"Naked Lunch" by William S. Burroughs (1959)
"He turns into Rock and Roll hoodlum. 'I screw the old gash - like a crossword puzzle, what relation to me is the outcome if it outcome? My father already or not yet? I can't screw you, Jack, you is about to become my father, and better 'twere to cut your throat and screw my mother playing it straight than fuck my father vice versa mutatis mutandis as the case may be, and cut my mother's throat, that sainted gash...＂
"Naked Lunch" is William S. Burroughs' third novel, and marks the beginning of his more experimental period. It is also the most famous of his books, and has exerted a strong influence over Western culture. David Cronenberg attempted to make a movie of it, many rock bands have named themselves after phrases in the book, and many other authors cite it as an influence.
Having read this book, I can't say that I was that impressed. I think it's good, but I found the "transgressive" elements a bit repetitious, and it's hard to view Burroughs' fixation on homosexual acts as anything other than a shock tactic. After the fourth or fifth chapter the motif started to wear out its welcome, and I found myself wishing that he would just change the subject. It's not as bad as de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom, but it's pretty close.
But the real question is: Is Naked Lunch really a novel? It is certainly a bold experiment in wordcraft, but one is hard pressed to find characters in this book, to find identifiable situations, or to find any sense of chronology. Naked Lunch is more like a long series of hallucinations, with the likenesses of other people passing in and out of the "narrative." There is no line drawn between reality and illusion, between others and oneself, and it is debatable as to whether the events described in Naked Lunch are really happening at all. They might just be parts of the same heroin-induced nightmare.
I read the "Restored Text" of Naked Lunch. I'm not sure how this differs from older versions. I imagine that some of the more violent homosexual parts were excised from earlier editions. Perhaps these unwanted excisions did the novel a service, and made the whole thing more palatable to audiences at the time.
Naked Lunch is a good book, but I wouldn't count it among my favorites. The author had a way with words, but I suppose I like a bit more realism mixed in with my fantasy. I didn't find this novel nearly as laborious as Finnegan's Wake or Gravity's Rainbow, but I can't see myself reading other books by William S. Burroughs. At least not any time soon.