i want to try to convince you to read naked lunch. but i know that, for the most part, you won't like it. it doesn't tell a story, really. it just sort of latches itself onto a plot and figures out how to tell you what it's seeing. drugs, americans, europeans, homosexual depravity, fierce new species, and tons of horrible humanscapes can be found along the way, but none of which are concisely put. coming out of this book, you're left not quite sure what you've seen, but you know it's been a journey, terrible and fiending, and you're glad you made it out on the other side. but you might just need a drink.
how i've been describing this book to others, in a brief look, is "it's a drug book." which it is. much like trainspotting, you will get that feeling that you are there, amidst the junkies, passing the needle on or flicking the syringe the clear the air bubbles out. if you read hard enough, you might just get the shakes. but also, even if you were to flip from page to page within this book, you'd find nice little communities of words and phrases that, if scrawled in the margins of a journal you'd found, or graffitied on the brick wall down the block from your apartment, you'd fall in love with, "drug book" or not.
and that's what made me fall in love with this book: the language. sure, there were interesting characters, and fucked up stage shows. sure there were trips to destroyed nations with follied dictators. all that, yes, i'm down with it. but if it were written with any other pen, it'd just be another book. just another thread of words.
i see the distinction as masterpiece.
if any of these following quotes pique your interest, and you like drug culture, this might just be for you.
"In life there is that which is funny, and there is that which is politely supposed to be funny. Literature, out of a misguided appeal to an imagineary popular taste and the caution of self-distrust, generally follows the latter course, so that the humor found in books is almost always vicarious -- meeting certain "traditional" requirements, and producing only the kind of laughter one might expect: rather strained. Burroughs' work is an all-stops-out departure from this practice, and he invariably writes at the very top of his ability." (page v, foreword by terry southern)
" 'One day Little Boy BLue starts to slip, and what crawls out would make an ambulance attendant puke...' " (page vi, foreword by t.s., quoting the novel)
"Q. What's good and bad?
A. If you're a ballplayer, you would not like to say you are a good third baseman, you try to play third base. You try to deal with moral questions. Whether you deal with them is another matter." (page xii, quote by norman mailer from the boston trial)
"It is very often you can wake up in the morning and start writing and you have this experience: what you are writing about is what you haven't been thinking about. One's best writing seems to bear no relation to what one is thinking about." (page xv, n.m. from the boston trial)
"...he used to write coming out of drug adictions, at other times he says he wrote it in drug addictions, while he was a drug addict." (page xv, n.m. from the boston trial)
"To me this is a simple portrayal of Hell. It is Hell precisely." (page xvii, n.m. from the boston trial)
"William Burroughs is in my opinion -- whatever his conscious intention may be -- a religious writer. There is a sense in Naked Lunch of the destruction of soul, which is more intense than any I have encountered in any other modern novel. It is a vision of how mankind would act if man was totally divorced from eternity. What gives this vicion a machinegun-edged clarity is an utter lack of sentimentality. The expression of sentimentality in religious matters comes forth usually as a sort of saccharine piety which revols any idea of religious sentiment in those who are sensitive, discriminating, or deep of feeling. Burroughs avoids even the possibility of such sentimentality (which would, of course, destroy the value of his work), by attaching a stringent, mordant vocabulary to a series of precise and horrific events, a species of gallows humor which is a defeated man's last pride, the pride that he has, at least, not in prisons, in the Army, among junkies, race tracks and pool halls, a graffiti of cool, even livid wit, based on bodily functions and the frailties of the body, the slights, humiliations and tortures a body can undergo. It is a wild and deadly humor. Bitter as alkali, it pickles every serious subject in the caustic of the harshest experience; what is left untouched is as dry and silver as a bone. It is this sort of fine, dry residue which is the emotional substance of Burroughs' work for me." (pages xvii-xviii, n.m. from the boston trial)
"I awoke from The Sickness at the age of forty-five, calm and sane, and in reasonably good health except for a weakened liver and the look of borrowed flesh common to all who survive The Sickness.... Most survivors do not remember the delirium in detail. I apparently took detailed notes on sickness and delirium. I have no precise memory of writing the notes on sickness which have no been published under the title Naked Lunch. The title was suggested by Jack Kerouac. I did not understand what the title meant until my recent recovery. The title means exactly what the words say: NAKED Lunch -- a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork." (page xxxv, from the introduction)
"The Sickness is drug addiction and I was an addict for fifteen years. When I say addict I mean an addict to junk (generic term for opium and/or derivatives including all synthetics from demerol to palfium). I have used junk in many forms: morphine, heroin, dilaudid, eukodal, pantopon, diocodid, diosane, opium, demerol, dolophine, palfium. I have smoked junk, eaten it, sniffed it, injected it in vein-skin-muscle, inserted it in rectal suppositories. The needle is not important. Whether you sniff it smoke it eat it or shove it up your ass the result is the same: addiction." (page xxxvi, from the introduction)
"Junk yields a basic formula of 'evil' virus: The Algebra of Need/ The face of 'evil' is always the face of total need. A dope fiend is a man in total need of dope. Beyond a certain frequency need knows absolutely no limit or control. In the words of total need: 'Wouldn't you?' Yes you would. You would lie, cheat, inform on your friends, steal, do anything to satisfy total need. Because you would be in a state of toal sickness, total possession, and not in a position to act in any other way." (page xxxvii, from the introduction)
"...overdose of time..." (page xlii, from the introduction)
"You know how old people lose all shame about eating, and it makes you puke to watch them?" (page 6)
"...cancelled eyes." (page 7)
"I was standing outside myself trying to stop those hangings with ghost fingers.... I am a ghost wanting what every ghost wants -- a body -- after the Long Time moving through odorless alleys of space where no life is only the colorless no smell of death.... Nobody can breathe and smell it through pink convolutions of gristle laced with crystal snot, time shit and black blood filters of flesh." (page 9)
"New Orleans is a dead museum." (page 14)
"Selling is more of a habit than using." (page 15)
"I am the only complete man in the industry." (page 16)
"She gets the coke horros and run through the hotel screaming Chinese coppers chase her with meat cleavers." (page 18)
"Your head shatters in white explosions." (page 18-19)
"...electric orgasm." (page 24)
"Placenta Juan the Afterbirth Tycoon." (page 30)
" 'If all pleasure is relief from tension, junk affords relief from the whole life process, in disconnecting the hypothalamus, which is the center of psychic energy and libido. ...junk derives its euphoric effect from direct stimulation of the orgasm center." (page 33)
"...the little broken images that come before sleep." (page 44)
" 'With veins like that, Kid, I'd have myself a time!" (page 47)
"...listening down into himself." (page 47)
"...sealed in translucent amber of dreams." (page 49)
"...undreaming insect eyes." (page 53)
" 'Did I ever tell you about the time Marv and me pay two Arab kids sixty cents to watch them screw each other? So I ask Marv, "Do you think they will do it?"
And he says, "I think so. They are hungry."
And I say, "That's the way I like to see them."
Makes me feel sorta like a dirty old man but, "Son cosas de la vida," as Sobera de la Flor said when the fuzz upbraids him for blasting this cunt and taking the dead body to the Bar O Motel and fucking it.
"She play hard to get already," he say... "I don't hafta take that sound." (Sobera de la Flor was a Mexican criminal convict of several rather pointless murders.)" (pages 54-55)
"Soon we'll be operating by remote control on patients we'll never see." (page 55)
"Dr. Benway is operating in an auditorium filled with students: 'Now, boys, you won't see this operation performed very often and there's a reason for that. You se it has absolutely no medical value. No one knows what the purpose of it originally was or if it had a purpose at all. Personally I think it was a pure artistic creation from the beginning.' " (page 56)
"His speed was incredible: 'I don't give them time to die,' he would say. Tumors put him in a frenzy of rage. 'Fucking undisciplined cells!' he would snarl, advancing on the tumor like a knife-fighter." (page 56)
"Bedpans full of blood and Kotexx and nameless female substances, enough to pollute a continent. If someone comes to visit me in my old room he will think I gave birth to a monster and the State Department is trying to hush it up." (page 57)
"Cover her with a monument, this way no one has to look at her." (page 58)
"THE DIPLOMAT (barely audible): 'The Department denies ... un-American ... It's been destroyed ... I mean it never was ... Categor ... ' Dies" (page 59)
"Earthbound ghost need." (page 60)
"Trust the Germans to concoct some really evil shit. Eukodol like morphine is six times stronger than codeine. Heroin six times strongre than morphine. Dihydro-oxy-heroin should be six times stronger than heroin. Quite possible to develop a drug so habit-forming that one shot would cause a lifelong addiction." (page 60)
"The body knows what veins you can hit and conveys this knowledge in the spontaneous moments you make preparing to take a shot. Sometimes the needle points like a dowser's wand. Sometimes I must wait for the message. But when it comes, I always hit blood." (page 60)
"...a grey, junk-bound ghost." (page 61)
"Last night I woke with someone squeezing my hand. It was my other hand. Fall asleep reading and the words take on code significance. Obsessed with codes. Man contracts a series of diseases which spell out a code message." (page 61)
"It is doubtful if shame can exist without the presence of sexual libido." (page 61)
"The addict regards his body impersonally as an instrument to absorb the medium in which he lives, evaluates his tissue with the cold hands of a horse trader. 'No use trying to hit there.' Dead fish eyes flick over a ravaged vein." (pages 61-62)
"...atomic shambles." (page 62)
"...a whole spectrum of subjective horror, silent protoplasmic frenzy, hideous agony of the bones." (page 62)
"...he dies with the skeleton straining to climb out of his unendurable flesh and run in a straight line to the nearest cemetery." (page 62)
"I try to focus the words... they separate in meaningless mosaic." (page 63)
"LAZARUS GO HOME" (page 63)
"The doctor took one look and slammed steel shutters of survival. He ordered the burning bed and its occupant immediately evicted from the hospital premises." (page 65)
"Lee lived now in varying degrees of transparency. While not exactly invisible he was at least difficult to see." (page 65)
"Cocks ejaculate in silent 'yes.' " (page 68)
"Whore staggers out through dust and shit and litter of dead kittens, carrying bales of aborted foetuses, broken condoms, bloody Kotex, shit wrapped in bright color comics." (page 69)
"The piles of an aged mother shriek out raw and bleeding for the Black Shit. Doc, suppose it was your mother, rimmed by resident leaches, squirming around so nasty. De-active that pelvis, mom, you disgust me already." (page 74)
"Vibrating, soundless hum of deep forest -- sudden quiet of cities when the junky copes." (page 74)
"...whimpering women catch his sperm in vaginal teeth." (page 77)
"See where Christ's blood streams in the spermament." (page 86)
"Now, son, don't you get rigor mortis on me. Show respect for the aging prick. You may be a tedious old fuck yourself some day. Oh, uh; I guess not." (page 93)
" 'My dear, I'm working on the most marvelous invention. A boy who disappears as soon as you come leaving a smell of burning leaes and a sound effect of distant train whistles.' " (page 101)
" 'Ever make sex in no gravity? Your jissom just floats out in the air like lovely ectoplasm, and female guests are subject to immaculate or at least indirect conception.' " (page 101)
"And now The Prophet's hour:
'Millions died in the mud flats. Only one blast free to lungs." (page 102)
"Jack off phantoms whisper hot into the bone ear.
Shoot your way to freedom." (page 102)
" 'And all them junkies sitting around in the lotus posture spitting on the ground and waiting on The Man.
'So Buddha says: "I don't hafta take this sound. I'll by God metabolize my own junk."
' "Man, you can't do that. The Revenooers will swarm all over you."
' "Over me they won't swarm. I gotta gimmick, see? I'm fucking Holy Man as of right now."
' "Jeez, boss, what an angle." ' " (page 103)
"MALE HUSTLER: 'What a boy hasta put up with in this business. GAWD! The propositions I get you wouldn't believe it. They wanta play Latah, they wanta merge with my protoplasm, they want a replica cutting, they wanta suck my organs, they wanta take over my past experience and leae old memories that disgust me.
'I am fucking this citizen, so I think, "A straight John at last"; but he comes to climax and turns himself into some kinda awful crab. I told him, "Jack, I don't hafta stand still for such a routine like this. You can take that business to Walgreen's." Some people got no class to them. Another horrible old character just sits there and telepathizes and creams in his dry goods. So nasty.' " (pages 113-114)
"The calf is born. The forces of death melt in morning. Farm boy kneels reverently -- his throat pulses in the rising sun." (page 114)
"The screaming skull rolls up the back stairs to bite off the cock erring husband taking dour advantage of his wife's earache to do that which is inconvenient. The young landluubber dons a southwester, beats his wife to death in the shower." (page 119)
"This ass talk had a sort of gut frequency. It hit you right down there like you gotta go. You know when the old colon gives you the elbow and it feels sorta cold inside, and you know all you have to do is turn loose? Well this talking hit you right down there, a bubbly, thick stagnant sound, a sound you could smell." (Ipage 120)
"The junky sits with needle poised to the message of blood, and the con man palpates the mark with fingers of rotten ectoplasm." (page 124)
"The reference is to the KY scandal which was still in a larval state at that time. AJ's repartee often refers to future events. He is a master of the delayed squelch." (page 131)
"He will be portentously anonymous, faceless, colorless. He will -- probably -- be born with smooth disks of skin instead of eyes. He always knows where he is going like a virus knows. He doesn't need eyes." (page 152)
"Urbanite Don't Let The Sun Set On You Here." (page 154)
"They watch his approach with pale blue eyes, turning their heads slow on wrinkled necks (the wrinkles full of dust) to follow his body up the steps and through the door." (page 155)
" 'Just the thing to clean a man's blood.' " (page 157)
"A hum of sex and commerce shakes the Zone like a vast hive." (page 162)
"Behind him lay an epic saga of unsuccessful enterprises." (page 164)
"The crowd laughs with him under the searching guns." (page 166)
"To be elected President is the greatest misfortune and disgrace that can befall an Islander. The humiliations and ignominy are such that few Presidents lie out their full term of office, usually dying of a broken spirit after a year or two." (page 166)
"If a citizen wanted anything from a load of bone meal to a sexual partner some department was ready to offer effective aid." (pages 168-169)
"The doctor went on chuckling and rocking in his chair like some mechanical toy. Carl realized that he was expected to say something." (page 171)
" 'Cancer, my first love,' the doctor's voice receded. He seemed actually to have gone away through an invisible door leaving his empty body sitting there at the desk." (page 172)
"There was a jar of KY on a glass shelf. Carl felt ashamed as if his mother had laid out a handkerchief for him. Some coy little message stitched on like: 'If I was a cunt we could open a dry goods store.'
Ignoring the KY, he ejaculated into the jar, a cold brutal fuck of the nurse standing her up against a glass brick wall. 'Old Glass Cunt,' he sneered, and saw a cunt full of colored glass splinters under the Northern Lights." (pages 173-174)
" 'Pick a girl, any girl!'
Carl reached out with numb fingers and touched one of the photographs." (page 176)
"Only dead fingers talk in braille." (page180)
"A thousand junkies storm the crystal spine clinics, cook down the Grey Ladies." (page 180)
"He had a paper napkin under his coffee cup -- mark of those who do a lot of sitting over coffee in the plazas, restaurants, terminals and waiting rooms of the world." (page 181)
"The Sailor spoke with his feeling voice that reassembles in your head, spelling out the words with cold fingers: 'Your connection is broken, kid.' " (page 182)
" 'You are Agent, mister?'
'I prefer the word vector.' His sounding laughter vibrated through the boy's substance." (page 182)
"The Sailer cradled something pink and vibrated out of focus." (page 183)
"He laid out the dropper, needle and spoon on a table covered with dirty dishes. But no roach antennae felt for the crumbs of darkness." (page 184)
"Every day, die a little. It takes up The Time." (page185)
"With that milk sugar shit? Junk is a one-way street. No U-Turn. You can't go back no more." (page 186)
"My present assignment: find the live ones and exterminate. Not the bodies, but the "molds," you understand -- but I forget that you cannot understand." (page 186)
"THE ALGEBRA OF NEED" (page 186)
"...carrying forms of survival..." (page 186)
"So 'Fats' learned to serve The Black Meat and grew a fat aquarium of body." (page 187)
"Two agents fuck atomic secrets back in forth in codes so complex only two physicists in the world pretend to understand it and each categorically denies the other. Later the receiving agent will be hanged, convict of the guilty possession of a nervous system, and play back the message in orgasmical spasms transmitted from electrodes to the penis." (page 188)
"The Gimp, cowboyed in the Waldorf, gives birth to a litter of rats. (Cowboy: New York hood talk means kill the mother fucker wherever you find him. A rat is a rat is a rat is a rat. Is an informer.)" (page 188)
"Melancholy Baby dies from an overdose of Time or cold turkey withdrawal of breath -- in Arabia -- Paris -- Mexico City -- New York -- New Orleans" (page 189)
"...the sudden silence of cities..." (page 189)
"A tea head leaps up screaming 'I got the fear!' and runs into Mexican night bringing down backbrains of the world. The Executioner shits in terror at the sight of the condemned man. The Torturer screams in the ear of his implacable victim. Knife fighters embrace in adrenalin. Cancer is at the door with a Singing Telegram." (page 189)
"When they walked in on me that morning at 8 o'clock, I knew it was my last chance, my only chance. But they didn't know. How could they? Just a routine pick-up. Not quite routine." (page 189)
"The smile stayed there too long, hideous and naked, the smile of an old painted pervert..." (page 191)
"O'Brien was sitting on the arm of a chair smoking an Old Gold, looking out the window with that dreamy what I'll do when I get my pension look." (page 192)
"He grunted in a way I could feel." (page 192)
"You can always find The Pusher. Your need conjures him up like a ghost." (page 193)
"Push your mind too hard, and it will fuck up like an overloaded switch-board, or turn on you like sabotage. And I had no margin for error. Americans have a special horror of giving up control, of letting things happen in their own way without interference. They would like to jump down into their stomachs and digest the food and shovel the shit out." (page 194)
"ATROPHIED PREFACE" (page 197)
"Talk paragoric, Sweet Thing, and I will hear." (page 197)
"Junkies tend to run together into one body." (page 198)
"There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing. I am a recording instrument. I do not presume to impose 'story' 'plot' 'continuity.' Insofar as I succeed in Direct recording of certain areas of psychic process I have limited function. I am not an entertainer." (page 200)
"Violation Public Health Law 334. Procuring an orgasm by the use of fraud." (page 204)
"The aging playboy dons his 1920 autograph slicker, feeds his screaming wife down the garbage disposal unit. Hair, shit, and blood spurt out 1963 on the wall. 'Yes sir, boys, the shit really hit the fan in '63,' said the tiresome old prophet can bore the piss out of you in any space-time direction." (page 205)
"We sniffed all night and made it four times. Fingers down the blackboard, scrape the white bone. Home is the heroin home from the sea and the hustler home from The Bill." (page 207)
"Read the metastasis with blind fingers.
Fossil message of arthritis." (page 210)
"Sucking terror from needle scars, underwater scream mouthing numb nerve warnings of the yen to come, throbbing bite site of rabies." (page 210)
"(Pieces of murder fall slow as opal chips through glycerine.)" (page 210)
"He looked at me through the tentatie, ectoplasmic flesh of cure. Thirty pounds materialized in a month when you kick. Soft punk putty that fades at the first silent touch of juink. I saw it happen. Ten pounds lost in ten minutes. Standing htere with the syringe in one hand, holding his pants up with the other; sharp reek of diseased metal.
Walking in a rubbish heap to the sky, scattered gasoline fires, smoke hangs black and solid as excrement in the motionless air smudging the white film of noon heat." (pages 211-212)
"Coming over a hill of rusty iron we meet a group of Natives. Flat two-dimension faces of scavenger fish.
'Throw the gasoline on them and light it.' " (page 212)
white flash . . . mangled insect screams . . .
I woke up with the taste of metal in my mouth back from the dead
trailing the colorless death smell
afterbirth of a whithered grey monkey
phantom twinges of amputation." (page 212)
" 'They are rebuilding the City. '
Lee nodded absently. 'Yes. Always.' " (page 212)
"Peyote (mescaline). -- This is undoubtedly a stimulant. It dilates the pupils, keeps one awake. Peyote is extremely nauseating. Users experience difficulty keeping it down long enough to realize the effect, which is similar, in some respects, to marijuana. There is increased sensitivity to impression, especially to colors. Peyote intoxication causes a peculiar vegetable consciousness or identification with the plant. Everything looks like a peyote plant. It is easy to understand why the Indians believe there is a resident spirit in the peyote cactus.
Overdose of peyote may lead to respiratory paralysis and death. I know of one case. There is no reason to belive that peyote is addicting." (page 229)
"Nutmeg. -- Convicts and sailors sometimes have recourse to nutmeg. About a tablespoon is swallowed with water. Results are vaguely similar to marijuana with side effects of headache and nausea. Death would probably supervene before addiction if such addiction is possible. I hae only taken nutmeg once." (page 231)
"Scopolamine has been used by the Russians as a confession drug with dubious results. The subject may be willing to reveal his secrets, but quite unable to remember them. Often cover story and secret information are inextricably garbled. I understand that mescaline has been very successful in extracting information from suspects." (page 232)