William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch: Fifty Years Later

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04-04-2005.jpgIn 1959, after William S. Burroughs spent two years in France and Tangiers typing and organizing, with the surprisingly able assistance of fellow Beats Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, his manuscript while simultaneously getting high on drugs (and, er, other stuff), Olympia Press in Paris (infamous for publishing works by Henry Miller, amongst other things), unleashed onto the public the completed work under the title Naked Lunch.  Literature as society knew it then would never be the same. 

The episodic and slightly (deliberately?) disjointed novel, published in the United States in 1962 by Barney Rosset's Grove Press after a protracted legal battle, details the plight of gay drug addict William (Bill) Lee, the protagonist/Burroughs stand-in of the author's first novel, Junky, as he goes through what can best be described as a perverse yet hilariously obscene and politically perceptive version of "Dante's Inferno".  Lee travels from New York City to Mexico, Tangiers and the mythical "Interzone", coming into contact with other junkies, pushers, corrupt cops and goverment officials, and insane and inept doctors (including the infamous Dr. Benway, a recurring character in Burroughs' works), in single-minded pursuit of any narcotic he can find to get high.  As Lee progresses in his journey, events get wilder and more horrific as he meets up with goverment-run surveillance prison and hospital compounds, weird creatures like the "Mugwumps", and even gets attitude from, um, "body parts" (to put it mildly) that talk.  Lots of profanity and scatologically-laced humor permeate the book, which helps validate Burroughs' contention that drug addicts and homosexuals (and anybody else who's "different") are persecuted by the very forces of government that obsensibly were supposed to protect them, their civil rights being denied as a result. The book is basically a warning against both drug addiction and the corruptibilty of authority, and a subtle plea for tolerance, delivered in a hazy, druggy, over-the-top narrative that never lets up in it's frantic pace. 

Naked Lunch has for the past fifty years been both a source of controversy and inspiration, having influenced such genre authors as J. G. Ballard, William Gibson, and Michael Moorcock, to name a few.  It's impact today can still be felt, and it remains a powerful, relevant, and, sadly, still topical (Abu Ghraib, anyone?) literary work.

You can reserve a copy of Naked Lunch online from the library here.  William S. Burroughs' other works can be reserved online here.  And yes, the library does carry director David Cronenberg's 1991 movie version as well

Related links:  Check out the Reality Studio site at http://realitystudio.org for things relating to Burroughs' body of work.  And also check out the various events celebrating Naked Lunch's  50th Anniversary here

Want to know more about the Beats?  Check this site out.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Ed published on October 8, 2009 10:33 AM.

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