Wednesday, January 31, 2007

B is for Naked Lunch

All right ladies and gentlemen, if there be any among you. William S. Burroughs. I'm ashamed to say that until now I have actually not read anything by him. What indeed is up with that? And I call myself a Beat-lover. Let's see. If I were accused of being a Beat Generation devotee, would there be enough evidence to convict me?
  • I read On the Road as any disillusioned 18-year-old should, while traveling across the country (specifically, from Washington D.C. to Flagstaff, Arizona)
  • In Contemporary Poetry class sophomore year of college, I wrote my huge semester research paper/project on Allen Ginsberg and argued that he remained relevant (yes, I was a sophomore in college before he died) even if the beauty had to speak
  • "Hey, Jack Kerouac" was in fact my favorite song on 10,000 Maniacs' In My Tribe
  • I mourned when Allen died, even more than I'd mourned Jerry Garcia's death
  • To this day, I subscribe to the "Beat News You Can Use" e-newsletter, wherein I keep up on all the goings on of the folks who run the Beat Museum in San Francisco and regularly take the Beat-Mobile out on tour
  • I read Joyce Johnson's Minor Characters and even got my mother to read it
  • I've participated and won prizes in poetry slams
  • For god's sake, Douglas Brinkley's The Majic Bus and the likes of Ken Kesey are responsible for major life decisions of mine, and are the very reason I'm at Hofstra! Isn't that rather Beat-like of me?
  • I do quite often like to think of the best minds of my generation as starving and hysterical, although some of them should probably keep their clothes on.
And yet somehow Burroughs has fallen through my cracks. Well, this shall now be remedied as I eagerly devour my Naked Lunch (ISBN: 0-8021-4018-1).

Here's one thing that interests me even before page one. You know how lots of books' initial pages are filled with excerpts from the best reviews, the more prominent the paper the better? Well, while this one does include quotes from The New York Times ("booty brought back from a nightmare") , Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times Book Review, it's somehow more impressive to me that I find quote after praise-laden quote from some of the brilliant (albeit in a genius/madness kind of way) minds of the twentieth century: Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, Joan Didion, Anthony Burgess...

And I'll just say flat out, I'm not entirely sure I've done enough drugs to keep up with all the references in this book. Man, was Burroughs a fan of the opiates. This edition ("the restored text") includes additions by the author, including one "Letter From a Master Addict to Dangerous Drugs" he wrote in 1956. It's a very straightforward analysis of different drugs and his experience with addiction to or withdrawal from them. It's quite informative, actually; I found myself oddly entranced as he matter-of-factly explains why alcohol and prolonged sedation are terrible for curing opiate addiction, while anti-histamines are a bit better.

In the past few years, I have observed very closely from the sidelines as in more than one area of my life a person very close to someone close to me has struggled with heroin addiction. I daresay it's actually kind of creepy how in a matter of a few years I was faced time and again with people figuring quite prominently in my life who had a heroin addict figuring quite prominently in their lives. I learned a few things, but still feel on the whole rather ill-equipped to deal with such a mind-boggling, intense addiction.

This book is already interesting food for thought, and I'm still perusing prologue and addenda!

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