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Weird universe of William S. Burroughs

Weird universe of William S. Burroughs

On the last banned book in the U.S., literary career of William Burrough and his psychedelic novel, Naked Lunch, written in Morocco.

This paper is a hopeful attempt to analyse and decipher the man behind the enigmatic and delirious world of ´Naked Lunch´. Meet William Burrough, a troubled beatnik writer who in the late 1950's whilst portraying North Africa as a region full of beautiful fragrances and vibrant colours,  wrote a book without a clear plot and a non-linear narrative. 

¨- Have you ever taken cocaine?

- My God, yes! And a lot of it.

But only when I was addicted to heroin.¨

One late September 1951, during a party, William Burroughs offered his wife Joan a play. He took out a revolver whilst his wife timidly put a glass of unfinished drink on her head. Burroughs aimed accurately, then fired from two meters. The bad luck was that the glass was not broken. Startled, William realized after a moment that the bullet was stuck in the forehead of his wife, who fell dead in place. 


Years later whilst writing a foreword for a Queer magazine he says:¨ I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan's death, and to a realisation of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing."


Very suggestive, original, unusual, Naked Lunch is writing of heroin hallucinations.

Combining the novel's threads with the author´s own life resulted in an ambiguous, even shocking image. The truth is that Burroughs wrote his book in the midst of his narcotic addiction. It aroused the admiration of some and contempt of others, but it permanently entered the canon of American post-war literature. 

The key to understanding Naked Lunch is Burroughs himself. "Tall, strange and impenetrable, because he looks ordinary, like a shy bank clerk with the face of a patrician with narrow, pale lips": this is what Jack Kerouac, a representative of the beatnik generation, young artists wrote about him. He took everything: morphine, heroin, Dilaudid, Eukodal, Pantopon, Diocodid, Diosan, opium, Demerol, Dolofen, Palfium, introducing them into his body in all possible ways: orally, intravenously, intramuscularly, rectally. He despised psychedelics like LSD because he considered these drugs unworthy of real men. He took everything consciously, he was consciously addicted. Because of this he suffered, but also admitted that drug addiction was his inspiration.

His first novel, Junkie, is a record of grim states of consciousness. Naked lunch is an experimental novel, especially in terms of form. Burroughs cut the text into paragraphs, stuck them together in a different order, added fragments of other, foreign texts. It can be associated with the artistic collage of Dadaists and with surreal painting transferred into the sphere of the written word. 

Burroughs was not just a writer. He was also valued as a voice in many intellectual discussions on the border of sociology and philosophy. One of his most famous slogans was: "Language is a virus." Man is the only animal, Burroughs wrote, that trapped time. He imprisoned it thanks to the invention of the written word, which prevents the loss of knowledge: successive generations pass on accumulated information capital. It´s important to mention here that we at CPR, are not to promote or support the usage of drugs at all but have really chosen the novel to see how years ago Burrough was already writing about the virus. Not quite the virus we go through right now but early and unrecognized metaphor for the internet: 

“The word is now a virus. The flu virus may have once been a healthy lung cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the central nervous system. Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting sub-vocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word.”

Returning to the book, it also awaited its Hollywood recognition. "Nothing is true, everything is allowed," says the motto of David Cronenberg's film adaptation of the same title. Reality is connected with hallucination, truth mixes with falsehood. In the world of Interzone, narcotic delusions are not without real emotions. The hero of the film, played by Peter Weller, is a specialist in disinsection. It kills bugs by pounding kilograms of murderous powder between the furniture, slats and under the floor. This powder turns out to be a drug that everyone drugs and everyone is addicted to, including his corpse wife (Judy Davis) and himself ... I do not know if it makes sense to summarize the whole story, which is born from the narcoticdeliria of the main character.

The movie offers a wide range of narcotic nightmares born in the imagination of William Burroughs and David Cronenberg. It´s worth mentioning that under the influence of the cockroach poison, he sees a great worm revealing to him the secret about his wife, who turns out to be an Interzone agent. The investigation leads him to surprising solutions: his spouse does not turn out to be a spy, but not a woman (or a man), homosexual, worm, and finally a guard at the services of other, blond-haired worms (Julian Sands), raping in cages of young gays. That doesn't sound weird. It's pure paranoia of a captive mind.


Interzone is a land devoid of any rules, a distorted face of reality, a projection of a heroin mind and imagination. "Morality is nonsense," says Burroughs. Indeed, in the junkie world, moral principles are blurred and reevaluated. Surreal hallucinations all too often get on the paths trodden by emotional reality, and this is where the pain experienced by the drug addict lacks - the lack of awareness of where the boundary between reality and narcotic sleep lies. That is why Burroughs believed that words could control the human mind. Because words can organize the world, they can discover the values ​​of individual elements of the world. The drug will control the body, but the word, language is able to assemble any event in a sensible, true way, despite the delirious mood. Until the end of his days (he died August 2, 1997, he was 87 years old), Burroughs was an advocate of free, unrestricted access to drugs, which he considered a manifestation of freedom. And of course its source.


Text by Marta Marszalek 


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