February 06, 2006

naked lunch

i had an email exchange with my brother when he asked about naked lunch, a book that i'd mentioned i was reading for the first time. i wanted to massage the missive a little and catch a piece of it here.


naked lunch is essentially modern reading 101.

it's by william s. burroughs. he was considered one of the beats (along with kerouac and ginsberg) although he's considerably older than they are. raging and openly homosexual (in the 1950's, no less), and a heroin addict for *15* years (he intentionally got hooked to see what it was like).

he reads like a multi-syllabic, quasi-sci fi, hunter thompson. darker. mustier. less booze and more heroin.

"naked lunch" is considered by many to be one of the top "modern" (for lack of a better phrase), novels of the latter 20th century. all the cyberpunks, lou reed, david bowie, u2, etc. etc. think of him as an inspiration.

cronenberg did a film of naked lunch. i saw it, but don't remember much -- i remember liking it and that there was a typewriter that turned into an anus that the main character would rub cocaine on. yes, you read that right.

he wrote the majority of it in tangiers over the course of 3 years. he'd write a page and throw it on the floor. write a page and throw it on the floor. it took kerouac and ginsberg to pull it together. upon turning the first manuscript over to his publisher, it was rejected because "it was chewed on. it looked like rats were eating it or something."

when the book was compiled, in semi-haste, there was stuff missing and other things that were duplicated. if there's ever been a work of literature that proved the final product isn't really that important, it was this thing. like a john cage symphony, it's more of a concept that you "understand," than a performance you actually sit and listen to (or in this case, read).

the book was published by an off-beat press that printed edgy stuff, weird philosophy and pornography. the state of MA tried to have it banned as pornography, and lost, essentially putting an end to states banning books in the u.s.

i never fully realized this until i started reading it, but the beats were the prime influencers on the hippies ... i mean, i understood it on an intellectual level, but i never really got steeped in the theory ... it was like they'd written all this stuff and it took a couple of years to sink in.

the difference was that the beats were just sort of intellectually out there; anti-authoritarian and definitely populist, but not openly civil disobedient ... not in the same let's-shut-down-civil-activities sense that the hippies were.

i'm having trouble putting this timeline and historical events into my head, but i think you can pin american/world drug use and the problems related to it on the beats. i'd always sat that on the doorstep of the hippies, but it's starting to feel to me like something they just learned/were told to do by the beats.

the book is remarkably disturbing. i'm not sure i should be reading it. i think maybe it should be rated 14-17. you can't read it older or younger. it's the right age to have your cognitive set of wheels (mostly) under you, but not be aware of how truly warped the world is (and how close this stuff comes to reality). if you were younger than that and it would be too scary/boring. older than that and while sleep walking you'll be urged to do any number of unspeakable acts.

or maybe you wouldn't have to be asleep.