Saturday, 28 May 2011

Naked Lunch - William Burroughs

William Burroughs made notes during his journey to the otherworld that is Interzone and when he returned he formed them into a novel (for who would believe it was non-fiction?). In doing so, he created one of the most influential pieces of writing in the second half of the twentieth century. And it is influential not just in literary terms, but culturally in general, socially, and morally.

It is far too complex a text to treat properly in this form. A few paragraphs could say very little other than the fact that Burroughs taught a whole generation how to write anew, how to make music anew, how to view the world anew. For the breadth of his influence on a generation one need only look at the number of bands that have taken names from this and other books by him.

Yet this influence derived not so much from someone creating everything anew for themselves, rather it sprang from Burroughs honesty about the world he inhabited and an honesty in the way in which he recorded it. He drew on his experience (hence his insistence on writing what you know). The language and ideas come from the people he mixed with and the pulp literature of the day, much of the best of which also drew directly from the street.

Burroughs’ genius lay in the way in which he drew all that together, not just with honesty but with a vibrant prose and equally vibrant style that allows the reader to experience the hallucinatory weirdness of the world from the perspective of someone who gives not the slightest fuck about social, cultural, or literary mores.

The book still shocks and offends some (perhaps most) people. If there is shock and outrage it should be that our world is such that people feel the need to use drugs and gratuitous sex as an escape. Unfortunately, the outrage is often because someone has dared to expose the world for what it is.

All that aside, this is blistering writing: uncompromising, dark, and often very beautiful.