Friday, January 06, 2017

Books for Dark Times: NAKED LUNCH

William Burroughs, Naked Lunch: The Restored Text

Edited by James Grauerholz and Barry Miles

Grove Press, 1959 
(Restored text, 2001)

In the middle Nineties, I was a student in the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute.  Thus I have a considerable allergy to Beat literature, to which I was over-exposed.  Reading through Penguin’s anthology of Beat Literature, I often roll my eyes.  Kerouac, for example, I find unreadable.  Speaking therefore as a cynical, jaded, and negative person, I have to admit that some pieces of Beat literature really are all they’re cracked up to be.  Kaddish, for example.  And Naked Lunch.

A few days after the election of Donald Trump, I picked it up again.  I admit that I just wanted to escape the nightmarish headlines and take refuge in surreal phantasmagoria.  To my astonishment, I discovered the book had totally changed in the 20 years since I’d read it last.  It isn’t outlandish any more.  It seems like a handbook to the way we live now, in the shadow of the Trump administration.  Above all, it is very PRACTICAL book, full of tips and pointers.  I might as well be reading the Boy Scouts Handbook.

As a young groupie, I remember hearing Allen Ginsberg say that having sex with Burroughs was like having sex with a reptile.  Well, he WRITES like a reptile too, but what maybe didn’t work so well in the sheets is ecstatic on the page.  Like Jane and Paul Bowles, he still makes our current, self-proclaimed, avant-garde look tame.  A riotous book.  (Who writes riotously now?  Could you send me a list?)  

I drink more coffee than is strictly speaking sane and I admit I had a “Woo-woo” moment when I thought, “Burroughs is a prophet!  This book was written for right exactly now!”  But, now that I’ve calmed down, somewhat, I reckon it must seem so because Burroughs is willing to take a deep, long look at human evil, and evidently evil takes similar forms, age after age. 

Woo-woo aside, it IS entertaining and satisfying to keep notes as you read as to on which page various members of the Trump Administration first appear.  Imagine what Burroughs would have made of our current cast of villains, how he would have dissected them, delighted in them, savaged them.  Even their names: imagine what Burroughs would think of “Trump”, of “Cruz”, of “Pence”, of “Kellyanne Conway”!  (I’d swear Kellyanne Conway is already the name of a Burroughs’ character -- I just can’t quite find her.)

Naked Lunch is a handbook for right now, as we do our best to come to grips with human evil and survive -- or to NOT survive, but to be entertained in the meantime.  Because it is an incredibly funny book and even now it makes so much else seem cowardly.  Here’s your Handbook To Life Under The Trump Administration.  May we somehow keep our bright queer hearts intact.  I urge you, however, do NOT follow his advice about yohimbe being “the ultimate aphrodisiac”.  That stuff is totally misery-making, even if it does give you a boner.  And, of course, please: NEVER experiment with nutmeg.

1 comment:

Sheiler said...

I think Burroughs was also famous (in my mind, anyway) to have said this about eating in a local Boulder establishment: 'eating sprouts is like going down on a robot'. I'm going to re-read Naked Lunch.