ce399 | research archive (esoterica)

Naked Lunch: Naked Arena of Hauntological Addiction

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 25/11/2010

裸體午餐《Naked Lunch》:慾/異質附身的裸體競技場
Naked Lunch: Naked Arena of Ontological/Hauntological [1] Addiction

In “Afterthoughts on a Deposition” of Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs remarks “the junk virus is public health problem number one of the world today.” He refers less to the actual ill effects of opiates upon the individual’s health than to the “anti-drug hysteria” that “poses a deadly threat to personal freedom and to the due-process protections of the law everywhere.” The war between drug addiction and anti-drug hysteria manifests Burroughs’s idea of human body as the “soft machine”, an arena, where all sorts of power, or to put it in Burroughs’s terminology – virus, act upon. His idea of human being as “soft machine” also indicates people’s addictive nature. For Burroughs, in addition to junk, sex, power, and language are all viruses that control human body and mind and block people from freedom. Though evil, the virus is also charged with the ultimate power of subversion. For him, the evil virus is “The Algebra of Need.” On the one hand, it manifests the cannibalistic structure of capitalism where pyramids of power and wealth feeds on people’s total need. On the other, it indicates people’s internal need for the other, the injection of a foreign body. It breaks down the myth of man as a whole. It is, as Avital Ronell in Crack War points out, “excentric and depropriative” which is something “animated by an outside already inside” (19). Driven by the “excentric and depropriative” virus, the host or addict delves into the journey of exploring his/her “fractal interiorities” because it is an uncanny presence that manifests something inside that must be encrypted but repeatedly and compulsively recurs, remaining ungraspable, and causes ruptures. (Ronell, 5 & 15) In most of Burroughs’s fiction, junk always manifests this hinge mechanism of undecidability. It causes “total possession” that concerns nothing and thus drives the host or addict into abjection. It is also something that Walter Benjamin calls the “profane illumination, a materialistic, anthropological inspirition” (Benjamin, 179). Through this intense and immediate experience, the senses are sharpened and the sensuous-material experiences are transformed into forms of awareness. (Burger, xlv) It is a revelation of experience that conjures up the specters from the past that haunt both human existence and the controlling hegemony by causing radical ruptures in them.

Burroughs remarked in his autobiographic novel, Junky, that one reason he drifted into a life of “solo adventure” and addiction was that being an addict supplied the close-to-the-margin experience that his comfortable but banal bourgeois background had forestalled. (xi-xvi) He noted that he had learned a great deal from using junk because “Junk addicts knew the pointless of complaining or moving. They knew that basically no one can help anyone else. There is no key, no secret someone else has that he can give you” (xvi). Junk, for Burroughs, is a weapon to “punch a hole in the big lie” just like what he intends to achieve through his writing. Burroughs remarked in Nova Express that there is no true or real “reality.” “Reality” is simply a constant scanning pattern that we accept as “reality”. It is imposed by the controlling power that aims at achieving “total control” (Nova Express, 53). In his journal, “Final Words,” for The New Yorker in August 1997, Burroughs expressed the same idea. He noted that we make our own truth. “Nobody else makes it. There is no truth we don’t make.” What governments and corporations assert as truth is nothing but “lies”; such bodies are inevitable “self-righteous. They have to be because in human terms they are wrong” (36-37). Though Burroughs believes in human being’s addictive nature, to be the subject of total possession is not the mark of victimhood, but carelessness. In Burroughs’s world, there are no victims, just accomplices. Just as a critic Ann Douglas points out that in Burroughs’s fiction, “though everyone is complicit, everyone is also responsible, for everyone is capable of resistance.”

Having been “scoring” literature till now, I strongly share with Benjamin’s idea of literature as drugs. He notes that “The reader, the thinker, the loiterer, the flaneur, are types of illuminati just as much as the opium eater, the dreamer, the ecstatic. And more profane. Not to mention that most terrible drug – ourselves – which we take in solitude” (Benjamin, 190). Ronell also points out that literature “is by no means an innocent bystand but often accused, a breeding ground of hallucinogenres, has something to teach us about ethical fractures and the relationship to law” (Ronell, 11). This thesis titled as “Naked Arena of Ontological/Hauntological Addiction” is for me to conjure up the specters of the avant-gardiste thinkers to stage a séance on the “Being on Drugs,” to put it in Ronell’s term, with her notion of hallucinogenres included. Both human body and text body are the arena where all sorts of power invade and act upon. For me, Burroughs’s fiction works as hallucinogen that produces the ecstasy of intoxication and Benjamin’s “profane illumination.” It functions as the inosculation, and the inoculation of the inhuman and eccentric other. In his fiction, Burroughs inosculates various kinds of texts, fragmentary utterances and quotations to embody the grotesque images so shocking and violent that causes spiritual and physical convulsion. Like a junk addict who injects junk to get the ambivalent pleasure of intensity and relief, Burroughs’s fiction affords its addict the immediacy and intensity of experience and pleasure. It impels thought but cannot be incorporated by thought, thus transforming its addict into perpetual a flaneur, whom, as Gustave Flaubert remarks, has “neither religion nor fatherland nor even any social conviction. Absolute skepticism” (Flaubert, 276). Burroughs believes that the best cure is always homeopathic. [2] Therefore, he aims to make his fiction into an inoculation that creates alerted antibodies to fight against “total control” and to reveal a different “reality.” Burroughs has long time been considered as an avant-gardiste artist. That is not only because of his special writing but also because of the radically political position he advocates in his writing and persists in his life. His writing embodies the Avant-gardiste aesthetics of Rausch [3] and shock, which “is aimed for as a stimulus to change one’s conduct of life; it is the means to break through aesthetic immanence and to usher in (initiate) a change in the recipient’s life praxis” (Burger, 80).

The body text of this thesis can be dissected into two main parts. The two parts are inosculated under Burroughs’s apocalyptic warning, “To speak is to lie – To live is to collaborate” (Nova Express, 7). I will devote the first part of the thesis to exploring Burroughs’s idea of language as “word virus” and then examine the special writing form of Naked Lunch and the effects it creates. In the second part, I intend to elaborate Burroughs’s notion of virus as “The Algebra of Need,” which manifests both as “total control” on human being, and as human being’s ultimate power and will to rupture.
Chapter 1. To Speak Is To Lie

Burroughs strongly shares with avant-garde skepticism toward language. For him, language is the ultimate virus. The “word virus” manifests the most deeply rooted form of addiction; it is always at work creating “reality” for the controlling power to render individual dependence on certain fixed meanings and images. When totally possessed by the word virus, the individual becomes manipulable and totally identifies with the controlling power. Burroughs’s project in Naked Lunch is to strip the references of language, to break down binary oppositions, to decompose its implied hierarchies, and finally to deconstruct it. He refuses to adhere to the conventional literary narrative and frames himself as a “recording instrument.” With random juxtaposition of junky underworld slang, citations from magazines and newspapers, and quotations from other books, Burroughs makes the novel into a literary version of collage and splicing cinematic images. He ignores grammatical rules, uses abundant capitals, italics, ellipses, and constantly repeats certain passages to create strong visual and audio effects. Obscene, disgusting, and grotesque images of sexuality, violence, and death fill out the whole novel. For many readers, the novel might appears as what Burroughs mentions in the beginning of the novel, “repulsive details not for weak stomachs.” (xv) All his writing strategies are aimed to reveal the theme: “to speak is to lie.” In this chapter, I intend to explore Burroughs’s idea of word virus and his special writing strategies for him to fight against the controlling hegemony embedded in and replicated through language, the “word virus.”
Chapter 2. To Live Is To Collaborate

Burroughs’s lifelong quest for the cure of virus and individual freedom resembles that of Nietzsche’s. Nietzsche remarks that the value of freedom “lies not in what one attains with it, but in what one pays for it — what it costs us.” He also suggests freedom is that “one has the will to self-responsibility” (Nietzsche 1968: 92). They both think that freedom is a never-ending warfare. It is the war of Nietzsche’s noble person who “will respect his enemy;” and instead of inventing an “evil enemy” to define him/herself as the “Good One,” the noble man “requires his enemy for himself, as his mark of distinction” (Nietzsche 1956:173).

Being a lifelong drug addict and a homosexual, Flaubert’s notion of “absolute skepticism” has never been foreign to Burroughs. He often claimed himself as an outside role who does not have a place called home or even a name as he mentioned in My Education: A Book of Dreams. This “absolute skepticism,” self-exile from fatherland and social convention, manifests Burroughs’s profound opposition to the sinister hypocrisy of the controlling hegemony, the forces of the state, and the anti-drug war hysteria that deprives individual freedom by usurping individual right of self-responsibility. This “absolute skepticism,” the constant questioning, resembles George Bataille’s “unemployed negativity,” a dynamic momentum that makes the mind constantly question and contest itself. (Reader, 69) It also resembles Maurice Blanchot’s “limit-experience” which is the ecstatic “loss of knowledge,” and “the grasping seizure of contestation at the height of rupture and dispossession” (Blanchot, 207). In this chapter, the theories of the aforementioned avant-gardiste thinkers will be elaborated on to explore Burroughs’s quest for freedom that require one’s will to “absolute skepticism” and “self- responsibility” through the perpetual combat with junk, the evil virus, “The Algebra of Need.”

[1] I borrowed the term from Jacques Derrida in the book of his most visibly political statement to date, Specters of Marx. Hauntology is an interesting term for Derrida to stage the logic of specters, ghosts, spirits, hauntings that would be “larger and more powerful than an ontology or a thinking of Being” (10). Hauntology deals with kinds of non-being that haunt the “Rock-Bottom Reality” and frequent the space between the logic of binary opposition – such as: life/death; to be/not to be. For Derrida, the spell of hauntology will always already have haunted ontology. He points out that: “Haunting belongs to the structure of every hegemony” (37). Therefore, attending to ghosts is political because it means attending to the “Other.” Attending to ghosts, a conjuration, according to Derrida, is “a matter of neutralizing a hegemony or overtuning some power” (47). Hence, at the end of the book, Derrida suggests that we should “learn to live by learning not how to make conversation with the ghost but how to talk with him, with her, how to let them speak or how to give them back speech, even if it is in oneself, in the other, in the other in oneself: they are always there, specters, even if they do not exist, even if they are no longer, even if they are not yet” (179). I extract here, Derrida’s notion of ontology and hauntology because it resembles Burroughs’s central concern of “evil virus” that I will devote my whole thesis to explore.

[2] This idea is made evident by Burroughs’s advocate of apomorphine as the best method for treating junk withdrawal in Naked Lunch. (222) His ideal cure for other kinds of virus is also, as I shall explore later in the thesis, based on the idea of homeopathy.

[3] It is the surrealistic concept of the ecstasy of intoxication. (Ronell, 11 & Burger, xliii)



One Response

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  1. tim tague said, on 30/08/2012 at 12:08

    The myths of true selves and multiculturalism have a place in your discussion of things human.

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