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Naked Lunch (1959)

by William S. Burroughs

Other authors: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (Contributor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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9,944102535 (3.53)271
Bill Lee, an addict and hustler, travels to Mexico and then Tangier in order to find easy access to drugs, and ends up in the Interzone, a bizarre fantasy world, in an edition that features restored text, archival material, and an essay on psychoactive drugs.
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» See also 271 mentions

English (99)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (102)
Showing 1-5 of 99 (next | show all)
Performance Art on Paper

Naked Lunch is different in nearly every aspect from every reading experience I have ever had. I had seen William S. Burroughs (WSB) in some of my sci fi book lists before I picked up Naked Lunch. In college when I discovered the beats (Kerouac, Ginsburg, WSB) I realized that sci fi was not what WSB was really known for. Naked Lunch is his masterpiece.

The best way to describe Naked Lunch is to tell what how it affected me as a reader, writer and as a person. I came away from the book realizing that there are some things in life I can't control - and sometimes the resulting ride is better than what I could have imagined for myself.

As far as plot, there ain't much ... at least in one long coherent story. WSB jumps around from one idea to the next. One moment you are reading a graphic, beautiful description of life as a junkie and just as you are slipping into that comfort zone of a tasty novel WHAM! you are suddenly torn asunder and dropped into the middle of a horrifying nightmare tale of Dr. Benway as he swings his blades and rambles (almost) incoherently about the evils of society. But the rambles begin to make sense, and then just when you think Benway's not really a nut, but a prophet, WHAM! WSB drags you kicking and screaming into the midst of a hell populated by creatures called Mugwumps that do unspeakable things to young boys (this is what got Naked Lunch in front of the US Court system before it was finally published). And just when you are too disgusted to read anymore WHAM WSB slips you back into a warm fuzzy place as wholesome and warm as the first sunburn of the summer - then WHAM he tosses you off the diving board but catches you and holds you in the instant before that burn hits the cold water of the deep end, and keeps you there ALMOST too long but just before you cant take it anymore SPLASH! down you go again into something new.

So ... Naked Lunch is like performance art on paper. WSB won't let you stay long enough in one place to ever feel a mastery of the book. I believe this is done on purpose, and brilliantly. This is not an Agatha Christie to cuddle up with by the fire. This is a book that will make you FEEL - maybe repulsed, maybe invigorated, maybe horrified. You will love it, or hate it, but you will definitely feel something, and come away changed if you see it through to the end. ( )
  Randy_Foster | Feb 13, 2021 |
Overrated mound of flaming trash. Could really use a zero star option here. ( )
  NickAbbate | Oct 16, 2020 |
When we look back on our lives, there are key moments we are likely to remember. Our first day of school, Australia II winning the America’s Cup, the moment we lost our respective innocence. I lost mine aged eighteen, when I attempted to read Naked Lunch.

Naked Lunch entered my life in early 1990 when a newspaper article reported that an apparently infamous novel I had never heard of by an author I didn’t know was to be made into a film by director David Cronenberg. The article questioned not only the wisdom but also the sanity of Cronenberg for tackling such a project, as Naked Lunch had long been considered unfilmable.

I now know Naked Lunch to be a novel by William S. Burroughs, first published in 1959 in Paris by Olympia Press, and considered one of the landmark publications of American literature. However, in 1990 all I knew was that it was a controversial novel involving the words “Naked” and “Lunch”, both amongst an eighteen year olds favourites. Combined they suggested a tempting piece of creative writing, and an even better film.

I decided to read this unfilmable book before seeing the film.

So one fine autumn day I wandered into my local library and perused the Fiction section, specifically the shelves containing authors with surnames starting with “B”. I no doubt saw books by Richard Bach, William Peter Blatty and Charles Bukowski that day. But no Burroughs. Undaunted, I asked a librarian to reserve a copy.

She informed me that not only did the library not have a copy but there was only one Naked Lunch in the entire state library system, kept under lock and key at headquarters, along with other books considered too dangerous to keep on shelves for the general public to see. She could order it in but warned that the lending period was a week with no possibility of extension. She looked at me closely, watching for any sign of weakness in my resolve to borrow this filthy volume.

Later that week I received a call from a librarian informing me Naked Lunch had arrived. I had hardly the time to say “thank you” before she added that I would be required to produce identification proving I was eighteen and sign a form waiving the state library service of any responsibility for pain and suffering incurred from reading the book. Naked Lunch was sounding more interesting all the time.

Back at the library, I spent longer reading over the waiver’s fine print than I later would for my Home Loan application form. As the librarian reiterated the special borrowing conditions, a warm flush came over me, as I felt secretly thrilled. Not only was I about to read an obviously controversial book but people were expending a lot of effort on my behalf in the bargain.

As I held my copy of Naked Lunch for the first time there was a sense of anti-climax. Nothing on the paperback’s cover suggested I was holding something the state government deemed too dangerous to have in public view. Nor was there anything in the look the librarian gave me that suggested I was about to be greatly confused.

I got home, put the kettle on and started reading. Soon after I put the book down and went outside for some fresh air. Memory can be an imperfect creature but I recall the plot, such as it was, to involve men sodomising Arab boys. I’m sure there were other elements, such as drug taking and perhaps sexual acts not involving Arab boys, but Arab boys being sodomised seemed to stick in the mind of this somewhat naïve eighteen year old.

I would read one page at a time before needing to put the book aside and do something that didn’t make me feel so sordid. Eventually, driven by the knowledge that the book’s return date was looming fast, I would hesitantly pick up Naked Lunch again, read another page before again placing it aside for the sake of my mental wellbeing.

By the time the week ended I was still only half way through but fearing repercussions by the library police, I hotfooted the book back to the library.

There were a lot of questions the Naked Lunch film needed to answer.

It didn’t answer anything. While there was a thankful absence of Arab boys being sodomised, an array of weird special effects appeared in their stead, including, but not limited to, talking buttocks. If anything, my confusion about Naked Lunch increased.

I briefly considered going through the process of borrowing the novel again, but decided against it as I didn’t want to become known as “the man who twice borrowed the book that sits next to Mein Kampf on the shelf”.

In the years since, I have noted the acclaim lauded upon Naked Lunch. Time Magazine listed the novel as one of the 100 all time greats. The film has gained a cult following. And a recent search of the library shows a copy of Naked Lunch is freely available to borrow.

Other Naked Lunch related facts hitherto unknown to me also became known during a delve into the Internet, some merely intriguing (the band Steely Dan took its name from a dildo mentioned in the book) while others discoveries were more disturbing. One site provided some scene descriptions of the book, including a boy being raped as he hangs dead in a noose, and a couple lighting themselves on fire and fornicating as they fall from a skyscraper. I don’t recall reading either of these vignettes, perhaps for the best, as my nightmares are already graphic enough.

It took the touchstone of modern culture, The Simpsons, to put into words my feelings about Naked Lunch. In one episode Bart gains a fake drivers licence and takes his friends Milhouse, Martin and Nelson on a cross-country drive. The four are seen leaving a cinema showing Naked Lunch. Looking about as disturbed I did a decade or so before, Nelson says “I can find at least two things wrong with that title."

Amen brother. ( )
1 vote MiaCulpa | Aug 19, 2020 |
"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.

Swanson introduced its frozen TV dinners in 1953 selling 5,000 that year and ten million the next. Of course, heroin is an appetite suppressant so perhaps Jack Kerouac's title suggestion to the author sounded novel to him.

This is the type of book where I find the subject interesting but the execution much less so. The author seems to have been one of those people who lived interesting lives but did not write interesting books. ( )
  JoeHamilton | Jul 21, 2020 |
This was freakishly amazing, simultaneously making me wish I was on a full H binge with [b:Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas|7745|Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas|Hunter S. Thompson|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1394204569s/7745.jpg|1309111], [b:Infinite Jest|6759|Infinite Jest|David Foster Wallace|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1446876799s/6759.jpg|3271542], 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. :) ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 99 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (58 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Burroughs, William S.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial CourtContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ballard, J. G.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Behrens, KatharinaÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Behrens, PeterÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bramhall, MarkNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
de Grazia, EdwardContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ginsberg, AllenContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grauerholz, JamesEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Joyce & Co.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lendínez, MartínTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mailer, NormanContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meijsing, GeertenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meijsing, GeertenAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miles, BarryEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ulin, David L.Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves, setting up their devil-doll stool pigeons, crooning over my spoon and dropper I throw away at Washington Square station, vault and turnstile and two flights down the iron stairs, catch an uptown A train.
In life there is that which is funny, and there is that which is politely supposed to be funny. (Foreword)
The Supreme Court of Massachusetts in a decision handed down on July 7, 1966, declared Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs not obscene. (Naked Lunch on Trial)
I awoke from The Sickness at the age of forty-five, calm and sane, and in reasonably good health except for a weakened liver and the look of borrowed flesh common to all who survive The Sickness... (Introduction)
When I say I have no memory of writing Naked Lunch, this is of course an exaggeration, and it is to be kept in mind that there are various areas of memory. (Afterthoughts on a Deposition)
Quotations
As one judge said to another: Be just. And if you can't be just, be arbitrary.
"I studied neurology under Professor Fingerbottom in Vienna...and he knew every nerve in your body. Magnificent old thing...Came to a sticky end... His falling piles blew out the Duc de Ventre's Hispano Suiza and wrapped around the rear wheel. He was completely gutted, leaving an empty shell sitting there on the giraffe skin upholstery.... Even the eyes and brain went with a horrible schlupping sound.  The Duc de Ventre says he will carry that ghastly schlup to his mausoleum."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Fun fact: The ... edition ... published by France’s Olympia Press, misprinted the title. Burroughs had always intended to call the book simply Naked Lunch, but his editors added the article. The error was corrected in the first, 1962 American edition, but some later printings still included “the” in the title. http://flavorwire.com/231804/classic-...
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Bill Lee, an addict and hustler, travels to Mexico and then Tangier in order to find easy access to drugs, and ends up in the Interzone, a bizarre fantasy world, in an edition that features restored text, archival material, and an essay on psychoactive drugs.

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