Naked Lunch: 50th Anniversary Edition

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou enter the moment of the “naked lunch” when you realize just what that is quivering at the end of your fork. We’ve been staring at that living, gelatinous mass for 50 years now – and we still don’t know what it is.

It’s a novel. It’s a poem. It’s (as one shrill Amazon reviewer has it) the ranting of a LIBERAL ATHEIST JUNKY. It’s (drug-induced or not, take your pick) stream-of-consciousness. It’s the first prose cut-up. It’s pornography. It’s the end (or beginning) of (post-)modernism. It’s The Bomb, it’s a how-to-be-a-writer manual. Here’s the definitive answer to all that: Yes, it is. Naked Lunch is all that and more.

Naked Lunch is one of the most written-about books of the twentieth century. It’s up there with Ulysses and The Wasteland for the title of “book most likely to generate a graduate thesis.” That’s because, like those other two, it’s an open text: you’re quite likely to find there precisely what you go looking for.

Everything, that is (as a different Amazon reviewer complained) except stuff about lunch and nudity: “doesn’t anybody like to eat in the nude?”

So what does this all add up to? It adds up to this: You should read Naked Lunch. It’s an essential part of who we are (as Burroughs wrote somewhere, a paranoid is someone who knows something of what’s going on; if you’re not paranoid, you’re not really alive). It’s part of your education (did you know that language was a virus from outer space? Quick: read this book), it’s part of your sexual being (“If I had my way we’d sleep every night all wrapped around each other like hibernating rattlesnakes”), it’s an essential document of the American Century (“In the U.S. you have to be a deviant or die of boredom”).

And Naked Lunch is a hell of a lot of fun – if your idea of fun is being burned at the stake and reincarnated as a dope fiend on the run from an evil doctor trying to get you to shoot bug powder while simultaneously being gang-buggered by the security forces of Interzone.

Really. It’s that funny, that much fun. Here’s a sample – the Benway mentioned below is the self-same doctor who wants you to shoot bug powder (a note: we don’t do bug powder in this era of high-tech entomological toxins, but think roach poison and you’ve got the idea):

“What’s with the serum?”

“I don’t know, but it sounds ominous. We better put a telepathic direction finder on Benway. The man’s not to be trusted. Might do almost anything… Turn a massacre into a sex orgy…”

“Or a joke.”

“Precisely. Arty type… No principles…”

This fiftieth-anniversary edition is a beauty: cloth-bound, slip-cased, all purple and green in the style of the first Olympia edition (Paris, 1959) with a restored text “faithful to Burroughs’ original composition” (whatever that means; Burroughs didn’t “compose” Naked Lunch; Allen Ginsburg assembled the book by collating extracts from letters written to him by Burroughs; with Naked Lunch, there are only ever variorum editions), and an “insightful afterword” by critic David Ulin. Forget the marketing hype and the DVD-like “extras”: at the price, this hardcover book is a great value. If I recall correctly (and I doubt that I do), Burroughs said something along those lines: Cheat your landlord (if you must), but don’t shortchange the Muse.

So don’t shortchange yourself. Read Naked Lunch, learn to write like a maniac, god-eating atheist dope-shooting creative genius, and then start a blog: let us know what you really think.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Brian Charles Clark, 2010


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