This is the definitive Burroughs book. It slips and slides and glides through alleyways and canals of madness, degradation and perversion, ending up nowhere. It’s sick and very, very clever.
Rather than try to describe this book, I’d rather just show you a typical and very funny excerpt about Bradley the Buyer. The philosophical meaning of addiction was a big theme for Burroughs and he plays well on the theme here. The notion of a narc as the slippery flip-side of a junkie calls to mind Kafka’s portrait of the penal bureaucrat as the obsessive torture fanatic in “The Penal Colony”. But the gangster-film schtick and other comic touches are what makes the piece totally special. All of ‘Naked Lunch’ is not as electric as this, but that’s okay.
Burroughs did not seem to have planned ‘Naked Lunch’ as a single book. He wrote much of the raw material as separate scraps while living in Tangier during the mid-fifties, while his friends were finally becoming famous in America. When Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg visited him in Tangier they encouraged him to put the pieces together and try to get it published. Kerouac came up with the title. Olympia Press, the controversial Parisian publisher run by Maurice Girodias published the first edition in 1959 (Olympia Press took a chance on many controversial books, and Girodias shows up as a character in the film “I Shot Andy Warhol”). The book took a little while before it got noticed, and didn’t really become a sensation until the early 60’s, when Burroughs began making appearances to publicize it.
A movie called ‘Naked Lunch’ was directed by David Cronenberg in 1991; it was not so much a film of the book (which is non-linear in structure) as a treatment of Burroughs’ life story.