Naked Lunch

By Burroughs, William | Chicago Review, Summer-Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Naked Lunch


Burroughs, William, Chicago Review


While they put together the issue of writing from San Francisco, editors Irving Rosenthal and Paul Carroll used their contacts to find new sources of material. Allen Ginsberg alerted them to William S. Burroughs, who had been laboring for years on the manuscript of a novel, Naked Lunch, in Tangier. In his recent journalistic account of the events surrounding Chicago Review' s serialization of Naked Lunch, Gerald E. Brennan describes the arrival of Burroughs's manuscript:

One day Carroll got a call from Rosenthal. Could Carroll come over to his apartment in Hyde Park right away? When he got there, Rosenthal showed him a cardboard box that had just arrived from California: Ginsberg had sent the entire Naked Lunch manuscript. As they read through the work they realized what a job they had on their hands. Despite frequent reworkings, Naked Lunch was, in Rosenthal's words, "as close to formless as a book could possibly be."(*)

The first chapter of Naked Lunch appeared in the Spring 1958 issue. The box of writing continued to hold Rosenthal's interest: he managed to excerpt a section for the Autumn 1958 issue of Chicago Review, but that excerpt and the other pieces in that issue were judged obscene by a columnist in the Chicago Daily News. His column and the public outcry that ensued provoked the University administration to suppress the Winter 1959 issue, in which a further section of Naked Lunch was to appear with work by Jack Kerouac and Edward Dahlberg. Carroll and Rosenthal would found a new magazine, Big Table, to publish those materials. CARROLL recently remembered:

Irving's lasting triumph was, of course, publishing chapters from William S. Burroughs's novel Naked Lunch. It cost him his magazine when the University censored what would have been the winter 1959 issue, with lots of Burroughs. It cost the other editors their jobs, when, following

Irving, we all resigned; and founded Big Table, where the suppressed texts appeared in March 1959. I also lost an instructorship in English at Loyola University. I feel I can speak for Irving and the other editors when I say: we'd do it all over again. A strong argument could be made that Irving Rosenthal was probably the best editor the Review has seen.

I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves, setting up their devil doll stool pigeons, crooning over my spoon and dropper I throw away at Washington Square Station, vault a turnstile and two flights down the iron stairs, catch an uptown A train.... Young, good looking, crew cut, Ivy League, advertising exec type fruit holds the door back for me. I am evidently his idea of a character. You know the type comes on with bartenders and cab drivers, talking about right hooks and the Dodgers, call the counter man in Nedick's by his first name. A real asshole. And right on time this narcotics dick in a white trench coat (imagine tailing somebody in a white trench coat. Trying to pass as a fag I guess) hit the platform. I can hear the way he would say it holding my outfit in his left hand, right hand on his piece: "I think you dropped something, fella."

But the subway is moving.

"So long flatfoot!" I yell, giving the fruit his B production. I look into the fruit's eyes, take in the white teeth, the Florida tan, the two hundred dollar sharkskin suit, the button down Brook's Brother shirt and carrying The News as a prop. "Only thing I read is Little Abner."

A square wants to come on hip.... Talks about "pod" and smoke it now and then, and keeps some around to offer the fast Hollywood types.

"Thanks, kid," I say, "I can see you're one of our own." His face lights up like a pinball machine, with stupid, pink effect.

"Grassed on me he did," I said morosely. (Footnote: Grass is English thief slang for inform.) I drew closer and laid my dirty junky fingers on his sharkskin sleeve. "And us blood brothers in the same dirty needle. I can tell you in confidence he is due for a hot shot. …

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