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

By Jennie Skerl; Robin Lydenberg | Go to book overview

27
My Purpose Is to Write For the Space Age

William S. Burroughs

I began writing thirty-five years ago, at the age of thirty-five, in Mexico City after the war. Encouraged by Allen Ginsberg, I set down my experiences from five years of addiction to opiates, sticking close to the facts and using, as Wordsworth put it, "the language actually used by men."Junky was published in 1953 as an original paperback, and there were no reviews at the time. After all, the book was presented as an "inside look" at the world of a drug addict, with no literary pretensions.

During the next six years I lived in Tangier, Morocco, then in Paris, and experienced the depression and hopelessness of heavy addiction, a state of which De Quincey gives a good account in his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, under the section entitled "The Pains of Opium"--the numb, despairing feeling of being buried alive. All through this period I wrote long letters to Allen Ginsberg and others, and made many notes and sketches which later became the basis of Naked Lunch.

After I took the apomorphine cure with Dr. John Dent in London in 1957, it was as though an inner dam had broken. I felt reborn and was content to spend long hours at the typewriter, transcribing the images and characters of the novel, who took shape as though of their own volition. I had small hopes of publication, and my attempts to place parts of the manuscript were very discouraging. But in 1959 Maurice Girodias decided his Olympia Press should publish Naked Lunch. It was assembled in two weeks from a mass of pages, the balance of which were to form the basis for The Ticket That Exploded, The Soft Machine, and Nova Express. It

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William S. Burroughs, "My Purpose Is to Write For the Space Age," New York Times Book Review ( 19 Feb. 1984): 9-10. Copyright © 1984 by The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

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