Rare Medium

Naked Lunch Redux

William Burroughs's seminal classic, Naked Lunch, is published in a 50th anniversary edition

Book Cover I’m having difficulty recalling what William Burroughs (who died in Lawrence, Kan. in 1997) is best known for—being an unabashed (rehabilitated) junkie, being a unrepentant homo (Alan Ginsberg wrote Burroughs was the only real homosexual he knew; I leave it to you to figure out why), having shot his wife in Mexico City in a game of William Tell gone awry, or being the author of such Beat classics as Junkie, Queer, The Ticket That Exploded, The Soft Machine, Nova Express, and, of course, Naked Lunch. Consider also that Harvard-educated Norman Mailer reportedly said of the also Harvard-educated (and heir to the adding machine fortune) Burroughs, “A book of great beauty and maniacally exquisite insight with a wild and deadly humor… The only American novelist who may conceivable be possessed of genius.”

Ya think?

All of which makes the re-publication of Naked Lunch: The Fiftieth Anniversary Edition by its original American publisher (Grove Press) a bittersweet happenstance—slip-covered, restored text and all. Has it really been half a century since youngsters (like myself)—not to mention writers like J.G Ballard, William Gibson, and Thomas Pynchon—were corrupted by drug-driven visions of crazed sex perverts and heroin addicts like Burroughs, Kerouac, Ginsberg, and the rest (keep in mind the book was a defendant in a 1966 obscenity trial)? Well, of course it has.

Naked Lunch (title courtesy of Jack Kerouac) is a teeth-grinding rollercoaster narrative of junkie life in Manhattan, Tangiers, and a geography of Burroughs’s harrowing and hallucinatory imagination he called Interzone—a byproduct of copious notes he took during 15 years of heroin addiction.

Given that my substance-abusing, sexually promiscuous, knee-crawling, toilet-hugging days are far behind me, I wonder if I (or you) can enter Burroughs’s powerfully rendered, scrambled, and disjointed universe again—we’ll see.
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