Wednesday

Naked Lunch (1959)


[Naked Lunch (Olympia Press edition)]

William Burroughs
Naked Lunch (1959)




Extract:

HASSAN'S RUMPUS ROOM

Gilt and red plush. Rococo bar backed by pink shell. The air is cloyed with a sweet evil substance like decayed honey. Men and women in evening dress sip pousse-caf├ęs through alabaster tubes. A Near East Mugwump sits naked on a bar stool covered in pink silk. He licks warm honey from a crystal goblet with a long black tongue. His genitals are perfectly formed - circumcised cock, black shiny pubic hairs. His lips are thin and purple-blue like the lips of a penis, his eyes blank with insect calm. The Mugwump has no liver, maintaining himself exclusively on sweets. Mugwump push a slender blond youth to a couch and strip him expertly.

"Stand up and turn around," he orders in telepathic pictographs. He ties the boy's hands behind him with a red silk cord. "Tonight we make it all the way."

"No, no!" screams the boy.

"Yes. Yes."

Cocks ejaculate in silent "yes." Mugwump part silk curtains, reveal a teak wood gallows against lighted screen of red flint. Gallows is on a dais of Aztec mosaics.

The boy crumples to his knees with a long "OOOOOOOOH," shitting and pissing in terror. He feels the shit warm between his thighs. A great wave of hot blood swells his lips and throat. His body contracts into a foetal position and sperm spurts hot into his face. The Mugwump dips hot perfumed water from alabaster bowl, pensively washes the boy's ass and cock, drying him with a soft blue towel. A warm wind plays over the boy's body and the hairs float free. The Mugwump puts a hand under the boy's chest and pulls him to his feet. Holding him by both pinioned elbows, propels him up the steps and under the noose. He stands in front of the boy holding the noose in both hands.

The boy looks into Mugwump eyes blank as obsidian mirrors, pools of black blood, glory holes in a toilet wall closing on the Last Erection.

An old garbage collector, face fine and yellow as Chinese ivory, blows The Blast on his dented brass horn, wakes the Spanish pimp with a hard-on. Whore staggers out through dust and shit and litter of dead kittens, carrying bales of aborted foetuses, broken condoms, bloody Kotex, shit wrapped in bright color comics.

A vast still harbor of iridescent water. Deserted gas well flares on the smoky horizon. Stink of oil and sewage. Sick sharks swim through the black water, belch sulphur from rotting livers, ignore a bloody, broken Icarus. 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!!" He plummets from the eyeless lighthouse, kissing and jacking off in face of the black mirror, glides oblique down with cryptic condoms and mosaic of a thousand newspapers through a drowned city of red brick to settle in black mud with tin cans and beer bottles, gangsters in concrete, pistols pounded flat and meaningless to avoid short-arm inspection of prurient ballistic experts. He waits the slow striptease of erosion with fossil loins.

The Mugwump slips the noose over the boy's head and tightens the knot caressingly behind the left ear. The boy's penis is retracted, his balls tight. He looks straight ahead breathing deeply. The Mugwump sidles around the boy goosing him and caressing his genitals in hieroglyphs of mockery. He moves in behind the boy with a series of bumps and shoves his cock up the boy's ass. He stands there moving in circular gyrations.

The guests shush each other, nudge and giggle.

Suddenly the Mugwump pushes the boy forward into space, free of his cock. He steadies the boy with hands on the hip bones, reaches up with his stylized hieroglyph hands and snaps the boy's neck. A shudder passes through the boy's body. His penis rises in three great surges pulling his pelvis up, ejaculates immediately.

Green sparks explode behind his eyes. A sweet toothache pain shoots through his neck down the spine to the groin, contracting the body in spasms of delight. His whole body squeezes out through his cock. A final spasm throws a great spurt of sperm across the red screen like a shooting star.

The boy falls with soft gutty suction through a maze of penny arcades and dirty pictures.

A sharp turd shoots clean out of his ass. Farts shake his slender body. Skyrockets burst in green clusters across a great river. He hears the faint put-put of a motor boat in jungle twilight .... Under silent wings of the anopheles mosquito.

The Mugwump pulls the boy back onto his cock. The boy squirms, impaled like a speared fish. The Mugwump swings on thc boy's back, his body contracting in fluid waves. Blood flows down the boy's chin from his mouth, half-open, sweet, and sulky in death. The Mugwump falls with a fluid, sated plop.

– William Burroughs, Naked Lunch. 1959. Introduction by J. G. Ballard (London: Flamingo, 1993): 68-70.





Critical Responses:

""Undisciplined prose, far more akin to the early work of experimental adolescents than to anything of literary merit." - the Judicial Officer for the United States Postal Service.

"The title means exactly what the words say: naked lunch, a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork." - William Burroughs.


Naked Lunch (1977)
directed by David Cronenberg
screenplay by David Cronenberg
starring Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands & Roy Scheider


Quotes:

Hank: See, you can't rewrite, 'cause to rewrite is to deceive and lie, and you betray your own thoughts. To rethink the flow and the rhythm, the tumbling out of the words, is a betrayal, and it's a sin, Martin, it's a sin.

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Bill Lee: Exterminate all rational thought. That is the conclusion I have come to.

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[Joan Lee is explaining the joys of injecting oneself with insecticide]
Bill Lee: What do you mean, "it's a literary high"?
Joan Lee: It's a Kafka high. You feel like a bug.

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Bill Lee: I guess it's about time for our William Tell routine.

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Hans: Mr. Lee is curious about the Frost couple. He would like to meet them.
Kiki: I think the woman would have sex with you, Mr. Lee. The man, he only likes Interzone boys.
Bill Lee: I don't want to fuck 'em, I just want to talk to 'em.
Hans: You know how Americans are, Kiki. They all love to travel, and then they only want to meet other Americans and talk about how hard it is to get a decent hamburger.

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Tom Frost: They say you murdered your wife. Is that true?
Bill Lee: Who told you that?
Tom Frost: Word gets around.
Bill Lee: It wasn't murder. It was an accident.
Tom Frost: There are no accidents. For example, I've been killing my own wife slowly over a period of years.
Bill Lee: What?
Tom Frost: Well, not intentionally. I mean, on the level of conscious intention, it's insane, monstrous.
Bill Lee: But you do consciously know it. You just said it. We're discussing it.
Tom Frost: Not consciously. This is all happening telepathically, non-consciously.
Bill Lee: What do you mean?
Tom Frost: If you look carefully at my lips, you'll realize that I'm actually saying something else. I'm not actually telling you about the several ways I'm gradually murdering Joan.

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Bill Lee: I understood writing could be dangerous. I didn't realize the danger came from the machinery.

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Bill Lee: America is not a young land. It is old and dirty, evil. Before the settlers, before the Indians, the evil is there, waiting.

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Tom Frost: No American should find himself in a foreign land without a pistol.

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Exterminator #2: Just remember this. All agents defect, and all resisters sell out. That's the sad truth, Bill. And a writer? A writer lives the sad truth like anyone else. The only difference is, he files a report on it.

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Doctor Benway: We get a lot of you folks in the extermination business. You better tell this friend of yours to get off the bug powder, it'll kill him.
Bill Lee: How do I get him to kick?
Doctor Benway: Kick?
Bill Lee: How do I get him off it?

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Doctor Benway: You'll see how elegantly this works. The black will disappear completely. There'll be no smell, no discoloration. It's like an agent, an agent who's come to believe his own cover story. But who's in there, hiding, in a larval state. Just waiting for a time to hatch out.

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Bill Lee: Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his ass to talk? His whole abdomen would move up and down you dig farting out the words. It was unlike anything I had ever heard. This ass talk had sort of a gut frequency. It hit you right down there like you gotta go. You know when the old colon gives you the elbow and it feels sorta cold inside, and you know all you have to do is turn loose? Well this talking hit you right down there, a bubbly, thick stagnant sound, a sound you could smell. This man worked for a carnival you dig, and to start with it was like a novelty ventri-liquist act. Real funny, too, at first. He had a number he called The Better Ole that was a scream, I tell you. I forget most of it but it was clever. Like, "Oh I say, are you still down there, old thing?" "Nah I had to go relieve myself." After a while the ass start talking on its own. He would go in without anything prepared and his ass would ad-lib and toss the gags back at him every time. Then it developed sort of teeth-like little raspy in-curving hooks and start eating. He thought this was cute at first and built an act around it, but the asshole would eat its way through his pants and start talking on the street, shouting out it wanted equal rights. It would get drunk, too, and have crying jags nobody loved it and it wanted to be kissed same as any other mouth. Finally it talked all the time day and night, you could hear him for blocks screaming at it to shut up, and beating it with his fist, and sticking candles up it, but nothing did any good and the asshole said to him Its you who will shut up in the end. Not me. Because we dont need you around here any more. I can talk and eat AND shit. After that he began waking up in the morning with a transparent jelly like a tadpoles tail all over his mouth. This jelly was what the scientists call un-D.T., Undifferentiated Tissue, which can grow into any kind of flesh on the human body. He would tear it off his mouth and the pieces would stick to his hands like burning gasoline jelly and grow there, grow anywhere on him a glob of it fell. So finally his mouth sealed over, and the whole head would have have amputated spontaneous - except for the EYES you dig. Thats one thing the asshole COULDN'T do was see. It needed the eyes. But nerve connections were blocked and infiltrated and atrophied so the brain couldnt give orders any more. It was trapped in the skull, sealed off. For a while you could see the silent, helpless suffer-ing of the brain behind the eyes, then finally the brain must have died, because the eyes WENT OUT, and there was no more feeling in them than a crab's eyes on the end of a stalk.

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Creature Voices: Say, Bill. Would you rub some of this powder on my lips?

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Creature Voices: Now, repeat after me: "Homosexuality is the best all-round cover an agent ever had."

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Tom Frost: Don't fuck with me, Lee. WHERE'S MY TYPEWRITER?

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Bill Lee: Go see the fucking parrots, Kiki.

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Yves Cloquet: I've seen you around, but I had no idea you were queer.
Bill Lee: Queer?
Yves Cloquet: [leers] I saw you arrive with those three Interzone boys. What an entrance. You all looked very... familiar with each other.
Bill Lee: [gulps] Queer. A curse. Been in our family for generations. The Lees have always been perverts. I shall never forget the unspeakable horror that froze the lymph in my glands when the baneful word seared my reeling brain - I was a homosexual. I thought of the painted simpering female impersonators I'd seen in a baltimore nightclub. Could it be possible I was one of those subhuman things? I walked the streets in a daze like a man with a light concussion. I would've destroyed myself. And then a wise old queen - Bobo, we called her - taught me that I had a duty to live and bear my burden proudly for all to see. Poor Bobo came to a sticky end - he was riding in the Duke Devanche's Hispano Suissa when his falling hemorrhoids blew out of the car and wrapped around the rear wheel. He was completely gutted leaving an empty shell sitting there on the giraffe skin upholstry. Even the eyes and the brain went with a horrible "shlupping" sound. The duke says he would carry that ghastly "shlup" with him to his mausoleum.

Critical Responses:

"Movies in the last years have become more uniform, more streamlined, particularly in the US. As a result, the film market is full of sleek, entertaining movies that the whole world goes to see, but these movies have nothing but harmless baby teeth. Fortunately, people like Lynch or Cronenberg still do movies that may be considered defective by most people, but that bite into the flesh with pointy canines. The Naked Lunch has very sharp teeth indeed. It's supposed to be an adaptation from a William Burrough's book, which doesn't make sense anyway. It starts as the story of a failed writer whose wife becomes addicted to an insecticide powder... It goes downhill after this relatively sane and normal beginning. It's a ride, a drug-induced nightmare full of horribly funny visions (the sort of visions that artists used centuries ago to represent hell). Anuses talk. Aliens sip alcohol in bars. People get impaled. Typewriters turn into bugs. Liquids ooze. You may say it's flawed, or disgusting, or ridiculous, or boring. I saw it with someone who absolutely hated it. But the fact that this person still keeps talking about it 8 years after seeing it says a lot about the Naked Lunch, at a time when we tend to forget blockbusters a few hours after watching them. The Naked Lunch is here - in your mind - to stay." - Internet Movie Database.


[Naked Lunch (1992)]

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