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Inner Journeys, LLC Group

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Jeffvon Drozd
Jeffvon Drozd


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It was this cultural context that provided the catalyst for the mordant fantasies of Naked Lunch. For Burroughs, the impulse to homogenize society through a legislated "normality" is itself monstrous. All of the three main political parties of Interzone, the Senders, the Liquifactionists, and the Divisionists, articulate his horror of enforced conformity, but his description of the Divisionists is especially graphic:

They cut off tiny bits of their flesh and grow exact replicas of themselves in embryo jelly. It seems probable, unless the process of division is halted, that eventually there will be only one replica of one sex on the planet: that is one person in the world with millions of separate bodies . . . [. . .] A cretinous albino Caid, product of a long line of recessive genes (tiny toothless mouth lined with black hairs, body of a huge crab, claws instead of arms, eyes projected on stalks) accumulated 20000 I.R.s [identical replicas]."

The scene then cuts to the Technician in the control room who, realizing that the tenor singer is, in fact, gay, calls for a replacement. In desperation, he selects the only full-time tenor available, who happens to be a transgendered lesbian called Liz. Disguised beneath a papier mâche Arc de Triomphe (symbolizing, perhaps, the essential hollowness underlying military virility), she unleashes such a bellow that her disguise rips apart, and there she stands, exposed on the pedestal, "clad only in a leopard skin jockstrap with enormous falsie basket" (58).9 The routine ends with an apocalypse of explosions that destroys the control room. Burroughs, while treating the State Department scandal with camp exaggeration, at the same time warns what will happen to a system that seeks to conceal, repress, and deny difference. This routine is asking us to rewrite the lyrics to "I Am an American," that patriotic song of the 1940s, to include the lines "straight or gay" along with "rich or poor, young or old, I am an American" ("I Am an American"). That Burroughs is preoccupied with the attempted legislation of sexual identity is clear from several references to "gentlemen by act of Congress" (78, 83). That he is also horrified by the institutional programming of sexual identity is obvious from the descriptions of Benway's Reconditioning Center and Dr. Berger's Mental Health Hour.10

Jamie Russell's study Queer Burroughs clarifies the rhetorical complexity of Burroughs's narrative voice by connecting it to the social milieu of the 1950s. Russell's work is illuminating because it shows the extent to which Burroughs was scripted by the homophobic discourse of his time even as he sought actively to resist it. Building on Harris's earlier analysis of Queer, Russell argues that William Lee's own reactionary attitude toward the Other "becomes an index of the conformity inherent within Burroughs's masculinization" (26). In other words, Burroughs's own identity as a masculine queer is shaped by the dominant culture even as he opposes it. This masculinization is a reaction to a 1950s episteme that constructed the gay man as effeminate, an identity that Burroughs strenuously rejected. Russell sees Naked Lunch as "obsessed with the deployment of the effeminate paradigm by the heterosexual dominant, and it is this cultural formation that Burroughs seeks to expose in order to undermine the creation of gender-schizoid gay subjects" (43). However, in ridiculing the feminizing of gay men, Burroughs often reproduces the monstrous rhetoric of his homophobic culture and therefore creates in Naked Lunch the [End Page 59] "schizophrenic fragmentation" that is "the very mark of the regulation of the gay subject by the heterosexual dominant" (Russell 13). The text itself is schizophrenic in that while it mocks the metaphorical monsters created by the dominant culture, it simultaneously generates the same fear and revulsion toward impurity, or interstitiality, that characterizes conservative responses to the Other.

As the narrative progresses, boundaries are continually transgressed in overt ways that advertise the text's own monstrosity. The streetwise, colloquial voice of the narrator frequently morphs into fluent and evocative poetry. Meanwhile, phrases used by the narrator and the author of the "Deposition" occur in the reported speech of the characters, while the same lines of dialogue are repeated by different characters. For instance, the authorial "I was only roused to action when the hourglass of junk ran out" (xxxix) becomes Benway's "'He is only roused to action when the hourglass of junk runs out'" (33). Old Ike's speech beginning "'I was traveling with Irene Kelly'" (18) reappears as spoken by Joe in the cafeteria (181). And, of course, the boundaries between genres are ruptured almost immediately. What begins as a gritty, realist confession in the style of Junky mutates grotesquely into horror with the description of Willy the Disk and the "terrible urgency of that blind, seeking mouth," which "sometimes sways out on a long tube of ectoplasm" (8). The novel's constant refusal to observe linguistic and discursive boundaries is a crucial component of its monstrosity; Naked Lunch is monstrous not only in what it speaks, but also in how it speaks.

Naked Lunch may not be polyphonic, but it is still subversive in its refusal to reconcile or mask its own schizophrenic form. This schizophrenia is less baffling when we recreate "the concrete social context of discourse [. . .] as the force that determines its entire stylistic structure" (Bakhtin, "Discourse" 300). The schizophrenic form and content of Naked Lunch, which attacks and yet employs homophobic tropes of horror, is a profound and ultimately moving representation of Burroughs's own fight to the death against the Word. By contrasting "The Word" with "this book" (207), Burroughs demonstrates the painful necessity of subverting authoritarian discourse from within, of using monstrosity against itself. Possessed by the Word, and by its demonic power to script individual identity, the narrator must exclaim, only half ironically, "Gentle reader, I fain would spare you this, but my pen hath its will like the Ancient Mariner" (37).14 On the one hand, the narrator's voice is that of the "hypnotic bard, Coleridge's Ancient Mariner" (Hilfer 254). But on the other hand, for Burroughs the Ancient Mariner is actually the enemy, the carrier of the Word, the Wise Man who converts "live orgones into dead bullshit" (105): "Are we never to be free of this grey-beard loon lurking on every mountain top in Tibet, subject to drag himself out of a hut in the Amazon, waylay one in the Bowery?" (105). Burroughs, speaking through the persona of William Lee, embodies the masculine hero-warrior who "will quell the Loch Ness Monster" (205) with authority and yet, at the same time, will give up that authority by unlocking his word horde (208). He is, in a way, the Wise Man who has abdicated.15

Why I'm Excited: This is about as indie as Michael Bay will ever get. The budget is still in the tens of millions, and it's an action movie, but Pain and Gain has been a passion project for Bay, and he decided to take a break from giant talking space robots to make it. The trailer is a lot of fun, and it looks to be silly rather than abrasively stupid. This flick could either be a fresh direction for Bay or a nice throwback to his smaller-scale work (again, by his standards) like Bad Boys.

Why I'm Excited: I feel obligated to include this even though I have some reservations. Most of those reservations come with J.J. Abrams' fetish for secrecy in an age where the marketing will give away almost everything anyway, and going out of his way to hide things that don't matter like the name of the villain (I don't buy Damon Lindelof's argument). But this cast has already proved they're perfect for the roles, and I hope that the time between Star Trek and Into Darkness has given the writers time to nail the script. Despite these issues, I'll turn out simply because Benedict Cumberbatch looks like he's going to crush it. 041b061a72


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