Naked Lunch

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Overview

Naked Lunch is one of the most important novels of the twentieth century, a book that redefined not just literature but American culture. An unnerving tale of a narcotics addict unmoored in New York, Tangiers, and ultimately a nightmarish wasteland known as Interzone, its formal innovation, formerly taboo subject matter, and tour de force execution have exerted their influence on the work of authors like Thomas Pynchon, J. G. Ballard, and William Gibson; on the relationship of art and obscenity; and on the shape ...
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Naked Lunch: The Restored Text

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Overview

Naked Lunch is one of the most important novels of the twentieth century, a book that redefined not just literature but American culture. An unnerving tale of a narcotics addict unmoored in New York, Tangiers, and ultimately a nightmarish wasteland known as Interzone, its formal innovation, formerly taboo subject matter, and tour de force execution have exerted their influence on the work of authors like Thomas Pynchon, J. G. Ballard, and William Gibson; on the relationship of art and obscenity; and on the shape of music, film, and media generally. Naked Lunch: The Restored Text includes many editorial corrections to errors present in previous editions, and incorporates Burroughs's notes on the text, several essays he wrote over the years about the book, and an appendix of 20 percent new material and alternate drafts from the original manuscript, which predates the first published version. For the Burroughs enthusiast and the neophyte, this volume is a valuable and fresh experience of this classic of our culture.

A classic of modern literature for over 35 years, Naked Lunch is the unnerving tale of Bill Lee, addicted to hustlers and narcotics, and his monumental descent into Hell. His journey takes him from New York to Tangiers, as he runs from the police and searches for a place to buy and take drugs.

Ultimately, he enters the hallucinatory fantasy world of the 'Interzone,' a nightmarish urban wasteland where individual freedom confronts the forces of totalitarianism.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

William S. Burroughs's classic tale has been fully restored by his longtime editors, Grauerholz and Miles, and is invigorated by this enthusiastic reading. Mark Bramhall offers a professional performance peppered with every trick of the actor's trade to make it a resonating effort. He approaches the work with such energy that the story seems like a new entity, freshly relevant and timely. Listeners will lose themselves in the journey of junkie William Lee as he makes his way from bizarre destination to even more bizarre destination in this unforgettable novel. A Grove paperback. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Herbert Gold
It happens that Burroughs possesses a special literary gift. Naked Lunch is less a novel than a series of essays, fantasies, prose poems, dramatic fragments, bitter arguments, jokes, puns, epigrams--all hovering about the explicit subject matter of making out on drugs while not making out in either work or love... (Naked Lunch) takes a coldly implacable look at the dark side of our nature... William Burroughs has written the basic work for understanding that desperate symptoms which is the beat style of life.-- Books of the Century, The New York Times review, November, 1962
Newsweek
"A masterpiece. A cry from hell, a brutal, terrifying, and savagely funny book that swings between uncontrolled hallucination and fierce, exact satire."
The Barnes & Noble Review

Everybody remembers his first time. Nobody talks about William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch, which celebrated its fiftieth birthday this past November (dated from its 1959 publication in Paris by Maurice Girodias's infamous Olympia Press) without indulging in a dreamily solipsistic nostalgia trip. Lewis Jones, in the London Spectator: "When I first read Naked Lunch, as a teenager sleeping rough in a Greek olive grove . . . "; Barry Miles, the author of a hilariously credulous Burroughs biography (El Hombre Invisible) and co-editor of this commemorative volume, on a Columbia University panel: "I was living in this hippie commune apartment in London. . . . The book completely knocked me out, the epitome of stoned humor and bohemian subversion."

I'll join in the fun. I first encountered Naked Lunch in eighth grade, in the backseat of my parents' car -- a clear-cut case of child abuse by neglect. I'd purchased it on a family outing to Waldenbooks, a store which, it's interesting to note, mostly traffics in kitten calendars and "Cathy" bookmarks. "Please," I thought, "don't let Mom ask to see this." You could read any page at random -- as Burroughs essentially intended, once insisting in a letter, underscored, and in all caps, that it wasn't a novel -- and get sick to your stomach. "Junk sick," as Burroughs would say, in another context.

Why is "Where were you when . . . ," a question for assassinations and catastrophes, so often asked with respect to this book? Maybe because reading Naked Lunch is an act of violence to one's psyche. Jack Kerouac, who suggested the book's title (based on a misreading of the phrase "naked lust") and typed up the manuscript, claimed it gave him nightmares. Good for him, or at least for his unconscious mind. There is something gratingly adolescent about those who insist on the essential humor of a work replete with violent interspecies pornography ("The Mugwump pushes a slender blond youth to a couch and strips him expertly"); fetishistic descriptions of putrefaction and disease ("[h]e's got a prolapsed asshole and when he wants to get screwed he'll pass you his ass on three feet of in-tes-tine"); and general nastiness ("Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his asshole to talk?").

The book is very occasionally funny, in a Mickey Spillane meets the Marquis de Sade kind of way, but its savage imagery, non-linearity, repetition, and plotlessness make it something worse than nightmarish -- they make it boring, even embarrassing. There are frequent authorial intrusions along the lines of "Note: Catnip smells like marijuana when it burns. Frequently passed on the incautious or uninstructed." The reader begins to feel like a babysitter whose young charge is describing an R-rated movie he was accidentally allowed to see. In Burroughs's case, the movie is about opiate addiction, which he deliberately cultivated over a lifetime, perhaps for something to write about.

Burroughs the man was as awful as he was beloved. He enjoyed a very comfortable upbringing in St. Louis -- his grandfather invented the adding machine -- and received an allowance for much of his life, but petulantly insisted "we were not rich." He had a son he didn't take care of, whose mother, Joan Vollmer, he'd shot dead in a drunken game of "William Tell." Adding insult to murder, he spent much of his writing life glorifying the incident, imagining that a so-called Ugly Spirit had invaded him and forced his hand. He even attempted a kitschy sweat lodge "exorcism" late in life, described in nauseatingly approving detail in the Miles biography.

Burroughs is often said to have exerted a major influence on popular culture. This seems limited to the fact that his work is alluded to in a Joy Division song ("Interzone," named for a setting in Naked Lunch); that he has a brief role in Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy (1989); that he has an even briefer cameo in a U2 video; and that the rock group Steely Dan is named after a dildo featured in Naked Lunch.

It is unthinkable that Burroughs's writing had a significant influence on anyone above high-school age. Naked Lunch is ostensibly about addiction and "control"; Burroughs and his myrmidons have even argued that the pornographic leitmotif of hanging represents a Swiftian satire of capital punishment -- nice try. Really, it is about shock for shock's sake, as is apparent to the precocious young people to whom it tends to appeal, and as is doubly apparent in the fact that it is remembered by readers as a sensation rather than in terms of its contents. Nobody will quote Naked Lunch, not even its scabrous Dr. Benway, as literature -- if at all, it will be as an inside joke.

Naked Lunch is one of those regrettable works that must be defended on the grounds that it does well what it set out to do, with no consideration given to whether what it set out to do is worth doing. It is very like a nightmare -- so? Its vocabulary is pathetically limited, with "insect," "erectile," and "atrophied" appearing as adjectives over and over again, whether or not they make any sense; its stunted imagination reaches reflexively to drug culture and medical or anthropological gross-out lore. Its satire is all telegraphic, all punchline: just because you have a loudmouth Southern sheriff or a big-city detective, doesn't mean you've said anything useful or interesting about racism or due-process violations.

Burroughs is one of those figures whose intelligence is overestimated because, slight though it is, it contrasts sharply with his outrageous public persona. Even on the subject of narcotics, the one thing he should be expected to understand, he's hopelessly muddled. His "Letter from a Master Addict to Dangerous Drugs," printed in The British Journal of Addiction, Vol. 53, No. 2, and appended to this and to other editions of Naked Lunch, seems oblivious to the fact that a sample pool of one person is not medically valuable. And he writes in "Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness" that "he junk virus is public health problem number one of the world today" (emphasis his), only to pretend three decades later, in "Afterthoughts on a Deposition," that he was referring to "anti-drug hysteria . . . a deadly threat to personal freedoms." This is a shameless distortion of his unambiguous previous message. It reveals what has been evident to many readers all along: Burroughs was always ready with high-minded defenses of his work, which could only elicit one aesthetic response: revulsion.

Still, Naked Lunch serves a very valuable and reliable purpose. Get to it early enough, somewhere between the Hardy Boys and Holden Caulfield, and the fatigue and tedium will inoculate you against all sorts of intellectual malfeasance. You'll never swallow the line that obscenity is a hallmark of genius, or that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom (usually it leads to the palace of excess, except when it leads to the hovel of incomprehensibility). Dismiss Burroughs as a pull-my-finger bore and you're ready to dismiss Matthew Barney, Damien Hirst, the Chapman Brothers, Jonathan Littell, and a host of others too dull to mention.

"I am not an entertainer," Burroughs wrote in 1959. You can sure as hell say that again.

--Stefan Beck

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802130938
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/1/1992
  • Pages: 256

Meet the Author

A wanderer and a literary experimentalist, William S. Burroughs is the Beat writer who outlived most of his contemporaries to become the literary symbol of a dispossessed, rock n' roll mentality. His rollercoaster existence made for good semifictional reading, but he also innovated the narrative form with his fragmentary, brash style.

Biography

William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) -- guru of the Beat Generation, controversial éminence grise of the international avant-garde, dark prophet, and blackest of black humor satirists -- had a range of influence rivaled by few post-World War II writers. His many books include Naked Lunch, Queer, Exterminator!, The Cat Inside, The Western Lands, and Interzone.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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Table of Contents

Naked Lunch 1
And Start West 3
The Vigilante 8
The Rube 9
Benway 19
Joselito 39
The Black Meat 43
Hospital 47
Lazarus Go Home 58
Hassan's Rumpus Room 62
Campus of Interzone University 70
A.J.'s Annual Party 74
Meeting of International Conference of Technological Psychiatry 87
The Market 89
Ordinary Men and Women 101
Islam Incorporated and the Parties of Interzone 121
The County Clerk 141
Interzone 148
The Examination 155
Have You Seen Pantopon Rose? 165
Coke Bugs 166
The Exterminator Does a Good Job 169
The Algebra of Need 172
Hauser and O'Brien 174
Atrophied Preface 182
Quick ... 195
Original Introductions and Additions by the Author 197
Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness [1960] 199
Post Script ... Wouldn't You? [1960] 207
Afterthoughts on a Deposition [1991] 211
Letter from a Master Addict to Dangerous Drugs [1956] 213
Burroughs Texts Annexed by the Editors 231
Editors' Note 233
Letter to Irving Rosenthal [1960] 249
The Death of Mel the Waiter [undated] 252
Outtakes: The Vigilante 254
Outtakes: The Rube 257
Outtakes: Benway 264
Outtakes: The Black Meat 266
Outtakes: Hospital 269
Outtakes: A.J.'s Annual Party 270
Outtakes: Islam Incorporated and the Parties of Interzone 272
Outtakes: The Examination 272
Outtakes: Coke Bugs 279
Outtakes: Hauser and O'Brien 281
Outtakes: Atrophied Preface 282
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 64 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(20)

4 Star

(9)

3 Star

(16)

2 Star

(8)

1 Star

(11)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 64 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 27, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Naked Lunch

    Forget you ever read a book in your life. All the standards and rules and everything you have read up to this point, just toss it out the window because it will do you absolutely no good when reading this book. In fact, it will probably be detrimental. This is probably the most difficult book I have ever read. Literally. I sat down and read five pages. I put the book down and realized I had no idea what was going on. Sure that I must have missed something, I went back and read again. About twelve pages in, I again realized I was not getting it. Frustrated I put it away.<BR/><BR/>I started the book from the beginning three days later. I got to the part where I kept stopping and realized, there is no way I am going to force this book to make sense. So I had to shift a little, and make myself give in to the book instead, which for me is relatively uncomfortable. And yet, only in that manner was I able to sink into this hellish book.<BR/><BR/>If I were to describe this book in one line, it would include the words trip, crazy, troubling and edgy accompanied by a handful of expletives scattered around for good measure.<BR/><BR/>Once you give in to the book, prepare yourself to go on one of the most disturbing, surrealistic, humorous, perverted, unbelievable rides of your life. Take ¿Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas¿ and multiply it times four.<BR/><BR/>As a point of warning, this book is NOT for the average reader. It demands an open mind, because it deals with drugs, alcohol, substance abuse, sexuality, homosexuality and science fiction in very explicit ways. VERY. Though not overtly descriptive in a lot of cases, this book does have some scenes that will make the tamer side of the crowd cringe. It is not every day that an author describes a characters fright, by picturing him pissing and defecating all over himself. It is not every day that an author tells the story about a man that teaches his bonghole to talk. It does not make sense, it is not supposed to. The world that this author describes, which is at times in Mexico, Tangiers and the Interzone, is one that can not really be described as anything other than one massive sex, drug and violence trip.<BR/><BR/>Furthermore, sentences come at you broken and the story jumps from one scene to the next without following any rational thought. It is no secret that a lot of this was written while the author was under the influence and it shows. At times disgusting, twisted and at other times incredibly humorous, this book is going to test all literary conventions.<BR/><BR/>Armed with a collection of memorable characters such as junkies that believe themselves to be secret agents, or unscrupulous doctors that have absolutely no ethics¿this explosive book, is like a bullet, hard hitting and unforgiving. It will likely offend most readers in one way or another. But if you can find it within yourself to take yourself a bit more lightly, you may just enjoy it.<BR/><BR/>Maybe.

    20 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2011

    Wow

    I can honestly say that until today I had never read a book that has made me gag, laugh, and cringe in pain uncontrollably over and over again. No one who is at all narrow minded will enjoy the book as well as most who consider themselves open minded. Let me say that I think just about every review I have read is exaggerating in one extreme or another. This is not trash that should be burned and never read by anyone. But it is also not a masterpiece, and obviously some people read way to much into it. The book definitely has a message (although it is hard to find) and it is new, fresh, and challenging. The book is no doubt extremely important and to a degree revolutionary but to say that it changed American culture is definitely a stretch.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2006

    Unimaginable Rugged Beauty

    This book is not for the faint of heart. It is not one those happy books that you can read before you go to bed. It is a dark journey through addiction and madness. It is a brilliant book that can never be replicated. It is a must read. It is a must own.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2006

    Worst Book I Have Ever Read!

    Without being all that melodramatic and hyperbolic, this is possiblt the worst book I have ever read my entire life as of yet, along side The Scarlet Letter. It is incoherent and there is no logic to it. I don't understand why everyone praises the guy, thousys are just pretentious and think they're cool for saying , I understand Lunch, man! It's not misunderstood....it's horrible to its very core.

    5 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2013

    For my English Assignment I had to read a book and write review

    For my English Assignment I had to read a book and write review about it, I chose Naked Lunch the Restored Text. I have to agree it redefine American Culture, the book addicts you like William S. Burroughs was addicted to narcotics. He had written down mostly everything he had gone through while on the influence of drugs.  It made me go to a totally different world, at some points I didn’t know whether I should laugh or scream. Don’t get me wrong it is a good thing because in a world of happiness you’re always going to need pain. 
    This has to be one of my favorite books. I really enjoy sort of the side notes (if that’s what you call them) in text. The reason I read was because it was in the banned book list and I am rebel.  It was probably banned for every conceivable way a book should be banned, but who really cares.  If I were to recommend this to anyone it has to be to the people that are very open-minded or it won’t really make any sense to you. It is also difficult to read but once you get it, its genius.  

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2011

    Unreadable - Stream of consciousness crap

    As a pioneer of the beat generation authors, such as Kerouac and Ginsberg, I had wanted for years to see what insight Burroughs shared in his seminal work. Unfortunately this is just the addled ramblings of a drug fried brain. The major accomplishment seems to be that he got it onto the page.

    3 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2006

    Disturbing beauty

    Wonderful weird flake consistancy world half-life stillness. This book is like no other. The sentences are disjointed and the words are jumbled--all on purpose to give you the feel of a heroin addict taking notes. And it works. A book that changed the course of literature. Parts are extremely disturbing. Parts are beautiful. Take the journey.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 24, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Apparently written under the influence at a time when drug use w

    Apparently written under the influence at a time when drug use was still underground. I just didn&rsquo;t get it. For the life of me I could not make any sense out of this book. The only parts that were coherent were the essays at the end. It was like 196 pages of Jim Morrison poetry. There&rsquo;s no discernable plot. Burroughs apparently wrote down every sick, obscene, filthy thought that ran through his drug addled mind. Some parts seem like they were nothing more than random phrases thrown together.

    I&rsquo;m certainly no prude; I inhaled, and I have nothing against books that use profanity or describe sexual situations, but Burroughs uses obscenity just for the sake of shock. I had to resign myself to reading 10 pages a day just to get through it. The only reason I didn&rsquo;t give up altogether was because I believe in finishing any book that I begin.

    Maybe you need hard drugs to enjoy this book. Perhaps Naked Lunch could be used in the anti-drug campaign as an example of how the mind disintegrates with prolonged drug usage, although I wouldn&rsquo;t recommend anyone under the age of 16 read this.

    Unless you enjoy unintelligible mayhem, do yourself a favor and read something else.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 24, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Loove itt!

    I'll admit, Naked Lunch (as well as Junky and the rest of Burroughs' books) are NOT for everybody. In my opinion you either love his work or you hate it. I am one of those who love him and can't get enough of his writng. I've already reccomended this book many times over the years and still reread it a few times a year.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2014

    Click this

    So according to people the author ,William buroughs or watever his name is ,was taking heroin when he made the book so u just have to go with the flow even though i never read the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2014

    Excellent

    ...

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  • Posted January 2, 2014

    This is not the first work by Burroughs that I've read but it is

    This is not the first work by Burroughs that I've read but it is the worst. The text flows through nonsensical chaos that will leave you scratching your head or staring at the page questioning what you just read. The language is graphic, confusing and deals heavily with the darkest sides of substance abuse. His descriptions of the characters, their drug use and sexuality are disturbing. This is not for the faint of heart nor is it for anyone who'd like to read an even remotely coherent book.

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  • Posted July 6, 2013

    This is the most twisted sick fetish I have ever read. I¿ve hear

    This is the most twisted sick fetish I have ever read. I’ve heard it said this novel was the work of pure genius and I am going to have to take the word of more literary minded people than myself on that. 

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 4, 2013

    So I started reading this because I was told it was like Jack Ke

    So I started reading this because I was told it was like Jack Kerouac. I guess if Jack Kerouac was into things that would not pass the censor here. Do not be fooled, Burroughs is no Kerouac. 

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2012

    Lolz

    I LOSTT MY APETITE !!!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2009

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