Sunday, August 5, 2007

Naked Lunch by William Burroughs

Aztec priests strip blue feather robe from the Naked Youth. They bend him back over a limestone altar, fit a crystal skull over his head, securing the two hemispheres back and front with crystal screws. A water-fall pour over the skull snapping the boy's neck. He ejaculate in a rainbow against the rising sun.

What. The. Fuck. I don't even know how to describe this book to you--at some level, it seems to be about a drug addict who undergoes recovery and then is cured, but along the way it takes on the form of an extended fever dream of drug use, sexual perversion, and graphic obscenity. Much of the book takes place in Interzone, a city of unspecified location (and perhaps meant to represent the state of a junky's head) where the inhabitants perform a lot of fellatio and other sexual acts on each other, as well as the strange creatures that live there. Youths hang each other, excited by their death spasms. Some people are addicted to the semen of strange translucent creatures called Mugwumps. A man teaches his asshole to talk, and eventually it takes over his body and eliminates his other parts.

If that sounds less than appealing, you're not the first to think so--this book set off a firestorm of media frenzy and obscenity charges in the early Sixties. It's not hard to see how that happened; lacking any semblance of a narrative (some episodes are arranged at random, using a Dada-like system of "cut-up"), and often being nigh incomprehensible, it is hard to piece what artistic value, if any, Naked Lunch has. I think that on a deeper level, Naked Lunch probably makes many interesting satiricial points--commenting on commercialism in society, the idea of normality, the relationship between sex and destruction--but who wants to read this revolting book closely enough to better understand them? Plus, for some reason, Burroughs has a knack for using verbs without any sort of augmentation--the phrase "he ejaculate" in the quote above is not a typo.

I've decided to officially call bullshit on the Beat movement. Having read its two flagship novels, On the Road and Naked Lunch, I can't imagine any genre in which its seminal works are of such mediocre quality.

6 comments:

Kelly said...

What about Howl? That has to be one of the Beat's defining works, too, right? And I like On the Road. I don't think it's much like Naked Lunch really.

Christopher said...

Howl is good, but not great. On the Road isn't even good. It's not much like Naked Lunch, no, but they share some stream-of-consciousness traits, and they both just aren't very inspiring.

I actually do like some of Ginsberg's poetry. But I have been very disappointed by the two Beat books.

Carlton said...

haha "seminal works"
I love puns.

Christopher said...

I was hoping someone would mention that.

Nihil Novum said...

Someone don't understand literature. said anus.

Moriarty said...

He wrote Naked Lunch before he invented cut-ups. Well, technically Brion Gysin invented them, but Burroughs really mastered the form.

And yea, it is obscene and there are a lot of errors, but a.) it's supposed to make you think about the construction of moral conventions, and b.)it's descriptive grammar. It's a story being told by a junkie. He isn't going to have Dickensian speech patterns.