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"He was," as Salon's Gary Kamyia notes, "20th-century drug culture's Poe, its Artaud, its Baudelaire. He was the prophet of the literature of pure experience, a phenomenologist of dread.... Burroughs had the scary genius to turn the junk wasteland into a parallel universe, one as thoroughly and obsessively rendered as Blake's." Why has this homosexual ex-junkie, whose claim to fame rests entirely on one book--the hallucinogenic ravings of a heroin addict--so seized the collective imagination? Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch in a Tangier, Morocco, hotel room between 1954 and 1957. Allen Ginsberg and his beatnik cronies burst onto the scene, rescued the manuscript from the food-encrusted floor, and introduced some order to the pages. It was published in Paris in 1959 by the notorious Olympia Press and in the U.S. in 1962; the landmark obscenity trial that ensued served to end literary censorship in America. Burroughs's literary experiment--the much-touted "cut-up" technique--mirrored the workings of a junkie's brain. But it was junk coupled with vision: Burroughs makes teeming amalgam of allegory, sci-fi, and non-linear narration, all wrapped in a blend of humor--slapstick, Swiftian, slang-infested humor. What is Naked Lunch about? People turn into blobs amidst the sort of evil that R. Crumb, in the decades to come, would inimitably flesh out with his dark and creepy cartoon images. Perhaps the most easily grasped part of Naked Lunch is its America-bashing, replete with slang and vitriol. Read it and see for yourself. Since its original publication in Paris in 1959, Naked Lunch has become one of the most important novels of the 20th century. Exerting its influence on the work of authors like Thomas Pynchon, J. G. Ballard, and William Gibson, on the relationship of art and obscenity, and on the shape of music, film, and media generally, it is one of the books that redefined not just literature but American culture. Now, nearly forty years after the book's first U.S. appearance, Burroughs scholar Barry Miles and Burroughs's longtime editor James Grauerholz have given us an edition of the book which includes many editorial corrections to errors present in the existing text, and incorporates Burroughs's notes on the text, several essays he wrote over the years about the book, and, most excitingly, an appendix of twenty percent new material and alternate drafts from the original manuscript, which predates the edition eventually was published by Olympia Press in Paris. For the Burroughs enthusiast and the neophyte, this volume is a valuable and fresh experience of perhaps his most enduring artistic legacy.
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