I own the 1953 first-edition Ace Books paperback depicted to the left. Price in 1953: 60 cents. I must have acquired my copy in the late '60s or early '70s for not much more than that. Originally published under the pen-name of William Lee, the "Old Bull Lee" of Kerouac's On the Road. The foreword is by Carl Solomon. According to the Wikipedia article just referenced, Solomon is also responsible for the Publisher's Note which serves in part as an apologia for the "sordid" narrative about to be put before the reader.
Remember, this is 1953, a time and place light-years from the present, culturally speaking. What would be celebrated as 'transgressive' today by our benighted cultural elites, was recognized then as trash whose publication had to be justified:
We realized that here was a document which could forearm the public more effectively than anything yet printed about the drug menace. The picture it paints of a sordid netherworld was all the more horrifying for being so authentic in language and point of view. For the protection of the reader, we have inserted occasional parenthetical notes to indicate where the author clearly departs from accepted medical fact or makes other unsubstantiated statements in an effort to justify his actions.
London Ed, taking a break from logic and philosophy of language, is now reading Burroughs:
I finished Junky, which was entertaining, and now onto Naked Lunch, which is terrible. Meanwhile, some extracts from Junky below, which challenge the idea that Burroughs was some kind of ‘gay writer’. Obviously he was gay, although he predates that term, and would have called himself ‘queer’. He alludes to his queerness in the book, but I find the passages below difficult to explain. They are surely not intended as ironic, there is a real hatred, possibly self-hatred there. I can find no critical study of Burroughs that mentions these passages.
The only equivalent I can think of for that period is Raymond Chandler. Supposedly Chandler was a repressed homosexual. But there is the same ‘homophobic’ streak in his work. You recall the Geiger character in The Big Sleep, who is characterised as both homosexual and unpleasant. Chandler writes somewhere about there being ‘no iron’ in a ‘fairy's’ punch, and about the vicious and unpleasant way that a ‘fairy party’ can end. I will try and find the quotes. In the same place I also have quotes from William Cobbett (supposed father of English socialism) which are virulently anti-semitic.
Burroughs quotations culled by Ed:
The hipster-bebop junkies never showed at 103rd Street. The 103rd Street boys were all old timers -- thin, sallow faces; bitter, twisted mouths; stiff-fingered, stylized gestures. (There is a junk gesture that marks the junky like the limp wrist marks the fag: the hand swings out from the elbow stiff-fingered, palm up.)
In the French Quarter there are several queer bars so full every night the fags spill out on to the sidewalk. A room full of fags gives me the horrors. They jerk around like puppets on invisible strings, galvanized into hideous activity that is the negation of everything living and spontaneous. The live human being has moved out of these bodies long ago. But something moved in when the original tenant moved out. Fags are ventriloquists' dummies who have moved in and taken over the ventriloquist. The dummy sits in a queer bar nursing his beer, and uncontrollably yapping out of a rigid doll face.
Occasionally, you find intact personalities in a queer bar, but fags set the tone of these joints, and it always brings me down to go into a queer bar. The bringdown piles up. After my first week in a new town I have had about all I can take of these joints, so my bar business goes somewhere else, generally to a bar in or near Skid Row.
I ordered a drink at the bar and looked around. Three Mexican fags were posturing in front of the jukebox. One of them slithered over to where I was standing, with the stylized gestures of a temple dancer, and asked for a cigarette. There was something archaic in the stylized movements, a depraved animal grace at once beautiful and repulsive. 1 could see him moving in the light of campfires, the ambiguous gestures fading out into the dark. Sodomy is as old as the human species. One of the fags was sitting in a booth by the jukebox, perfectly immobile with a stupid animal serenity.
I looked around and noticed how the hips stood out as a special group, like the fags who were posturing and screeching in one comer of the yard. The junkies were grouped together, talking and passing the junkie gesture back and forth, the arm swinging out from the elbow palm up, a gesture of separateness and special communion like the limp wrist of the fag.
And now this from Patrick Kurp:
I’m reading more than at almost any time in my life but spending less time reading online. The two facts have a common source – a festering impatience with shoddy writing. My literary gut, when young, was goat-like -- tough and indiscriminate. I read everything remotely of interest and felt compelled to finish every book I started. This makes sense: Everything was new, and how could I knowledgeably sift wheat from chaff without first milling, baking and ingesting? Literary prejudice, in a healthy reader, intensifies with age. I know and trust my tastes, and no longer need to read William Burroughs to figure out he wrote sadistic trash.
I've read my fair share of Burroughs and I concur that his stuff is trash: Junkie, Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine, Exterminator. All in my library. But there is a place for literary trash. It has its uses as do the pathologist's slides and samples. But put on your mental gloves before handling the stuff.
Kerouac alone of the Beat Triumvirate moves me, though I surely don't consider him a great writer. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there really shouldn't be any university courses on Kerouac or Dylan or other culturally influential recent figures since their material is easily accessible and easily understandable. Universities ought not pander. They should remain -- or rather return to being -- institutions whose sacred task is the preservation and transmission of HIGH culture, great culture, culture which is not easily understood and requires expert guidance to penetrate and appreciate. The thought is extended in Inheritance and Appropriation.
Kurp also has this to say:
We associate pieties with sentimental religion, holy medals and such, when in fact they often arrive in the form of sociopathic earnestness. Take Williams Burroughs – not the sort of fellow you would have wanted living next door. Burroughs was a deviant by any standard – a thief, a wife-killer, an Olympic-class drug abuser, a sexual pervert and a man who seldom failed to indulge any hateful impulse that entered the black hole of his egotism. As a writer, Burroughs celebrated his pathologies and never transcended his pulp origins – all good career moves in an age when professors and critics use “transgressive” as an accolade.