Naked Lunch by William Burroughs
New York : Grove Press, 1959. Twelfth printing. Hardcover. 255 pages ; 21 cm. $6.00 unclipped dust jacket price. Small dampstain to side pages edge. Pages are unmarked and binding is firm.
By William Burroughs
Although known in this country only through excerpts in a number of quarterlies, NAKED LUNCH already has the underground reputation of an authentic literary masterpiece of the twentieth century. It has been more widely discussed and written about than almost any other book before its full publication. John Ciardi in The Saturday Review described it as follows:
"[NAKED LUNCH] is writing of an order that may be cleanly defended not only as a masterpiece of its own genre, but as a monumentally moral descent into the hell of narcotic addiction. . . . What Burroughs has written is a many-leveled vision of horror. At times the surfaces of the writing seem to be coldly reportorial. . . . Bit by bit the undertone of self-consuming horror leaps free of even surface realism and begins to develop through more fanciful perceptions.... By the end the horror emerges in a surrealistic montage of dramatic scene and dramatic hallucination. Even the physical lineaments of the body are absorbed into the lust for drugs. The lust becomes a kind of greene ooze that sucks the body into itself. Burrough's portrait of The Buyer is certainly one of the most memorable (and, ultimately, most moral) horrors of surrealistic writing.
"And 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, whether the addiction be drugs or overrighteous propriety, lasciviousness or sixteen-year-old girls. Burroughs is not only serious in his intent, but he is a writer of great power and artistic integrity engaged in a profoundly meaningful search for true values."
NAKED LUNCH is written in a series of episodes with a large cast of characters ranging from A.J., the Notorious Merchant of Sex, through Salvador Hassan O'Leary, the After Birth Tycoon, to Hepatitis Hal and Autopsy Ahmed. There are the Liquefactionists, "greedyguts who want to absorb all the richness of all other lives into themselves," and the Division-ists, who create ideal responsive friends by cutting off tiny bits of their own flesh and growing identical replicas of themselves in embryo jelly. Through all of his characters, Burroughs conducts the reader on a tour of Hell only to show how sublime human nature is, creating in the process a memorable literary work that has been compared by some to the visions of Dante.
WILLIAM BURROUGHS was born in 1914 in St. Louis. After graduating from Harvard, he traveled in Europe, returned to America where he worked at various times as a private detective, an exterminator, a bartender, and at many other jobs. In recent years, he has lived mainly in Tangiers, London, and Paris, and from time to time, in homes for narcotic addicts. His Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict, was published here in 1953. Of himself, he says: "I have learned a great deal from using junk: I have seen life measured out in eyedroppers of morphine solution. I have experienced the agonizing deprivations of junk sickness, and the pleasure of relief when junk-thirsty cells drank from the needle. Perhaps all pleasure is relief. ... I have learned the junk equation. Junk is not, like alcohol or weed, a means to increased enjoyment of life. Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life."
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