Book Review: Naked Lunch: The Restored Text by William S. Burroughs


Naked Lunch: The Restored Text by William S. Burroughs – Available Here

Sanguine poetry dressed in the sex and suffering of addiction.

That’s how I wish I could describe Naked Lunch.

Addiction is horrifying. Worse than any disease, more debilitating than any ordinary suffering, it is the surrender of one’s identity to a single moment of weakness.

This is something else entirely. If this is an exploration of addiction it is one bogged and beaten by iconoclastic vulgarity that is so meant to be offensive I can hardly believe this was ever taken seriously as a piece of literary anything. It is violence without end, it is torture, a one-man battalion against a social conservatism that threatened to stagnate and rot if not kicked squarely in the teeth.


Stick it to the man. You defied the conventions of art in the 1950s, managed to create and defend a book so we as a nation never had to deal with federal censorship in the name of what constitutes ‘art’. Thank yous all around. I understand its importance, but without something truly human hiding behind the occasional fits of poetics that streak the pages like so much used tissue, it feels like I’m dealing with someone who plays with the idea of homosexuality with the low-handed relish of a 13 year old boy. Less uncovering society’s hang ups and more like juvenile edginess.

Most of the book is simply a swarm of shit, semen, and obscenity. Depraved sex without context. And I don’t care. Once you’ve smeared shit across a perfectly white canvas you can’t expect me to care with you opt to change the shade ever so slightly. End of the day, I’m less interested in your work and more concerned about how you managed to collect so many differently hued bags.

Are they pure shit? Is one mixed with food dye and rosemary? Did you follow around a mother and her newborn child with a paper bag? Did they not show any concern at all about your obsession with the child’s waste?

Okay, I’ve overstretched the metaphor. I’m done with it.

I suppose one can call this a ‘journal’ of addiction. I suppose I don’t know what else to call it. It’s not a novel, mainly a loose configuration of obscenity laid in front of you like someone who completely missed the point of literature beyond the bit about self indulgence. It is literary curiosity. Calling it ‘honest’ would be as strange an ill-fitting as the book itself.

This book is anti-thetical to the way my brain works. It is an unrelenting, manic typographical horror showing an unregulated portrait of something that might be addiction.That’s not enough for me. I demand order. A sense of purpose. ‘Just because’ simply isn’t good enough. Art is hard. It is its own suffering. Give me Hunter S. Thompson. Something with a fleeing madness that at least has a passing appreciation with flow and a semblance of cohesion.

I buy the essays, what I don’t buy is the book itself. Something written on junk isn’t necessary an expose of the disease, it is simply a book written while on junk.

“Naked Mr. America, burning frantic with self bone love, screams out: “My asshole confounds the Louvre! I fart ambrosia and shit pure gold turds! My cock spurts soft diamonds in the morning sunlight!” ― William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

About Tietsu

Someday the words that fill my brain will fill cheap paperback books. Until then, I will collect them here.
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