Saturday, December 29, 2007

On the nod

Momentary freedom from the claims of the aging, cautious, nagging, frightened flesh

Several years ago, probably six or so, I bought William S. Burrough's novel Naked Lunch and failed pretty miserably to get anywhere with it. This Christmas my brother gave me the 50th anniversary edition of his first novel, Junky. I was not optimistic.

Despite my initial hesitation (I read the 30+ pages of introductory material in full just to delay actually having to deal with the text) I found Junky to be much more approachable (a serious understatement) than Naked Lunch. The novel reads for the most part like the twenty-five cent sensationalist paperback that it was, exploiting the public's desire to explore the seedier side of society and to become "hep" to the new underground jargon. It also, however, shows flashes of true narrative beauty and Burroughs' characterizations are some of the best that I have ever come across.

His face was lined with suffering in which his eyes did not participate. It was a suffering of his cells alone. He himself--the conscious ego that looked out of the glazed, alert-calm hoodlum eyes--would have nothing to do with this suffering of his rejected other self, a suffering of the nervous system, of flesh and viscera and cells.

There was something boneless about her, like a deep-sea creature. Her eyes were cold fish eyes that looked at you through a viscous medium she carried about with her. I could see those eyes in a shapeless, protoplasmic mass undulating over the dark sea floor.

He was simply the focal point for a hostile intrusive force. You could feel him walk right into your psyche and look around to see if anything was there he could make use of.

The conversations had a nightmare flatness, talking dice spilled in the tube metal chairs, human aggregates disintegrating in cosmic inanity, random events in a dying universe where everything is exactly what it appears to be, and no other relation that juxtaposition is possible.