For the 50th anniversary celebration of William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch, which begins any minute now — it’s scheduled for July 1-3 at the University of London Institute in Paris — have a look at the cover of the original edition brought out in 1959 by French publisher Maurice Girodias’s Olympia Press. Have a look, too, at 60 other covers (scroll down) of various editions that have appeared worldwide since then.
Meanwhile, here’s a leetle sumzeeng in honor of le maître, excerpted from Cut Up or Shut Up (a slim Burroughsian volume I did in 1972 with Carl Weissner and Jürgen Ploog):
Back Page Item. It seems likely,” said Randolph, “that the KGB tapped directly into the past on Nikita’s phone. He had endless conversations with Mark Cayn of the Absolute Daily News — used to be put in shape every morning by the official Novosti news agency which specialized in the juicy parts of Operation Feedback. Then they slipped the dross into books, magazines and other newspaper features …”
Was Victor Louis right? A pusher of so-called Soviet secrets? So let’s fit another piece into the puzzle from World Edible News. How come every time Mr. Louis looks into the bathroom mirror it produces such a wondrous literary cancer?
“To such a degree, gentlemen, if I may say so, you might check with Central Dogma,” Victor says blithely.
“Make your own DNA and see an old pal of mine,” says Randolph. He points to half a suitcase worth you can’t translate backwards and comes up with a manuscript typed for conspiratorial auto-da-fé.
“Very funny. Wait till the government teat becomes hazardous to your health,” says Victor
The hazardous part, of course, is that Randolph (a rundown leukemia agent) is Victor’s American double and no slouch in his own department. While occupying Suite 223 at the Stardust Hotel, he was quoted as saying: “Russian emigré fixers in for their health? Hah! Don’t make me laugh! So they use perfume, and as chance would have it, they cover up the odors? A certain Vassily Lewis .?. Never heard of him …”
The hint is obvious: perhaps we will be able to use synthesized humans to find cryptic viruses in literature of the future. If Victor/Randolph can turn up grinning like a ventriloquist dummy, then anything is possible. So the missing pieces in our story can very well be turned over to the Moscow bureau for synthesis … a warning to all my uh fellow writers against a myopic belief in ‘style or content.’ May I draw your attention to the fact that reverse translation may one day explain all literary cancers?
As Burroughs wrote in his “Atrophied Preface”: “The black wind sock of death undulates over the land, feeling, smelling for the crime of separate life, movers of the fear-frozen flesh shivering under a vast probability curve…. Population blocks disappear in a checker game of genocide…. Any number can play…. You can cut into Naked Lunch at any intersection point …”
(Crossposted at HuffPo)