Naked Lunch: Die ursprüngliche Fassung

Naked Lunch: Die ursprüngliche Fassung

4.6 16
by William S. Burroughs

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…  See more details below


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.

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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.)

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"A masterpiece. A cry from hell, a brutal, terrifying, and savagely funny book that swings between uncontrolled hallucination and fierce, exact satire."
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
Stefan Beck

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

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.38(w) x 8.32(h) x 0.77(d)

What People are saying about this

John Ciardi
"Only after the first shock does one realize that what Burroughs is writing about is not only the destruction of depraved men by their drug lust, but the destruction of all men by their consuming addictions... He is a writer of great power and artistic integrity engaged in a profoundly meaningful search for true values."
Terry Southern
"An absolutely devastating ridicule of all that is false, primitive, and vicious in current American life: the abuses of power, hero worship, aimless violence, materialistic obsession, intolerance, and every form of hypocrisy."
Norman Mailer
"A book of great beauty.... Burroughs is the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genious."

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Naked Lunch: Die ursprüngliche Fassung 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Naked Lunch is an exercise in critical thinking. William Burroughs disguises his arguments using two quite different forms of writing. First, he covers his subject matter with carefully wrought, emotionally charged masks. These masks cover his critiques so thoroughly that few can see past them to the underlying criticisms. Second, Naked Lunch is purposely written as a disjointed amalgam of many small pieces which can only be understood by disassembling the portions and reassembling them into a new cohesive whole within one¿s mind. Burroughs¿ intent was to be inscrutable, to confuse and confound, leaving his readers aware of only that which is ¿superficial and relative¿. The reader cannot perform this act purposely. Burroughs says it can only be achieved by adopting a mind-set contrary to that of most Americans one must ¿learn to relax and wait for the answer¿. Burroughs¿ rationale, his real joke, in Naked Lunch is to satirize and disparage American culture in such a way that the well-educated and affluent leaders of the country at the time could not (and many still can't) understand his critiques of society. This unnatural act, delving beneath two layers of subterfuge to find understanding, is the ¿revelation¿ Burroughs offers and is the real truth behind Naked Lunch, a magnificent critique of 1950's society and a superlative example of literary art.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book 'How To Skin Your Mother' Has been Re-Named 'God Drug' and is still in assembly. Untill that comes out, read this(Naked Lunch)or see the Movie now on DVD
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would not recommend Naked Lunch to anyone that would like to sit down and actually enjoy a book. Naked Lunch contains no solid plot,random storylines, and drawn out descriptions of useless information that if read 5 times, would then be able to relate it to bigger picture of society/postmodern trends or something like that.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There is little to say other than WOH! When reading this book you become a part of it, and a part of the world described within. It is hard to imagine the world of psychedelic madness that is described and it is even harder to let go and return to this world. The book grabs you by the neck, beats the snot out of you and spits you out a withered, convulsing mess. It's pure madness and pure genius in one. There is no way to describe what the book is about because it is more of an experience than a novel. The only reason I didn't rate it 5 stars is that it takes quite a bit of studying to understand most of the book. Some of it is beyond understanding. This, I believe, takes a little away from the intensity. Imagine the rush of launching into the upper atmosphere on a shuttle and then skydiving without a parachute back to earth. That is what this book feels like.
Guest More than 1 year ago
bills writings in this book will have you wanting to put it down just as much as it screams out to be picked back up.this book was borrowed to me by a friend who is a genius in his own right, i knew i wouldnt be let down.if you can sift through the entanglement of words and classic bill burroughs catch phrases, youll be dropped head first in the middle of graphic, self-destructing, helpless paralysis that is drug addiction. it gives you a glimpse of what a mind and world IS to a junkie and what horrible things are with them daily. theres also some humor, though it be dark, its still there.enjoy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Naked Lunch is the best heroin documentary that one could find. Burrough's play with words is brilliant. I recommend this book to anyone that has a sense for great modern literature.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Here we have a book, over looked and under credited. William's 'Junky' is definitely a book for young addicts or anyone for that matter. I read it when i was 15, and I had to re-read it approximately 3 times to figure out exactly what was going on. It is well written and describes scenes and events so perfectly, you, yourself might have to read it a few times over. I am currently reading 'Wild Boys' By william, and that too is a masterpiece. Both come highly recomended by an 18 year old kid who does not go to school.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Never before had I read a book that I didn't quite understand but yet couldn't put down. When I read the first page, I was compelled to turn the next page- even though I didn't quite understood where the story was going. And this process went on until I finished it All in all, the story's writing was of a style that I could only describe as surreal. It truly was 'A cry from hell' as one of the critics put it and the main idea of the whole novel left me the impression that the nature of addiction truly is the result of the 'algebra of need' that functions in all of us
Guest More than 1 year ago
i love this book! burroughs has no boundaries to junk to homosexuality, this man will pour out his heart no matter how twisted and beautiful. i advise everyone to read this book. life isn't lollypops and mayberry and burroughs proves it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Burroughs did more to redefine the novel than anyone since James Joyce. If you're going into this novel looking for narrative and a plot line...well, forget it. What you'll get are sketches, routines, and hallucinations depicting Burroughs' singular view of life. He sees sex and drugs as mere manifestations of the ultimate drug--control. If you've ever wondered what it would be like in hell, this should give you a pretty fair idea. I've never read anything like it before, and never will again. Burroughs' influence on today's writers cannot be discounted.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Naked Lunch- a large serving of drugs, sex and hallucinatory characters. A well written book filled with stories of graphic defectation, drug shooting and scoring and fillled with strange characters, the frightening Dr. Benway and the odd, drug induced Mugwumps. I thought the book was great, a William Burroughs classic that should be thought of as an Alternative literary classic of said drug abuse and sex as well as showing the hallucinatory life of a chronic junky.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Burroughs was the first gay writer I had (knowingly) ever read, and he was the best. It's not the story that drew me in, but his use of words, images and descriptions that bring about a sense that individual liberty, the Constitution, and free choice is fragile and finite and, even in the early '50s, was slipping away unnoticed. If it wasn't for some of the subjects that Burroughs covers (homosexuality, drug use, a black-humor send up of the death penalty), this would be the perfect book for a high school English class. It's one of those rare books that can be read for both entertainment value and/or intellectual value.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My dad bought me a copy of 'Naked Lunch' last Christmas. I read the first few pages and I loved it. However, school and it's required readings forced me to postpone my reading. My junior year, during final exams, I read most of, and eventually completed this book. I loved it. I was so enthralled by the author's word choice and his descriptions of events. I tried to get my brother to read it, but it freaked him out too much. My dad started to read it, but he never finished. I got another of Burroughs' books about dreams for my birthday. I thought it was very interesting, but then I was at my library, when I noticed a book called 'The Metamorphosis'. I became obssessed with this book because I could sympathize with the character, Gregor. Of course, I have never been turned into a bug, but I know what it is like to have people reject you because you are not exactly like them. I recieved 'Junky' for Christmas, and I have not been able to put it down. Burroughs just has this style of writing that no one else has. He was a great writer and definitely one of the biggest influences on writing as we know it. I highly recommend 'Naked Lunch'. It is one of my favorite books, and one of the greatest ever written.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i see how some people fail to understand why Naked Lunch is indeed one of the greatest books of this century - the first contact with it leaves you shocked, disoriented. There is no real storyline one could easily explain, nor are the characters characterized at all - Burroughs instead creates atmosphere, litle bits of subreality, and ends up with a world that is in a way more real than it oughta be - he is not afraid of loading it with an incredible amonut of tiny stories, poems, events, descriptions and dialogues that dont have much to do with the 'main' story - as long as it's one huge nightmare, he keeps pushing it - and you simply have to enjoy it, even if you cant really tell why.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I personally have not yet read the book but I was on the official website for the band DEADSY (check em out, they're good) and one of the members had this down as their fav. book!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
i didnt really read this book, but at a smashing pumpkins website, billy said that he recommends everyone to read this wonderful book. P.S. BILLY IS GOD!!!!!!!!