-1990's. Additionally, for those interested, I would recommend the film "Naked Lunch" by David Cronenberg. I usually hate movies based on books that I have read, but this movie can almost be seen as a supplement to the book. It hits the major points of the book, but also fills in the background of what was going on in Burroughs life during the writing of the book in a very Surrealistic fashion.
I kind of detest Burroughs for his abuse of boys in Morocco, but his writing was influential and quite a trip to read. This particular book - one of his most famous - is a druggy trip from the US to Mexico. It is sort of On the Road but taking about 10x more mescaline and cocaine and acid than Kerouac and his friends did. If you want to get a feeling for the crazy off the rails atmosphere of the 60s, this is the book for you.
This book is purely crazy (tons of crazy shit have gone on in this story), that's all I can tell you after I finished reading the Chinese translation (published in Taiwan). I also admit I don't think I fully understand what William S. Burroughs tried to tell us, and some parts of the story really tend to drag on and on for no good reason.
The whole story reads like a series of junkie's nightmarish, incoherent drug trips or a really messed up hard-boiled thriller, a lot of sex, violence, drug and even murder and sexual abuse. A lot of dark fantasies concerning gay men and boys. Some parts of the story even read like cyberpunk, but I admit not everyone will like this book. Still I strongly suggest you to try it out, or at least WATCH THE MOVIE WHICH IS BASED ON THIS NOVEL!!
In my opinion, the movie really does the nearly-impossible by giving a story and a context to a text which has no story and nearly no context.
Burroughs was a twisted ball of sorrow mixed with cynicism and lyrics. He killed his own wife by stupidity (While drinking in Mexico City, he waved a gun and told his wife, "Time for our William Tell act," even though they had never performed such an action previously. His wife, who was also drunk as well as undergoing amphetamine withdrawal, put a glass on her head. Burroughs shot and missed the glass, but hit his wife in the head, killing her instantly.) He lived with Jack Kerouac, and destroyed lives around him, but he also he poured his energy of doom onto the pages. When I read Naked Lunch as a 16 year old boy, the words ripped into me with the emotion that nothing else had. And like watching those driver-ed movies of the time (horrendous wrecks with graphic death), Burroughs words describing heroin and mind-destroying drug-trips were both enthralling and a warning: drive close to the edge and the rush might kill you. Shudder. But unforgettable. Read this one if you dare, but then be ready to be unable to forget it.
I'd love to rate this one higher, but however groundbreaking it was at the time, I always felt that Burroughs went on to produce much better books. Just like Kerouac had stronger stuff than On the Road, so too did WSB in comparison to this.
It still has one of the most apt titles ever. Contrary to what the small-minded prudes who brought the obscenity case against it assumed, this book has nothing to do with some lewd midday meal. "Naked Truth" might've been a better title, if it weren't such a meaningless cliché. Instead, the reader is forced to eat the truth, finally seeing "what is on the end of that long newspaper spoon." For an audience so accustomed to spoon-fed bullshit, Naked Lunch was and still is a refreshing menu option.
But don't stop there, kiddies, don't stop there....
I shot heroin for a decade, and at the time, I had this wrongful solidarity towards the culture and arts that surrounded it.
My first exposure to Burroughs was the novel Junky - a trashy pulp book with a thin plot. Even at 19, a period when starring at my tennis shoes for multiple hours at a time entertained me, I found no enjoyment from this man's prose.
Fast forward about 6 years, I'm in the middle of a long federal prison stretch, my literary receptors have become more pronounced. I'm getting through long-winded books like Infinite Jest, War and Peace, etc. And still interested in drug literature, although not finding much with any artistic merit.
I like some of the Beat literature, Kerouac's On the Road and Big Sur were enjoyable. I've always been told that Burroughs was the most influential, seminal, and avant-guard of the mix.
I read Naked Lunch and detested it for many reasons, namely the fragmentary style, which I know was from the cut-up thing. There was some genius writing but it was much too few and far between.
I'm heterosexual and didn't like the pornographic gay imagery sprinkled between the drug stuff. I can handle this kind of content if it functions correctly in a work, Hubert Selby jr. comes to mind.
But when you have some nauseating non-linear incoherency and then throw in these graphic and pointless sex scenes, it makes you feel nothing.
If a work of art is just shock value, if the only emotion it can evoke is confusion, then the writer has accomplished nothing; just an esoteric puzzle, people can falsely intellectualize to try and sound sophisticated to other people.
I read this in a prison cell. I had no distractions, I tried to interpret it a million different ways and have only come to one understanding: this is like a bad homosexual acid trip, if you are into bad homosexual acid trips that don't make sense, you should definitely check it out.
A love/hate relationship...I'm thinking about it still, at least overnight. God, I hope this doesn't intrude on my dreams...
As far as I can tell, Naked Lunch is a series of drug related or induced experiences. My thoughts at the beginning of this book were variations of "I hate this. Why am I reading this." Around page 40/50, I realized that I was trapped. I kept putting the book down but would pick it up rather quickly thereafter out of curiosity. Creepy, trippy, and unnecessary, the words sucked me in, to this awful place where Burroughs twisted words and facts and made drugs interesting and disturbing and not the slightest bit real or frightening. And that is my problem with this book. I was unable to relate in the slightest.
Were there even true characters in this book? Evil things happen within and I found it to be an unrealistic fantasy. I read to see what crazy or disgusting thing would happen next.
I found myself thinking how certain bits must have really riled up the censoring supporting public at the time of publication. My copy includes quite a bit extra about the banning of the book, the authors who testified in support of the book, court testimony, the book's literary worth. I can see that worth, though it took a little. There are scenes that should be more disturbing than they were but since I felt so distanced from the book, any bit of reality hiding in the pages was lost on me.
I feel as though I should not be able to offer a proper opinion unless I read through the book again. And Burroughs, what a walking drug encyclopedia! Part of me thinks that you either have to be on one of the drugs mentioned within, have an extensive and impressive grasp of the English language (be honest now), an unenvious ability to overly empathize with a story, or a drug history comparable to Burroughs himself in order to fully appreciate or relate to this book. Considering Naked Lunch and Fear and Loathing, the latter was at least funny at times, and completely coherent in comparison. Naked Lunch was not very funny. Yet I love that these types of books get under the skin. I think it is good for people to have their sensibilities ruffled, at the very least lightly stepped upon. Naked Lunch is more along the lines of stomping and then tossing a bunch of sandbags on those sensibilities.
Naked Lunch is the most realistic novel ever written. It's true realism. Not the realism of our fantasies where we imagine everything happening for a reason, where motives make sense and where actions lead to completely logical conclusions. No. That shit never actually happens in the real world.
Naked Lunch is exactly what it describes: the naked reality of what we consume.
Where overly strange people become colourful mandrills and take a dump on bureaucrats, where sexual obsession leads to redefining everything as sexuality, where fart jokes become sentient and devour our brains, where everything is screwed and consequently wants to screw us. Where surgery is the new art and where David Cronenberg gets all his ideas.
This book is actual reality. And it has inspired more of our world than you can even measure. David Cronenberg adapted Naked Lunch into a movie, but every movie since Naked Lunch is really an adaptation of Naked Lunch. Especially all of Cronenberg's films. But all films, really. Film itself as a medium is now just an adaptation of Naked Lunch.
Just another hit. Just another fix. If you smell what the rock is cooking?
"This isn't realistic" enough we exclaim while pointing at the shoulders of the giant upon which we stand.
We are not separate from Naked Lunch. We never were. Even before it was written, it was always waiting to be written. It is our roach motel. We are stuck in it.
Like that attractive weightlifter in that Freddy Krueger movie. Although I preferred Toy Newkirk.
Also contrary to what you've heard a million times by now, Naked Lunch is not incoherent. It is perhaps the most coherent novel ever written by a human being.
Of course we do not count the novels written by the bugs. They are a different species and their perception of identity developed in a different evolutionary circumstance. Who can forget that seminal insect rebuttal to War and Peace: War and War and War and War and More War and Even More War and God I love War, and Don't Stop the Wars Please I Need the Wars by that noted fire ant queen Henry Kissinger.
I would say Naked Lunch's coherence is absolute. It is a thick coherence. A membrane of coherence, a physical oozing growth that has developed over the head of the novel. A literature birth caul. You have to peel it back to play with its sensitive glands. Otherwise the book won't respond to you. It will go limp and sad and soft. The book must be hard and bulbous and full of thick throbbing veins, like Joe Rogan's head. That's the only way to get that most out of it.
Do you get what I'm saying?
It's bigger than me. It's bigger than us. It's too large, too serpentine, it's got too many legs. I can't count all those legs. But it sure can dance.
That wonderful, all-consuming, gay junkie centipede we call art.
We love it so! Even when it gets all that stuff in our hair. Comes with the territory! Right? But it's good for the skin. Or so I'm told. I heard that once from a woman who slept with me.
How could she possibly be wrong?
And that is the problem. Isn't it?
The coherence of Naked Lunch is so threatening. SO COHERENT. It makes us feel inadequate.
Because most people (myself included) are so incredibly incoherent. We simply assume we make sense, when in reality, we're raving, frothing, dribbling, lunatics.
So many people define the world (and most of fiction) through a vague interpretation of Platonic realism. Where everything we accept in the world is a universal truth. And anything that challenges what we accept is heresy. We mistake traditionalism for reality. Isn't that cute?
Which is the very height of delusional madness. If you can be honest with yourself. Which is impossible to do FYI, because nobody ever really is honest with themselves. To assume you are is to admit you value your own bias. Which means you can't know when you're lying. Which suggests that you are inherently dishonest.
It's a catch-22. Understand?
NO. You don't.
But I don't blame you. I don't understand me either.
How can I expect to connect with others when I can't even connect with myself? It's no wonder so many people online value pornography. It's the only time they're ever really in touch with themselves. Y'know?
Isolation from others is hard enough. Isolation from yourself? Oh baby. That's the rub.
WHAT? I'm supposed to be doing a review? No I'm not. This is a think piece. It's thinking about being a piece of you. Maybe it already is. Maybe it always was.
In that way every work is a part of Naked Lunch. It never ends. And never shall end. That's the nature of art and reality. Which is why this book is so coherent.
Which is also why this book has been the target of censorship for so many years. Denial of reality is what humans do best. It is our raison d'être. We deny lust, we deny hunger, we deny pain, we deny jealousy, we even deny death.
And nobody denies reality quite as much as a censor. They are wonderfully strange cretins. Hilarious creatures wrapping their heads in cellophane and pretending it makes them invulnerable to bad ideas. Stumbling around like those nurses in Silent Hill. NO SUDDEN MOVEMENTS. Everybody knows only the tin foil can protect you from Tom Cruise's thought signals.
Censors believe we are infected by the bad ideas. Like a tick bite. But somehow they can be exposed to those very same tick bites and remain JUST FINE. They get those bites all over their bodies and heads. They're covered in them from foot to scalp. And they're JUST FINE. They are like people who claim that they are the sensible middle ground in politics and that everybody to the right or left of them is a crazed extremist.
Of course, of course. "Everybody who disagrees with me is a madman" is something only a very sane and stable and self-aware person would say. Why it's the height of sanity and rationalism to see oneself as an inherently rational middle ground.
No delusion happening there, kids. No sir.
That person is standing on solid earth and hasn't obviously walked off a cliff and is about to plummet to their doom like an oblivious Wile E. Coyote.
That's all censors in a nutshell. Treading in the clouds on a platform of their own hot air and hubris.
Every one of them is a "Nice Guy" until they hit those rocks.
Which brings us back to Naked Lunch. You see? What I'm cooking? Our culture is all burnt spoons and addictions. We are constantly hallucinating. We are constantly diverting. Constantly needing our hit. Constantly grifting and conning ourselves more than anybody. Seeking out marks as we make ourselves into the ultimate mark. We are lusting for everything. We have been raised as junkies by junkies for the whims of junkies based on millions of years of addiction. We are all one podcast away from wearing the same t-shirt every day for six months and becoming a nest for pill bugs.
"You're next! YOU'RE NEXT." I scream into the void.
And the void calls the police and serves me a restraining order. Typical.
Anyways 10/10. Beware. This book is the actual Necronomicon. Written in blood. Printed on flesh. A gate for the old ones. And the new. A "How to Manual" for everybody! From body horror enthusiasts to stark-raving conspiracy theorists, counter culture revolutionaries, porn-empowered Decepticons and every other hive for brain worms on the planet. They all speak its tongue. Eternally. And forever. They have no language outside of it. All of the internet speaks fluent Naked Lunch and most have never even read it. They are simply its leaf-cut clones. Little Audrey 2s and 3s and 4s. Little Mean Green Mothers from Outer Space.
Naked Lunch is their singular voice. Even if they don't know it. They all sing its song and continue its story. And always shall continue it, until the end of all sentience in the universe. And the bugs take over.
We're all here together, forever. Caught in our sticky, sparkling Roach Motel.
This book makes no sense, not that it matters. Burroughs wrote it over the course of a year in a one-room apartment over a Moroccan male brothel, strung out on heroin. What resulted is a disturbing, satirical, bitter flood of images. To call it a meditation or a portrait doesn't do it justice: "Naked Lunch" is the lifeblood of a dying mind. It is a collection of vaguely-linked scenes, images, and flash pieces some humor, some horror, some pornography. As you might expect, it drags in places, but some of the imagery is so dementedly brilliant that it deserves to be read. Besides, if you get too tired of it, you can always mark your place and come back to it in a year. Don't worry--it'll make as little sense as it did before.
Difícil, muy difícil decir algo sobre esta obra. Desde un punto de vista se puede decir que es un cóctel de locura, droga y sexo, pero, como dice la sinopsis, Burroughs dispara contra las religiones, el ejército, la universidad, la sexualidad, la justicia corrupta, los traficantes tramposos, el colonialismo, la burocracia y la psiquiatría... Todo esto, claro, como una bomba sin sentido de miseria humana. La única parte lúcida de esta obra, la encontramos al inicio y al final de esta, y esta no deja de ser más turbadora que el resto.
"They call me the Exterminator. At one brief point of intersection I did exercise that function and witnessed the belly dance of roaches suffocating in yellow pyretheum powder"
Can't believe this junk-lit classic is more than half-a-century old, as it feels as fresh and relevant today as it did back then. Its clear to see why this would have a cult following, like, for example, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It's that kinda novel. And whilst I had problems with the narrative structurally, it was an experience to say the least just to ride along with it! Naked Lunch pretty much does without any formal plotting, as Burroughs's alter-ego and a shifting cast of protagonists drift in and out of the effects from heroin. The book is laced with visions of scoring drugs, sexual obsession and degradation (which gets pretty full on), bizarre political side themes, and outlandish medical experiments. Geographically the novel is similarly elastic, as we leapfrog around such places as New York City, Tangiers, and Mexico: a sort of travelogue of increasing paranoia and depraved violence. No doubt that the theme of addiction binds everything together, as the desperate search for junk plays out as a metaphor for equally destructive obsessions pirouettes around the need for control, whether that be social, sexual or political. I didn't hate it but then I didn't love it either. It's a strange and disturbing head-fuck that's not easy to forget.
I'm not an uber beat generation guru, but I'm fairly certain that Naked Lunch is the final destination to the journey started by Jack Kerouac in On the Road. It is very rhythmic (try reading it out loud) but also incredibly stream-of-conscious, much more so than Kerouac's novel (and he can get pretty damn stream-of-conscious).
This novel depicts the life (if you want to call it that) of a junkie in the '60s who travels from America to Mexico and finally lands [halfway across the globe] in Tangier. He is helplessly (and carelessly) addicted to several drugs, notably heroin and morphine. He will rip off just about anyone just to score. And he's reckless. Shamelessly reckless.
So why did I give this novel four stars? Because, through all the craziness and chaos of the novel's narration, there is a lucidly clear depiction of alienation and loneliness in the modern world. The novel's main character, William Lee (though we might as well call him William S. Burroughs), is chased by the police, drug dealers, and even a "notorious liquifactionist" from the Interzone (you know where that is, right?) named Hassan. He is not safe or sound anywhere, not even alone with himself. He is literally apart from society.
And what is the root of his painful alienation? Well he is, of course.
Who else was the cause of their own alienation? Oh, that's right: Holden Caulfield, Jay Gatsby, Stephen Dedalus, Odysseus, Aeneas, Ralph (if you've read the novel he's in, you'll know him), Randall Patrick McMurphy...hell, let's even throw Grendel on this list. Like "William Lee," each of these characters shows us just how human it is to paradoxically crave acceptance into society while we simultaneously push ourselves away.
Being a human can sometimes suck big time, and Naked Lunch depicts this unabashedly.
This novel is the literary equivalent to Jackson Pollock's drip paintings: Cut-up in a myriad of individual pieces that were then re-assembled in a more or less random manner, the story becomes liquid, and the panicked reader is adrift. You can certainly try to put everything Burroughs throws at you in a coherent order, but this author's aesthetic intentions will probably defeat you. Much like in the case of Pollock's drips of paint which create random patterns that seem to shift the longer you look at the painting, Burroughs has readers simultaneously perplexed and hypnotized. As the books defies conventional ways of narration, it is pretty hard to read, but if you're up for completely outrageous experimental stuff, Mr. Burroughs has got you covered...
...unless you're easily offended. This book really earned its obscenity trial, but know that the judges finally decided that selling the book should be legal - because of its social relevance. Burroughs brutally and often disgustingly writes about his life as a drug addict, his obsessions and compulsions, sexual exploits, and other hardcore shenanigans. Like his peers of the Beat Generation, he was living it up, pushing the boundaries of society and his own physical existence. The protagonist of "Naked Lunch", William Lee, is Burroughs' alter ego, and some other beatniks also feature. And while Kerouac's On the Road re-imagines his travels through the States, Burroughs not only haunts the continent, he also ventures into a spacey Interzone of intoxication and excess.
One could certainly fill several books with all the (to put it mildly) questionable things this author did and said, but his writing is wild and fascinating - certainly not cheerful or particularly accessible, but thoroughly shocking. If you want to learn more about Beat literature (plus a little Gonzo), you can listen to our podcast special here (in German).