So you get twenty or thirty pages into this book and you go WTF?! And you run to Google or Wikipedia, or maybe LibraryThing to see what you are supposed to think, because clearly you missed something. You’re not one of the chosen ones – the work doesn’t speak to you – you’re too thick to appreciate it – you skipped class that day . . .
So now you are online reading reviews, and you see words like: ‘groundbreaking,’ ‘visceral,’ ‘audacious,’ and ‘non-linear.’ Ahh, the reassuring authority of terms. That feels better! You go back to the book and keep trying, and for while you succeed in wearing the reverence you read online – for this writer whose beat words spew out like overripe fruit and broken glass, and which he glues to the page using every conceivable (and unfortunate) body fluid.
Your eyes glaze over at sentences promising temporary handholds of sense; you catch at the swirl of crude images and jumbled meanings that come and go like random bursts of machine gun fire. Clearly, some of the bullets are hitting you, though many fly past harmlessly. But the ones that connect. . . you begin to wonder what the hell they might be doing. Is there a subliminal agenda? Are you being corrupted by this book?
But maybe getting unhinged is not such a bad thing. And really, the book is not so long. . . you can stomach the uneasiness. Finally you settle into a pattern of reading one sentence after another – dubiously and a little mechanically – like a puzzled arts patron given a one inch window to move randomly over a Jackson Pollock canvas. This task is not easy. You just wish the words would all shout their meanings at once – discarding the sequential – so you can hear it as one grand howl of pain and confusion.
And you start thinking about the metaphor of the canvas; and maybe just standing speechless in front of it is OK. And finally, Burroughs tells you at the end to start anywhere in the book. (“Gee, thanks!”) All of which underlies the suspicion that this book doesn’t even exist while you are reading it, that it coalesces into a book sometime after you finish, and to say you “read” it is to say that you remember pieces of a confusing and relentless pipe dream.
Naked Lunch: The Restored Text, by William S. Burroughs
Written in 1959, before most of us learned to eat Cap’n Crunch, drink Nestle’s Quick or recite from II Corinthians. Culturally relevant, it might be worth the experience if you are up for it. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
* Repackaged from a review submitted on LibraryThing.com. (Hint for the clueless: this is a tour of an addict’s brain.)