Sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about Nick Thoume here. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s Nick Thoume, in Lancaster. And even if he’s a lazy man – and the Nick Thoume was most certainly that. Quite possibly the laziest in Lancashire, which would place him high in the runnin’ for laziest worldwide. But sometimes there’s a man, sometimes, there’s a man. Aw. I lost my train of thought here. But… aw, hell. I’ve done introduced him enough.
Naked Lunch, it’s a strange book. I’m not the first person to say that and I won’t be the last. In fact I’m sure Naked Lunch must be a, if anything, over discussed book… but that didn’t stop me with Gravity’s Rainbow so here goes…
My friend said to me that Naked Lunch has no plot but every line is a beautiful, crystalised (if disturbing) piece of poetry. I don’t think I’d go that far. Bill Burroughs writes very, very well but in a simple readable style (not surprising with him being a Beat ‘n all) whereas the above description made me think of some truly complex stuff.
It’s true there is no plot, just a setting: the setting being the inside of Bill’s head. The contents of the book are endlessly, gratuitously gory and sexual. People are being fucked or abused or killed on every page by a variety of men and creatures. Each part being a little vignette which will start and stop suddenly, shifting perspective (first two third) and sometimes repeating itself most notably the repeated telling of a boy being hanged whilst another character fucks him…
Burroughs famously shot his wife in the head in an accident involving a recreation of William Tell; Tom Waits wrote the Black Rider about it; David Cronenberg based his “adaptation” of Naked Lunch about it. The fact he shot his wife in the head isn’t what surprises me, it’s the fact he was married at all – Burrough’s world is choc-a-bloc with homosexual sex acts/desires and those that wish to punish such a desire in others. It almost feels like every one is gay in naked lunch and if not gay, suspected of being such. There seems to be almost no desire for women, just young men with “tight little assholes”.
The strange thing is this book is not scary and I didn’t really find it repellent. Although it’s pitch black Burroughs seems to have removed all the horror from his prose – just emotionlessly reporting his thoughts, with at the very most a small pang of pleasure. J. G. Ballard describes the book as a “booty brought back from a nightmare”, which is true but the nightmare seen from the morning, when all of the horror is gone.
The book seems to be purely from a physical perspective, only the body really matters. Which makes sense as it is truly about heroin and drug addiction. Funny, I could, and some do, write about the book without mentioning its constant drug referencesBut they’re there, almost in every paragraph. In his end notes Burrough’s writes of the “junkie’s metabolism” that every heroin addict has – the obsession with the physical and pleasure in the book would bear out Naked Lunch’s own “junkie metabolism”. And the dispassion? Well William also says, and I paraphrase, “a junkie remembers everything, almost too clearly, but all the emotion is gone.”
Usually I despise books that have no plot, no driving impetus, but I made an exception for Naked Lunch. I’d recommend other people do the same.
I’ve long been fascinated by the fact that places are sometimes referred to as “the something of something else” (for example Montreal is the Paris of Canda).
I’m not sure why. Possibly because it strikes me as really stupid and a little derogatory – that a place is only important in it’s relation to something else or we can boil a place down to one or two characteristics. Maybe it’s because of how tenuous some of the comparisons are – Newport is the Welsh seattle anyone? Perhaps it’s because it strikes me as incredibly lazy journalism of the “band a + band b = band c” type. Probably it’s just because it strikes me as a little odd.
For whatever reason, I have developed a love for these stupid comparisons and began collecting them. And now, with a little help from my friends, I have a biased and completely incomplete list of them. These are all genuine. Google them.
In fact if you want to find more just think of
a) a famous place
b) a direction, country or landmass
type them into google and Bob’s your relative of choice.
17th Century Amsterdam = The California of the East
Why: Place for free thinking; vaguely “cool
19th Century St Etienne = The Birmingham of France
Why: Grew rapidly with coal and iron, apparently.
1930s Shanghai = The Liverpool of the East
Why: Big ol’ port
1990s Newport = The Welsh Seattle
Why: Good bands; had scene
Bangalore = The Silicon Valley of India
Why: Has lots of people answering phones.
Brighton = London on Sea
Why: Full of people who work in London
Bude, Cornwall = Brighton of the West
Why: Seaside town; probably “cool”
Cisely, Alaska = The Paris of the North
Why: Full of free thinkers (note: this place is not real)
Dunedin = The Edinburgh of the South
Why: It was formed by Scottish settlers who named it after Edinburgh.
Hebden Bridge = Brighton of Yorkshire
Why: Large gay population; vaguely “cool”
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) = The Paris of East
Why: Has culture; speak French
Johannesburg = The New York of Africa
Why: Has sky scrapers; is big.
Leeds = Knightsbridge of the North
Why: Has a Harvey Nichols
Liverpool = The Barcelona of the North
Why: Was European Capital of Culture, wanted to be more cultural
Many, Many cities = The Venice of the East
Why: Have canals; are east of Venice
Montreal = The Paris of Canada
Why: Speak French; is in Canada.
New York = Modern Day Sodom and Gomorrah
Why: Lax morals
Saint Petersburg, Amsterdam, Bruges, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Manchester = The Venice of the North
Why: Have canals; are north of Venice
Shanghai = The New York of China
Why: Important commercial centre, but in China
Sheffield = The Rome of the North
Why: Built on seven hills
Sydney = The London of the South Seas
Why: Commercial centre that speaks English.