Naked Lunch: Wikis


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Naked Lunch  
First Edition 1959 Olympia, misprinted title
Author William S. Burroughs
Country France
Language English
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Olympia Press/Grove Press (US)
Publication date 1959
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
ISBN ISBN 9783548028439 (reprint)
OCLC Number 69257438

Naked Lunch (sometimes referred to as The Naked Lunch) is a novel by William S. Burroughs originally published in 1959.

The book was originally published with the title The Naked Lunch in Paris in July, 1959 by Olympia Press. Because of US obscenity laws,[1] a complete American edition (by Grove Press) did not follow until 1962. It was titled Naked Lunch and was substantially different from the Olympia Press edition, because it was based on an earlier 1958 manuscript in Allen Ginsberg's possession.[2]

The article "the" in the title was never intended by the author, but added by the editors of the Olympia Press 1959 edition.[3] Nonetheless The Naked Lunch remained the title used for the 1968 and 1974 Corgi Books editions, and the novel is often known by the alternative name, especially in the UK where these editions circulated.

The novel was included in Time magazine's "100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005".[4]

David Cronenberg released a film of the same title based upon the novel and other Burroughs writings in 1991.[5]



The book is structured as a series of loosely-connected vignettes. Burroughs himself stated that the chapters are intended to be read in any order.[6] The reader follows the narration of junkie William Lee, who takes on various aliases, from the US to Mexico, eventually to Tangier and the dreamlike Interzone. The vignettes (which Burroughs called "routines") are drawn from Burroughs' own experience in these places, and his addiction to drugs (heroin, morphine, and while in Tangier, "Majoun"—a strong marijuana confection—as well as a German opioid, brand name Eukodol, of which he wrote frequently).[7]

The manner in which the novel is written might induce the reader to see only part of the picture—as much as he wants to see. It often happens that something mentioned in the book reappears much later producing thus a series of intratextual relationships and echoes. This idea, relating to different perspectives within a larger picture, is itself a theme which runs throughout this book. The novel's mix of taboo fantasies, peculiar creatures (like the predatory Mugwumps, perhaps a reference to the Mugwump political movement although it is not clear), and eccentric personalities all serve to unmask mechanisms and processes of control, and have led to much controversy. By decentralizing the plot Burroughs produces a series of interrelated literal caricatures, satires, and parodies throughout the novel.

Explanation of the title

Burroughs states in his introduction that Jack Kerouac suggested the title. "The title means exactly what the words say: naked lunch, a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork."[8] In a June 1960 letter Jack Kerouac wrote to Allen Ginsberg saying he was pleased that Burroughs had credited him with the title but had not recently heard from him. He states in his letter that Ginsberg misread 'Naked Lust' from the manuscript, and only he noticed; that section of the manuscript later became Queer, although the phrase does not appear in either of the two final texts of the novel.[9]

Plot summary

Naked Lunch is a non-linear narrative that is difficult to describe in terms of plot. The following is just a summary of some of the events in the book that could be considered the most relevant.

The book begins with the adventures of William Lee (aka Lee the Agent) who is Burroughs' alter ego in the novel - as well as his pen name for Junky.[10] His journey starts in the US where he is fleeing the police, in search of drugs and his next fix. There are short chapters here describing the different characters he travels with and meets along the way.

Eventually he gets to Mexico where he is assigned to Dr. Benway; for what, he is not told. Benway appears and he tells about his previous doings in Annexia as a "Total Demoralizator". The story then moves to a state called Freeland—a form of limbo—where we learn of Islam Inc. Here, some new characters are introduced; Clem, Carl, Joselito amongst others.

A short section then jumps in space and time to a market place. The Black Meat is sold here and compared to 'Junk', i.e. morphine. The action then moves back to the hospital where Benway is fully revealed as a manipulative, uncaring and corrupt monster.

Time and space again shifts the narrative to a location known as Interzone. Hassan, one of the notable characters of the book and "a notorious liquefactionist," is throwing a violent orgy. AJ crashes the party and wreaks havoc, decapitating people and imitating a pirate. Hassan is enraged and tells AJ never to return, calling him a "factualist bitch" - a term which is enlarged much later when the apparently "clashing" political factions within Interzone are described. These include the Liquefactionists, the Senders, the Factualists, the Divisionists, who occupy "a midway position". A short descriptive section tells us of Interzone University, where a professor and his students are ridiculed; the book moves on to an orgy that AJ himself throws.

The book then shifts back to the market place and a description of some form of government. Characters including the County Clerk, Benway, Dr Berger, Clem and Jody are sketched through heavy dialogue and their own sub-stories.

After the description of the four parties of Interzone, we are then told more stories about AJ. After briefly describing Interzone, the novel breaks down into sub-stories and heavily cut-up influenced passages.

In a sudden return to what seems to be Lee's reality, two police officers, Hauser and O'Brien, catch up with Lee, who manages to kill both of them. Lee then goes out to a street phone-booth and calls the Narcotics Squad, saying he wants to speak to O'Brien. A Lieutenant Gonzales on the other end of the line claims there's no one in their records called O'Brien. When Lee asks for Hauser instead, the reply is identical; Lee hangs up, and goes on the run once again.

The book ends "No glot...C'lom fliday" (which is Chinese Pidgin English for "No got... come back Friday").[11]

Literary significance and reception

Naked Lunch is considered Burroughs' seminal work, and one of the landmark publications in the history of American literature. Extremely controversial in both its subject matter and its use of often 'obscene' language (something Burroughs recognized and intended), the book was banned in Boston and Los Angeles in the United States,[12][13] and several European publishers were harassed[14]. It was one of the most recent American books over which an obscenity trial was held. The book was banned by Boston courts in 1962 due to obscenity (notably child murder and acts of pedophilia), but that decision was reversed in 1966 by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.[15] This was significant, as it was the last major literary censorship battle in the U.S. The Appeals Court found the book did not violate obscenity statutes, as it was found to have some social value. The hearing included testimony in support of the work by Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer.[16]

Sections of the manuscript were published in the spring, 1958 number of Robert Creeley's Black Mountain Review[17] and in the spring 1958 University of Chicago student-run publication The Chicago Review. The student edition was not well received, and caused the university administration to discuss the future censorship of the Winter 1959 edition of the publication, resulting in the resignation of all but one of the editors.[18] When the editor Paul Carroll published BIG TABLE Magazine (Issue No. 1, Spring 1959)[19] alongside former Chicago Review editor Irving Rosenthal, he was found guilty of sending obscene material through the U.S. mail for including "Ten Episodes from Naked Lunch," a piece of writing the Judicial Officer for the United States Postal Service deemed "undisciplined prose, far more akin to the early work of experimental adolescents than to anything of literary merit" and initially judged it as non-mailable under the provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 1461.[20]

Upon publication, Grove Press added to the book supplementary material regarding the censorship battle as well as an article written by Burroughs on the topic of drug addiction. In 2002, a "restored text" edition of Naked Lunch was published with some new and previously suppressed material added.

On a more specific level, Naked Lunch also protests the death penalty. In Burroughs' Deposition: A Testimony Concerning A Sickness, perhaps the most shocking and pornographic section of the book, "The Blue Movies" (appearing in the vignette A.J.'s Annual Party) is deemed "a tract against capital punishment." Within "The Blue Movies," three adolescents take part in hanging one another, wherein Burroughs lewdly mocks by incorporating auto-erotic asphyxiation.

Using believable metaphors representing addiction to such things as, most notably heroin and control, along with medical practice such as Benway resorting to subway abortions after having his license revoked, and even homosexuality and WASP supremacy, Burroughs repudiates America's consumerist post-World War II state, and the overall human condition.

Allusions in other works

There have been many references to Naked Lunch in popular culture, the most notable of which are listed below.

  • The British science fiction magazine Interzone takes its name from the novel.
  • The band Steely Dan takes its name from a dildo featured in the book.
  • Alt-country band Clem Snide is named for a character in Naked Lunch.
  • The band Showbread titled one of their songs "Naked Lunch" in their 2006 release Age of Reptiles.
  • In the 1984 Alex Cox film, Repo Man, there is a hospital scene in which Dr. Benway and Mr. Lee are paged. The two are also paged in a hospital scene in the 1998 film Dark City.
  • The instrumental post-rock band Tortoise included a song entitled "Benway" on their 2001 album Standards.
  • The post-punk band Joy Division's debut album Unknown Pleasures featured a song called "Interzone."
  • In 2006, the British electronic band Klaxons released a track called "Atlantis to Interzone."
  • Sonic Youth included a full version of "Dr. Benway's House" on the 2005 deluxe edition of their 1990 album Goo. An excerpt of the track appears on Dead City Radio album.
  • On The Firesign Theatre album Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him, the track "Le Trente-Huit Cunegonde" features a story in which the 1960s counterculture has become mainstream, and a bomber drops a load of hardcover copies of Naked Lunch on the last "un-hip" stronghold in the world in Nigeria. The track features a character named Dr. Benway.
  • On the "Master Ninja I" episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel and his robot sidekicks show their newest invention: pop-up books based on classic literature. Crow tries to show his contribution, a pop-up version of Naked Lunch, but no one wants to open it.
  • The lyrics to Bomb the Bass' track "Bug Powder Dust" make numerous references to the novel.

Film adaptation

Ever since the 1960s, numerous film makers considered how to adapt Naked Lunch for the screen. Antony Balch, who worked with Burroughs on a number of short film projects in 1960s, considered making the film as a musical with Mick Jagger in the leading role, but the project fell through when relationships soured between Balch and Jagger.[21] [22] Others, too, wanted to bring the novel to celluloid, but it was ultimately deemed unfilmable.

It was not until 1991 that Canadian director David Cronenberg took up the challenge. Rather than attempt an adaptation of the novel, which as any adaptation could never be expected to be completely faithful to the original, Cronenberg took very few elements from the book and combined them with elements from Burroughs' own life, to create a fiction-biography hybrid and a film about the writing of the book and not about the book itself. The film, however, was presented and marketed as "Naked Lunch." Peter Weller starred as William Lee in this film, Lee being the pseudonym Burroughs used when he wrote Junky. Burroughs did not supply the voice of the typewriter. The voice of the mugwumps, typewriters and Exterminator #2 was provided by actor Peter Boretski.[23]


  1. ^ James Campbell, Exiled in Paris. University of California Press, 2003, p. 232. ISBN 0520234413
  2. ^ Burroughs, William S. Naked Lunch, the restored text edition, edited by James Grauerholtz and Barry Miles, 2001. Editors Notes, page 242
  3. ^ Burroughs, William S. Naked Lunch, the restored text edition, edited by James Grauerholtz and Barry Miles, 2001. Editors Notes, page 240
  4. ^ Time Top 100 Novels
  5. ^ Naked Lunch (1991)
  6. ^ Burroughs On Cutup
  7. ^ BBC Radio interviews with Burroughs
  8. ^ William S Burroughs, 'Naked Lunch', the restored text edition, edited by James Grauerholtz and Barry Miles, 2001. Page 199
  9. ^ Burroughs, William S. Naked Lunch, the restored text edition, edited by James Grauerholtz and Barry Miles, 2001. Editors Notes Page 235
  10. ^ Biography of Burroughs detailing the use of his pen name William Lee
  11. ^ From the novel:

    (Note: Old time, veteran Schmeckers—faces beaten by grey junk weather—will remember ... In 1920s a lot of Chinese pushers around found The West so unreliable, dishonest and wrong, they all packed in, so when an Occidental junky came to score, they say:
    "No glot ... C'lom Fliday...")

  12. ^ Timothy S. Murphy, Wising up the marks. University of California Press, 1997 p.67. ISBN 0520209516
  13. ^ William S. Burroughs, Naked lunch. Grove Atlantic Press, 1992, p. ix. ISBN 0802132952
    "The only other censorship action against the book outside the State of Massachusetts occurred in Los Angeles, where the novel was cleared of obscenity charges at a trial in 1965."
  14. ^ John Sutherland,Offensive literature: decensorship in Britain, 1960-1982. Rowman & Littlefield, 1983, p.57f. Girodias got an 80-year publishing ban, a 4-6 year sentence and a 29,000-pound fine.
  15. ^
  16. ^ testimony
  17. ^ William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch: The Restored Text. Grove Press, 2004, p. 239. ISBN 0802140181
  18. ^ Chicago Journal: 60-year Review
  19. ^ The Beat Generation in Print: The Literary Magazines
  20. ^ The Big Table court decision
  21. ^ - May 18 & 19: NAKED LUNCH
  22. ^ GETTING 'NAKED' ON SCREEN | David Cronenberg | Pop Culture News | News | Entertainment Weekly | 1
  23. ^ IMDb - Naked Lunch

External links

Simple English

Naked Lunch  
Author William S. Burroughs
Country France
Language English
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Olympia Press/Grove Press (US)
Make date 1959
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
ISBN ISBN 9783548028439 (reprint)

Naked Lunch (sometimes referred to as The Naked Lunch) is a novel by William S. Burroughs originally published in 1959. This is the third novel written by the Beat Generation writer, although only his second to be published.

The book was originally published with the title The Naked Lunch in Paris in 1959 by Olympia Press. An American edition by Grove Press followed soon after in 1962. The American edition was titled Naked Lunch and was different from the Olympia Press edition.

Time magazine included the novel in its "TIME" 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005".[1]


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