burroughs

Even more shocking than Naked Lunch’s sexual controversies are the raw, unfiltered images of drug abuse. These accounts are graphic and unabridged, made even more so due to the confessional element behind them. Naked Lunch was thought of, by its admirers, ‘an accurate account of the addict’s life, and had brought the truth back from hell’.[1] However, the most striking moments of drug use are not necessarily a factual account. The pin and dropper routine from The Rube vignette is first unnerving, dehumanising the user into a decaying apathy. This is immediately counteracted as satire; Burroughs follows the lengthy routine with his description of the ‘real scene’ (10). The first image is junk stripping the sense of human identity from a person.  A women’s body is described in a monstrous fashion; she seizes a safety pin caked with blood, before gouging a great hole in her leg, which hangs open ‘like an obscene, festering mouth’ (10), waiting for the dropper’s insertion. This is a quite literal demonstration of the concept of feeding opens habit. The wound is a decaying orifice, forced permanently open by her body’s constant need for junk. Her addiction is the mouth that never closes.

 

Burroughs’ demystification of this scene is very brief in comparison, stating simply that the user pinches some flesh, makes a quick hole before fitting the dropper over it. The juxtaposition between these routines is the contrast between, in Burroughs’ eyes, the institutional description of drug use, and the factual description. This is atypical of Burroughs; he displays the popular rhetoric and manipulates in a way that will best reveal its absurdity. He emulates the languages used in discussions against drug use, in order to ridicule it. In Meagan’s Wilson view, ‘Burroughs is satirizing the exaggerated style of anti-drug writing at the time’.[2] By contrasting the two routines together, the exaggerations of institutions are profound. Although the primary image is satire, this is the account of the routine that makes the lasting impression. As Whiting writes, the account ‘eroticizes the procedure and elicits touchstone affective responses to the monstrous – horror, disgust and fascination’.[3] This effect, however, can still be evaluative of the effect of anti-drug writings at the time. The embellished descriptions rely on shock value, creating gruesomely addictive images that permeate the reader’s brain. Recalling Naked Lunch’s pin and dropper routine evokes the anthropomorphism of a wound into a starving mouth, simultaneously devouring the junk and the woman’s flesh. The lasting impression is the putrefied wound; indicating how hyperbolic writings created a mass disdain of drug users.

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Bodies in Naked Lunch are often empty vessels. They are not controlled by the mind that inhabits them; instead they are home to a manipulation from outward forces, only invigorated through the control of another. This unwavering control strips them of any sort of identity: existing only to be repressed, they are only capable of their basic functions. The addicted body becomes essentially dead without the injection of junk, as this has becoming the living part. The process of injection is inflated, symbolised as the rejuvenation of life. Blood emerging at the moment of injection is considered to be ‘a red orchid (blooming) at the bottom of the dropper’ (36). The experience of living is synonymous with the experience of injection, ‘the days glide by strung on a syringe with a long thread of blood’ (36). Burroughs uses the days gliding past to demonstrate the omnipotence of addiction, and this is perhaps even more devastating than the decaying leg of the pin and dropper routine. Junk eliminates the awareness of, or the regard for, time. Addiction possesses bodies, creating a state of limbo that steals large portions of the addict’s life.  ‘Time jumps like a broken typewriter, the boys are old men’ (79) – awakening from the sickness, the addict has often forgotten large portions of their own existence. Validated in the Deposition appendix, he notes ‘most survivors do not remember the delirium in detail’ (99). The harshest consequence of addiction is not a decline in physical health, an idea that Burroughs’ refutes in Letter from a Master Addict, but the absence of several years of life from the addicted person’s consciousness, leaving them questioning ‘how many years threaded on a needle of blood?’ (81).

[1] Robin Lydenberg and Jennie Skerl, ‘Points of Intersection: An Overview of William S. Burroughs and His Critics’, in Skerl and Lydenberg, p. 9.

[2] Meagan Wilson, p. 103.

[3] Frederick Whiting, p. 164.