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Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

It has almost been two weeks since I finished reading Naked Lunch and I am still not sure what to make of it. Therefore, the following is going to be my own little stream of thoughts, in response to that of William S. Burroughs, rather than a "proper" review.

Naked Lunch follows the heroin-junkie William Lee through different places and mental states in loosely connected episodes. It is like gliding from one weird dream into the next. In his introduction, Burroughs writes that the novel is based on notes he appears to have taken during years of drug addiction, which he calls The Sickness and says he has emerged from calm and sane. “NAKED Lunch,” he writes, is “a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.” It is about seeing clearly, understanding social mechanisms and rules – and how they are broken. There is satire in there against capital punishment, torture, consumerism: “he sells the consumer to his product.”

The first notes I wrote while reading Naked Lunch were “Words move like a train, like someone moving through a busy train making their way through the masses, moving in the opposite direction of the train – moving at all?” And that after only a page of Burroughs’s writing! His style is contagious. The book starts with some form of structure and discernible characters but quickly dissolves into something similar to a stream of consciousness, a wild show of orgies and violence. He frequently breaks the fourth wall (do we use this theatre term in literature?), emerges from his thoughts, the hurricane of words and images, addresses the reader as if to check if he is still there, takes him by the hand and jumps right back into this ocean of madness. It all ends in an exhausted, breathless resolution, trying to close by weaving together threads of storyline.

There are many incredibly sharp observations and criticisms of society. There are funny moments. There is violence, sex and hatred. Some statements - “Western man is externalising himself in the form of gadgets” – could well have been written today, but much of the satire needs to be contextualised before trying to digest it, as certain words and attacks just do not work anymore.

“Poverty, hatred, war, police-criminals, bureaucracy, insanity, all symptoms of The Human Virus. The Human can now be isolated and treated.” Naked Lunch is unsentimental and bitter and I would not recommend it to readers with a sensitive stomach, but others might enjoy this wild trip.

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