The Naked Lunch

I’ve just begun reading William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. What a crazy piece of writing! I am enjoying it, although much of the time I have no idea what he is talking about. Some of the lines are hilarious and many of them utterly grotesque. My brother, who teaches this book in his English classes at the University of Iowa, describes the reading of this novel as watching a three ring circus. Reading it has made me want to look deeper into Burroughs life. I know he wrote the book over a period time as he was emerging from heroine addiction. Wikipedia begins its entry on Burroughs by writing:

William Seward Burroughs II (February 5, 1914 – August 2, 1997; pronounced /ˈbʌroʊz/) was an American novelist, essayist, social critic, painter and spoken word performer. Much of Burroughs’s work is semi-autobiographical, drawn from his experiences as an opiate addict, a condition that marked the last fifty years of his life. A primary member of the Beat Generation, he was an avant-garde author who affected popular culture as well as literature. In 1984, he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

The Naked Lunch entry gives an explanation of the title:

Burroughs states in his introduction that Jack Kerouac suggested the title. “The title means exactly what the words say: naked lunch, a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.” In a June 1960 letter Jack Kerouac wrote to Allen Ginsberg saying he was pleased that Burroughs had credited him with the title but had not recently heard from him.

I am a fan of the Beats, but Burroughs for some reason has escaped me. I wonder if all his work is as crazy and non-sensical as Naked Lunch. I am looking forward to making my way through the book.


2 Responses to “The Naked Lunch”

  1. magpismith Says:

    i read naked lunch eons ago (back in MY beat phase, ie freshman in college…) and… yeah. indescribable. Burroughs showed up often in Keroac’s novels, usually under (as i recall) the name ‘bull’. I think it was in On The Road that Sal visits his friend Bull and his wife in Texas… that was Burroughs and his wife… Lola? something like that. NL is, compared to other stories I’ve read, probably the most cohesive novel. He was out there. I’ve also read a little of his latter writings, and they are heartwrenching – to think of his long and interesting life… He was nearly indestructable.

    He’s showed up in quite a few films too – the film version of Naked Lunch (um, late 80’s?) is a pretty good adaptation, quite similar to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He has a small role in Drugstore Cowboy playing an aging junkie. Again, very moving. Lastly, there’s a lot of recording out there of his voice – I highly recommend finding some, especially readings of his own work. Really brings his spirit into the work.

    Anyway, i encourage you to delve a bit deeper (aside from developing a habit). He’s a fascinating american icon.

  2. shankarwolf Says:

    Hi Amy,
    Unfortunatly I couldn’t make it through the book. I have a hard time staying engaged when the storyline is so far out, or non-existant. But I’m glad I got a sense of his work. I’ll try and find the recordings, maybe I will have better luck with them.

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