Naked Lunch (novel)

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Naked Lunch is a literary work by the American writer William S. Burroughs . It was first published in France in 1959 by Olympia Press . Naked Lunch is considered to be Burroughs' main work and is one of the most important literary documents of the Beat Generation .


The book was written between 1956 and 1958 in the Tangier International Zone , where Burroughs had lived since 1954. After overcoming his twelve-year heroin addiction , he instead consumed significant amounts of alcohol and cannabis on a daily basis and, under the influence of these substances, wrote a large number of literary texts in an almost automatic writing . Various Beat Generation authors, with whom he was in lively correspondence, visited him in 1957 to make the material editable, but Jack Kerouac got nightmares and withdrew from editorial work. Allen Ginsberg , his lover Peter Orlovsky and the poet Alan Ansen finally put together a 200-page manuscript, which Burroughs sent to the Parisian publisher Olympia Press, which specializes in erotic literature .

Content and style

The generic term `` Roman '' that is usually given is misleading. These are disparate recordings of real experiences, hallucinations and fantasies that are not connected by a continuous thread of action. The text deals with the subject of control in an unconventional and radical manner . Burroughs paints his obsessions from about executions of young men by hanging , which when broken neck ejaculate , secret agents , extraterrestrial organizations and conspiracies of cosmic dimensions and real and imaginary drugs with enormous potential for addiction as Mugwump jism that from the meat giant centipede is obtained. It is told partly in the style of the " hardboiled " crime novels , which Burroughs already used in his first novel Junky (1953), partly in so-called routine , short, apparently improvised narrative passages of satirical or grotesquely exaggerated character. The language is often the slang of drug addicts and homosexuals, in its laconic form it often appears cruel and funny at the same time . The bizarrely inhuman figure of “Dr. Benway ”, which has several appearances, can be understood as a reminiscence of the phantasies of evil doctors that are typical in phases of heroin withdrawal.


The novel caused a scandal when it appeared and was initially banned in a 1965 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court . The verdict said: "A disgusting poison breath of uninterrupted perversion, literary scum". In 1966 the ban was lifted in a court case.

Naked Lunch was initially not reviewed at all . It was only after a new edition by the prestigious New York publisher Grove Press in 1962 that literary criticism took notice of the work. The New York Times put its author in a row with Jonathan Swift , Alfred Jarry and Jean Genet , Newsweek called it “a masterpiece, albeit a completely insane and anarchic one”, the New York Herald Tribune interpreted the book in an existentialist way : It reduces the essential absurdity of life in a "series of light flashes from cruel and often meaningless charades ." The Time magazine took Naked Lunch in its list of the hundred best English-language novels since 1,923th

Paul Bowles called Burroughs "the greatest American humorist " after reading Naked Lunch , his biographer Barry Miles praised the social criticism implied in the book as "insightful" and "shockingly prophetic". The literary scholar Jörg Drews calls Naked Lunch “one of the great literary documents of being trapped in a state of inhumane lack of will and liberation from it”. It is a thoroughly moral book.

The work, which for a long time was considered unfilmed, was freely adapted in 1991 by David Cronenberg under the title Naked Lunch - Nackter Rausch .

Individual evidence

  1. Michael Köhler (Ed.): Burroughs. A picture biography. Text by Carl Weissner . Nishen, Berlin 1994, p. 54 ff.
  2. ^ Jörg Drews : Naked Lunch . In: Kindlers Literature Lexicon . Paperback edition, dtv, Munich 1986, vol. 8, p. 6590.
  3. ^ Toby Elias: Burroughs, William S. In: Peter Knight: (Ed.): Conspiracy Theories in American History. To Encyclopedia . ABC Clio, Santa Barbara, Denver and London 2003, Vol. 1, pp. 147 f.
  4. ^ Jörg Drews: Naked Lunch . In: Kindlers Literature Lexicon . Paperback edition, dtv, Munich 1986, vol. 8, p. 6590.
  5. a b Booklet of the Naked Lunch DVD, Arthaus Collection ( Memento from March 9, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  6. Barry Miles : William Burroughs. El hombre invisibile. Hyperion, New York 1992, p. 106.
  7. ^ Richard Lacayo: Naked Lunch ., January 8, 2010, accessed January 15, 2016.
  8. Barry Miles: William Burroughs. El hombre invisibile. Hyperion, New York 1992, pp. 107 and 102 f.
  9. ^ Jörg Drews: Naked Lunch . In: Kindlers Literature Lexicon . Paperback edition, dtv, Munich 1986, vol. 8, p. 6591.