"He was," as Salon's Gary Kamyia notes, "20th-century drug culture's Poe, its Artaud, its Baudelaire. He was the prophet of the literature of pure experience, a phenomenologist of dread.... Burroughs had the scary genius to turn the junk wasteland into a parallel universe, one as thoroughly and obsessively rendered as Blake's."
Why has this homosexual ex-junkie, whose claim to fame rests entirely on one book--the hallucinogenic ravings of a heroin addict--so seized the collective imagination? Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch in a Tangier, Morocco, hotel room between 1954 and 1957. Allen Ginsberg and his beatnik cronies burst onto the scene, rescued the manuscript from the food-encrusted floor, and introduced some order to the pages. It was published in Paris in 1959 by the notorious Olympia Press and in the U.S. in 1962; the landmark obscenity trial that ensued served to end literary censorship in America.
Burroughs's literary experiment--the much-touted "cut-up" technique--mirrored the workings of a junkie's brain. But it was junk coupled with vision: Burroughs makes teeming amalgam of allegory, sci-fi, and non-linear narration, all wrapped in a blend of humor--slapstick, Swiftian, slang-infested humor. What is Naked Lunch about? People turn into blobs amidst the sort of evil that R. Crumb, in the decades to come, would inimitably flesh out with his dark and creepy cartoon images. Perhaps the most easily grasped part of Naked Lunch is its America-bashing, replete with slang and vitriol. Read it and see for yourself.