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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 421

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Naked Lunch was Burroughs’ first major publication. As a result of this book he was immediately recognized, in the words of American author Norman Mailer, as a writer truly possessed by genius. Much has been written on Burroughs, including commentaries by other famous writers such as Thomas Pynchon, J. G. Ballard, and Angela Carter. The novel occupies a place in the categories of science fiction and fantasy, but not in a generic way. It is a fantasy novel primarily because it engages readers in a fantasy in which any kind of world, or combination of worlds, is always possible. Authors of cyberpunk fiction have cited the novel as being a major influence. Burroughs is considered as one of a group of writers known as the Beat Generation, which included other American authors such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Dianne Di Prima. Although Burroughs occupies a somewhat marginal position in the academy, he has achieved a large cult following.

In Naked Lunch, he deliberately denies readers the comfort of a coherent narrative and forces them to continually rethink their positions as readers. As soon as the reader settles into a fixed position from which to try to understand Naked Lunch, the text forces abandonment of that position. These ideas regarding the disruption of stable positions led Burroughs to write later about such themes as space travel, out-of-body experiences, and extrasensory perception. Naked Lunch often refers to itself; this technique led critics to see Burroughs as a writer of postmodern fiction. The fragmented nature of the text was extended into Burroughs’ later novels, particularly Nova Express (1964) and The Ticket That Exploded (1962), which some critics consider to be sequels to Naked Lunch. Many of the characters in Naked Lunch reappear in Burroughs’ later fiction.

The text explores the theme of addiction as it relates to the use and abuse of power by authorities. Naked Lunch is concerned with exposing the truth behind many of the fictions consumed in American culture. Burroughs tells readers that the title of the book refers to making them see what is on the end of that “long newspaper spoon.” Naked Lunch thus sets out to make readers see the lies being fed to the public by those in power and see that truth is only an accepted fiction. Burroughs believes that truth can be expressed only indirectly, through what he calls in the novel a “mosaic of juxtapositions.” The text therefore refuses to assert one final truth, preferring instead a nonhierarchical arrangement of many truths with no conclusions.


Critical Evaluation