Monday, March 01, 2010

40 Days of Lent: Day Thirteen

Naked Lunch
William S. Burroughs

So I finally got around to reading Naked Lunch on its 51st birthday. Unlike other literary touchstones, it’s half-century mark passed fairly unnoticed, apart from a hardcover facsimile edition put out by its publisher. However, the copy I read was (improbably as it may seem) the movie tie-in edition meant to capitalize on the David Cronenberg film of almost twenty years ago. Yes, that’s how long I’ve been buying and holding on to books without actually reading them. Disgraceful, isn’t it? Oddly enough, it feels like yesterday when I bought the book. In defense of the book, it has not dated at all in those 20 or even 50 years. There are contemporary writers who wish there work was this fresh and inventive.

So it is a black humor fantasmagoria mix of pulp detective and science fiction, addiction memoir, perverse sex, Mid-Eastern travelogue, and beat poetry. It’s also funny and the closest to a Hieronymus Bosch painting in print as you’re likely to find. Oy. Look, anything I have to say about Naked Lunch has already been said by better writers than I, so there’s not much point in trying to describe a book as ludicrous and impressionist as this.

Naked Lunch, like most of Burrough’s work, seems to fall in the “Grandfather” category. Not meaning things that are allowed to slide despite laws passed afterwards, but things that influenced people who influenced me. Cronenberg and Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and the Firesign Theatre: all of them were influenced by Burroughs and all of them influenced me, but did Burroughs himself? Reading this book, as much as I liked it, it’s hard to find a line of heritage.

However, it did make me laugh. That’s something, in the face of the horror of human existence, n’est-ce pas?

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