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Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

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Hello everybody,

 

I'm new here and I'm not sure if I'm posting in the right section, so if not - please feel free to move it.

 

I was wondering if there are any followers of the Beat Generation poets? I'm a fan of the work of the whole group, however I always hesitated to read anything from William, because I felt that his stuff, composed under a massive heroin influence, might just be too heavy for me. Anyway, I finally gave it a shot, and you know... I was right, it's too abstract.

 

Anyone who read Naked Lunch, would you like to discuss the book with me? I've gone through to around page 100 now, and I'm EXTREMELY confused. There are some great parts of writing, especially describing effects of C and H, but there are some parts that lasts for 3-5 pages and I'm just so confused that I have no idea what I am reading, I'm absolutely clueless.

 

Any thoughts here from anyone on this particular piece? Or even better - advice on how to read it? How to approach that kind of writing?

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Hi!

Your post is a spooky coincidence, and The Naked Lunch is the very reason I decided to look for a book forum.

 

I'm new to the whole Beat Generation of writers, but was inspired to read On The Road after a discussion with a friend about The Great Gatsby. That whole era of American history interests me, especially the social aspect. I was fascinated by the lifestyles of the Beat Generation, but after spending a long time in literary wilderness, I didn't think there was anybody to discuss the books or subject matter with, or that they were no longer relevant?

 

Anyway, I watched the film of the Naked Lunch last night, and it made me want to read it, to be able to explore the writing more. I agree that it will possibly be hard going, but I'm willing to give it a go.

 

Any recommendations of The Beat Generation would be greatly appreciated. When I first picked On The Road I struggled I'm afraid.

 

My current read is Great Apes by Will Self. Similar themes I suppose?

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Hi!

Your post is a spooky coincidence, and The Naked Lunch is the very reason I decided to look for a book forum.

 

I'm new to the whole Beat Generation of writers, but was inspired to read On The Road after a discussion with a friend about The Great Gatsby. That whole era of American history interests me, especially the social aspect. I was fascinated by the lifestyles of the Beat Generation, but after spending a long time in literary wilderness, I didn't think there was anybody to discuss the books or subject matter with, or that they were no longer relevant?

 

Anyway, I watched the film of the Naked Lunch last night, and it made me want to read it, to be able to explore the writing more. I agree that it will possibly be hard going, but I'm willing to give it a go.

 

Any recommendations of The Beat Generation would be greatly appreciated. When I first picked On The Road I struggled I'm afraid.

 

My current read is Great Apes by Will Self. Similar themes I suppose?

 

Hey,

 

I feel you that there are very few people you can discuss America's Beat Generation period. This is no surprise, as the period itself was short-lived, and the "generation" was more like a group of people, around 10, which is hardly a "generation" at all. It was skipped pretty quickly from the Lost Generation (writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald) straight to Hippies (beginning with Ken Kesey, I suppose). And it is always great to find someone you can have a talk about the subject with.

 

What I would suggest is put Naked Lunch on hold for now, and get to know William Burroughs as a person before you start reading it, this will help to understand the book better. I, while reading, would have struggled even more if I didn't know anything about him, but I've research a lot in a last couple of years, but it is still a bit too heavy.

 

I've never read anything from Will Self, and while his writing also covers subject of drug usage and similar stuff, I'm not sure if he can be considered as a Beat writer, even if his style is inspired by William Burroughs himself, as he is a bit too young for that.

 

On The Road is a great book, but if you're looking for more prose, I'd give Kerouac's The Dharma Bums a try as your next reading. If you liked On The Road, you'll love this one too.

 

If you're interested in understanding beatniks more, obviously give Howl and Other Poems by Ginsberg a try, and any other writing from the original group - Corso (Bomb), McClure (Dark Brown), Snyder (Riprap), Holmes (Go), Ferlinghetti. There are some other writers, slightly less known, you might want to look into as well. Names like LeRoi Jones, Philip Whalen, Diane DiPrima, John Wieners.

 

I've your fascinated by the Beat Generation itself, read The Beat Hotel by Barry Miles, which I absolutely LOVED. There's also a book called The Portable Beat Reader, don't remember by who, which consists of a lot of stories, history and excerpts of and from most of beatniks' writings.

 

It was a fascinating time, wasn't it? :)

 

By the way, I'm from UK too. Have a nice read through, let me know how you're liking it.

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Wow, thank you, some great tips there which I will use as soon as I finish Great Apes. Never been one to have two books on the go, feels like I'm cheating on the book.

 

I've always loved American literature. First one was To Kill A Mocking Bird whilst at secondary school. It wasn't on my class reading list, but I fell for it straight away. I tried Catcher In The Rye but never managed to finish it. Next exposure was The Great Gatsby and A Streetcar Named Desire. I became fascinated with the social commentaries of the times. The decadence of Gatsby and the sudden expanse of wealthy America, but then the comparison of Blanche's demise as America made way for the immigrants. View The Bridge is fantastic for that too.

 

Since that I've become stuck! Found Margaret Attwood and love her work, but it never quenched my thirst as her work doesn't focus on a specific era.

 

In essence I want to read as much as I can, it's just been the opportunity. And yes, I would love to read about the Beat Generation as much as their work. So thank you for putting me on the right path. I will definitely let you know how I get on.

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I keep revisiting this novel and it feels like time for me to read it again, but for anyone attempting it for the first time, perhaps this post will help you find your bearings.

 

You can think of the novel as a collection of vignettes, though it is sometimes difficult to tell where one vignette ends and another begins because they are not always clearly demarcated. When these vignettes have ruccuring people and places, it is sometimes disorienting. You can forget where you are, where you've been and where you are going. 

 

If you wish to make sense of the novel by understanding the method used in its creation, you may want to read Oliver Harris's The Letters of William S. Burroughs 1945-1959. Through his letter writing over this period, you get a better idea of why Naked Lunch is written the way it is. Burroughs called these vignettes "routines" and they were extemporaneous performance pieces, usually written or spoken quickly and honestly from experience. They are not necessarily complete or self contained nor are they always factually accurate.

 

There is a myth that Naked Lunch's eccentricities were a result of the author writing whilst high and that the chapters were ordered randomly but that doesn't mesh with what Burroughs wrote about the genesis of the novel in private correspondence. Some of his most deranged routines like the parable of the talking asshole were written quickly during a period of his life when he was undergoing rehabilitation, after a great personal tragedy.

 

Several parts of the novel are autobiographical and to get a better idea of where the fiction meets the reality, you need to know a little bit about the life of William Burroughs. Briefly, he was a wealthy heir and had a privileged upbringing. He was Harvard educated and generously sponsored by his family after his education ended. He was gay at a time when homosexuality was illegal but he did marry and had a son. He used his sponsorship to travel extensively and for recreation which became an addiction. He became a morphine addict. He was arrested many times and fled to Mexico where he accidentally shot and killed his wife. He spent time in exile evading law enforcement and traveled to Tangier where he wrote the episodes that would become Naked Lunch. He wrote to Allen Ginsberg once saying that "wherever I go and whatever I do, I am always in the straightjacket of junk."

 

Junk can be substituted for any method of control, even though junk literally dominated Burrough's life. In the ironically named Freeland, Burroughs depicts a society that needs no police because every individual is under persistent survelience by everyone else. I think the idea is that in being addicted to junk, it is so easy to convince yourself that you do so of your own free will and it is difficult to acknowledge that it has a powerful hold over you. He speaks of it the same way that he does of other systems of control.

 

Many of his routines concern people and institutions that have become trapped in a cycle of dysfunction and self destruction. Benway was a doctor who lost his practising cert but continued to perform cut price abortions in subway toilets. As crazy as it sounds, there are people that do this, so habituated to a lifetime of practice that they continue the pretense of being a professional, even when it violates the professional code of conduct. When it is all you have ever done, is it dso easy to start over as something else?

 

When you read Naked Lunch you might pick up on where his tendancy to exaggerate, satirize and sensationalise stray painfully close to personal tragedy. You may read Naked Lunch as an exorcism of personal demons and a journey through dark places that Burroughs visited. Interzone is a place in the novel but in his personal letters it is also a term that Burrough's used for his works in progress. The people and places are not necessarily literal and are sometimes manifestations of a state of mind, one filled with uncertainty about the future and haunted by decisions that have been made and which cannot be undone.

 

But the novel is also greater than the sum of its parts and the decisions Burroughs made and had to live with. The first time I read it as a protest novel, savage in its satire of government that persecutes some of its own, a financial elite that scams its customers, an ethical code and a law that forbids murder but permits execution. What made it remarkable to me was that it came from a person on the streets in the words of the streets. It uses comedy as a means to make astute observations that are in a way immune to criticism because it is not written in the language of politics and laws.

 

As each episode bleeds into the next, the novel sometimes tricks you into laughing at terrible things. Erotica turns into peadophilia which turns into a mass execution in Hassan's Rumpus Room. In the span of a few pages you no longer know whats funny and whats disgusting anymore. 

 

The title allegedy refers to a moment where you see clearly (for the first time) what is on the end of every fork. The moment when you wake up to some uncomfortable realities that you never thought of or didn't want to think of, and perhaps your own complicity in the misery of others.

 

I could write essays about the specifics of it, but I need to go through the novel again before going into specifics.

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I have only watched the film, which I did like a lot because it was so surreal, and the shooting of his wife did make a sort of sense because he was trapped in that reliving that over and over in different ways.

I would like to read the book sometime.

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I read On The Road a few years ago and although I didn't love it, I got on with it very well. I have read Junky by William S Burroughs and really loved it, if you haven't read it yet I would highly recommend it. I also have Naked Lunch on my TBR but I haven't got round to reading it yet.

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Nicely written, Adrenalise. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I hope you'll explore the rest of the forum and contribute your thoughts on other books you've read. :)

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