Naked Lunch…Sure I’ll Give It a Try

19 January 2012 in Reviews


There are have been few books I’ve started and never finished. Usually the criteria for such books involves mind numbingly boring factual accounts or poor writing. These books are usually historical or random non-fiction I am drawn to only by intriguing cover art or an interesting title. Rarely are they books I’ve identified as alternative, contemporary classics. This self-labeled classification applying to books and more so authors which arise in conversation, podcasts, TV or some other osmotic invasion of my psyche.

I’m not sure where or when William S. Burroughs entered this realm, but he was there and surprisingly so was one of his books. While perusing the aisles of the tiny library in Crescent City I came across Naked Lunch. Initially I was intrigued by the fact that only one other individual had ever checked this book out, but maybe it should have served as a warning.

Let me start off by saying I understand and enjoy the non-literal, surreal world of art. Many of my favorite paintings are those of artists like Salvador Dali. And this love of the surreal also translates into film and some literature. I own and periodically watch several works by David Lynch. This is not an attempt to brag, just to show that I do enjoy the idea of art that lacks a literal or obvious meaning. I love the idea of artwork that forces the observer to think and form their own conclusions as to the artwork’s meaning. A single surreal painting presented to several people could invoke several interpretations, all of which—in my mind—are valid.

Now I’m not sure if Burroughs’ intentions were that of the surreal, but that is my best attempt at categorizing the strange, disconnected thoughts, paragraphs and chapters I survived. I know he was a heroin addict and much of the book is reported to have been written while on the drug or attempting to get off of it. This seems very likely as soon as you start reading. Initially I thought I was thrown off course by a high volume of period slang of which I understood very little. Soldiering through though I soon discovered, as the slang washed away the characters, settings, and scenarios were disconnected and confusing. At points I feel you could almost tell how high he was. The scenes he paints can be both grotesque and disturbing. Not that I agree at all with censorship, but I can see why this book has drawn a lot of attention. When people have burned and banned tamer works like Catcher In the Rye I’m surprised a single copy of this book is still in existence.

These were certainly some of the most graphic paragraphs I have ever read. And again this is not to say they were bad or didn’t deserve recognition. The only thing that kept me reading was the fact that Burroughs is actually a very proficient writer with a wonderful and unique tempo and rhythm to his writing. I found the scenes and situations he created articulately illustrated with arresting language. Though I had trouble grasping the meaning of many explorations the way in which he strew words across the page was almost musical in nature.

But the best I could gather as far as meaning was my own assumptions of what I saw as surreal writings. These strange and broken stories in my mind were meant to reflect his views, thoughts and ideas on the world around him. When he saw the ugliness internally held in some beings this ugliness oozed to the surface and was described literally with no hint of a figurative nature. But had the stories merely required an understanding of this I might have finished the book. Instead every aspect of the book is soaked and bloated with these fanciful descriptions and cryptic passages.

I’m sure people smarter than me will laugh at my confusion, but I have no problem admitting my shortcomings. Despite my love of the surreal I need to see some attempt at meaning. Maybe this book is better described as abstract. Like one of those paintings awash with dark colors meant to emit a mood or frame of mind, more than a thought. Unfortunately as with abstract paintings I often require more especially for the time and attention needed to complete a 200+ page novel.

But, who knows maybe this book invading my subconscious and helped influence the collage featured in this post. And maybe people will have the same feelings of confusion towards my art that I had towards that of William S. Burroughs.

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19 January 2012 Reviews

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