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am 12. Juli 1999
Naked Lunch is, for better or worse, the key to most people's experience of Burroughs' writing. And they either love it or hate it. Most people I talk to say they couldn't get through it, and this is easy to understand. What is it about this book that people keep talking about it?
So NL was/is a revolutionary book, and reading it for the first time can be a fireworks experience. At the same time it must be admited that the writing is uneven - since everything was so new, he and his fellow editors could hardly tell what to keep and what to discard. NL is like visiting a genetics lab before they've had a chance to throw out all the failures.
Naked Lunch is a record of a Burroughs' writing break-through. He started trying to write another Junky (see NL's first chapter) and ends up trying to destroy language (the cut-ups he slips into the end of the book - contrary to common belief, NL is not a "cut-up" book in the sense of the technique Burroughs later employed).
My own advice to first-time readers is to skip or skim the first chapter, which drags and creates a wrong impression of the rest of the book. Thereafter you should read as the mood takes you, receiving the writing as a series of darkly-humorous skits, lectures and moods.
It's perfectly valid to just dip into the book anywhere, and read for as long as the mood holds you. The structure Burroughs' originally planned for this book was disposed of in the final edit, and the published version is almost completely random. The book may also be a little disconcerting because of its period - a lot of the satires and characters relate specifically to the repressive USA of the late 1950's, and many of these archetypes are now extinct.
Finally, it's important to remember what came after the revolution - Naked Lunch was only the beginning. The 1960's saw his strangest period - the "cut-ups" - when he pursued his destructive/creative technique as a philosophy, and pushed it beyond all rational limits. The 1970's and 80's saw another revolution - the return to narrative, in a distinctly Burroughs way, and a refinement and enrichment of his style. Some would consider his finest writing to be in these later works.