William S. Burroughs at the Front: Critical Reception, 1959-1989

By Jennie Skerl; Robin Lydenberg | Go to book overview

5
UGH . . .

John Willett

[Review of The Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded, and Dead Fingers Talk ]

N ow I, William Seward, will unlock my word horde," warns Mr. Burroughs towards the end of The Naked Lunch. Struggling upstream through it is not unlike wading through the drains of a big city. The first shock effects are strong as the rash reader plunges in, then a steady nausea follows which hangs around him long after he has fought his way into the fresh air, finally boredom with the endless monotony as he tries to pick up his stinking feet and skip. Look out: here it comes!

From the open bronze mold emerged a transparent green shape crisscrossed with pulsing red veins, liquid screen eyes swept by color flashes--a smell of sewage and decay breathing from years of torture films, orgasm death in his black eyes glinting with the slow fish lust of the swamp mud--Long tendril hands penetrated Bradly's broken body caressing the other being inside through the soft intestines into the pearly genitals rubbing centers of orgasm along his spine up to the neck--Exquisite toothache pain shot through his nerves and his body split down the middle--Sex words exploded to a poisonous color vapor that cut off his breath--

On and on it flows, lapping slowly round what soon becomes a stereo-typed debris: ectoplasm, jelly, errand boys, ferris wheels, used contraceptives, centipedes, old photographs, jockstraps, turnstiles, newts, and pubic hairs.

Such is the texture of the grey porridge in which Mr. Burroughs specializes. Three brimming books which he has filled with it for the Olympia Press have already attracted some speculative attention among those who have not read them, partly because of their excellent (though irrelevant) titles, partly because of the respectful admiration of one or two half-stupefied critics, but above all by their blacklisting by

____________________
John Willett, "UGH . . . ," Times Literary Supplement 3220 ( 14 Nov. 1963): 919. Reprinted by permission of the author.

-41-

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