Friday, June 10, 2011

Naked Lunch: The Restored Text by William S. Burroughs

Naked Lunch: The Restored Text
by William S. Burroughs
Read by Mark Bramhall
Produced by Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2009)
Approx 10.5 hours

Every so often I have to go back and revisit a classic novel, this time around I was going to listen to “Naked Lunch” by William S. Burroughs, but I found that there had been a restored text version released which contains sections that were thought to be lost as well as some additional essays by Burroughs. I remember last time I tried to read this I couldn't quite get through the whole book. There were and still are parts that are extremely disturbing. Burroughs wrote the better part of this book while addicted to heroin and living in Tangiers. The stories/segments really display the torn state of consciousness he must have been experiencing.

The book starts out fairly straight forward in which a junkie (Burroughs) runs from the police in New York City and heads off across the country to escape and score more drugs. His adventures take us to Mexico City, Tangiers and into a alternate reality location referred to as “the Interzone.” Once he arrives in Mexico things get really weird when he meets up with Dr. Benway. By weird I mean really blow your mind type of weird. The descriptions of junkies using drugs in the not so “normal” way and even taking drugs that are way beyond the norm border on the disgusting. The weirdness hits when the author takes the reader/listener overseas and sexual deviancy becomes extremely disturbing. I did have to stop listening to this book at times just to clear my mind of the vivid imagery created by Burroughs.

At this point I would like to talk about the reader/Narrator, Mark Bramhall. Bramhall delivers this audiobook with absolute vocal perfection. His raspy voice is strangely soothing and yet some of the stuff he describes are over the top. His ability to do separate voices for each of the characters is worthy of applause not only because of the vocal gymnastics needed but also because of the ability to expose the characters through his voice alone. I'm gonna be looking for more audiobooks voiced by Bramhall, because he is just that good.

This novel presents a glimpse into the emerging counter cultures of the 1950s and gives interesting insights into how these forces effect the ongoing development of modern society. In one of the essays that Burroughs wrote in the early 60s, Burroughs continues this glimpse by further exploring the idea of treating addicts. His essay should be read by anyone involved in today's “War on Drugs.” The book was written in a non-linear fashion, in that the reader could pick up and start reading any chapter in the book and not lose the form of the storyline. I found it very interesting that the book ends exactly where it starts with the junkie running away from the cops. The story was brought full circle and at no point did I realize it was headed this way.

As for the historical significance of the book here is some of the information I found. The book is extremely controversial in both its subject matter and its use of obscene language (something Burroughs recognized and intended), the book was banned in Boston and Los Angeles in the United States, and several European publishers were harassed. It was one of the most recent American books over which an obscenity trial was held. The book was banned in Boston in 1962 due to obscenity, but that decision was reversed in 1966 by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The Appeals Court found the book did not violate obscenity statutes, as it was found to have some social value. The hearing included testimony in support of the work by Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer.

Sections of the manuscript were published in the spring, 1958 number of Robert Creeley's Black Mountain Review and in the spring 1958 University of Chicago student-run publication The Chicago Review. The student edition was not well received, and caused the university administration to discuss the future censorship of the Winter 1959 edition of the publication, resulting in the resignation of all but one of the editors. When the editor Paul Carroll published BIG TABLE Magazine alongside former Chicago Review editor Irving Rosenthal, he was found guilty of sending obscene material through the U.S. mail for including "Ten Episodes from Naked Lunch," a piece of writing the Judicial Officer for the United States Postal Service deemed "undisciplined prose, far more akin to the early work of experimental adolescents than to anything of literary merit" and initially judged it as non-mailable.

If you do chose to pick up this book I will warn you, reality will be altered and no matter who you are you will be disturbed.

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