His prose does not simply describe the heroin lifestyle, it mimics it. In its detached understatement the narrative enacts its own autism. Bill Lee is not the subject of the novel, but its object; a character with no inner life who recounts his progression through four habits and his search for Yage - the junkie's Holy Grail. The stunned, anaesthetised voice that he adopts speaks from within the junk conditions as well as about it - a technique that would later inform the work of writers such as Joan Didion and Bret Easton Ellis.
Junkie held up a mirror to the grotesque well-being of the 1950s - a decade of consumer frenzy and self-satisfied affluence. To a culture driven by conspicuous consumption, does not junk become the ultimate merchandise - a product that crystallises the most brutal imperatives of supply and demand? In equating identity with addiction and conformity with control, Junkie suggests not so much a deviation from society as its logical culmination. "I have learned the junk equation," he was to write in the book's prologue. "Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life."
Burroughs's visit with Allen Ginsberg in New York proved to be a poisoned chalice. On the one hand their friendship had matured into genuine soulmatery. The mentor-pupil dynamic had been replaced by a more equal exchange of emotional and intellectual depth. As Ginsberg wrote to Neal Cassady: "I'm older now and the emotional relationship and conflict of will and mutual digging are very intense, continuous, exhausting and fertile... I come home from work at 4.45 and we talk until 1am or later. I hardly get enuf [sic] sleep, can't think about work seriously, am hung up in great psychic marriage with him." It was here that they edited and shaped what would later become The Yage Letters and also, at Keroauc's suggestion, they began to discuss ideas for a book to be called The Naked Lunch.
On the other hand, Burroughs fell hopelessly in love with the younger man and began to crowd him with his suffocating need. This is the first time their friendship had become sexual, and to begin with Ginsberg was both casual and flattered. As he recalled, "Burroughs fell in love with me and we slept together... and since I did love him and did have that respect and affection, he responded. I kinda felt privileged".
For Burroughs their affair was more serious and he began to talk of "schlupping" - a state in which two people merged into one entity, possessing the other by dissolving into him. Ginsberg moved from being privileged to running scared: "Bill became more and more demanding that there be some kind of mental schlupp. It had gone beyond the point of being humorous or playful. It seemed that Bill was demanding it for real. Bill wanted a relationship where there were no holds barred: to achieve an ultimate telepathic union of souls."
Things came to a head when Burroughs tried to persuade him to move to Tangier. "But I don't want your ugly old cock," Ginsberg responded, with a brutal honesty that cut Burroughs deeply. "It wounded him terribly," recalls Ginsberg, "because it was like complete physical rejection in a way I didn't mean. Like a heart blow that severed the trust, because I'd freaked out for that moment and regretted it ever since." Burroughs left for Tangier, Ginsberg for California. It had been a bitter-sweet experience for both of them.
When Burroughs arrived in Morocco in January 1954 he found a place awash with the kind of bohemian laxity of which he had only dreamt. Hashish was smoked in the streets, hard drugs were sold over the counter, policing was minimal, homosexuality carried no taboo and pederasty seemed to be almost actively encouraged, not least by the Tangier boys themselves. A large ex-pat community had sprung up there, giving the place a sense of transience and instability. As Burroughs wrote to Ginsberg, "There is an end-of-the-world feeling in Tangier, with its glut of nylon shirts, Swiss watches, Scotch and sex and opiates sold across the counter. Something sinister in complete laissez-faire".
Yet for all its exotic danger, Burroughs was desperately unhappy in Tangier, frantically writing to Ginsberg and failing to get any reply. In a letter to fellow Beat writer Jack Kerouac he compares his need for Ginsberg with his addiction to heroin.
"I did not think I was hooked on him like this," he wrote in April 1954. "The withdrawal symptoms are worse than the Market habit. One letter would fix me. So make it your business, if you are a real friend, to see that he writes me a fix. I am incapacitated. Can't write. Can't take an interest in anything."
In Ginsberg's absence he began relying heavily on Eukodol, a derivative of codeine which could be acquired over the counter. His room at 1 Calle de los Arcos was conveniently situated above a male brothel and one of the prostitutes working there - a young Spanish boy called Kiki - became a constant companion. Ginsberg had renewed contact, which gave Burroughs the friendship fix he had needed so badly as well as an ideal reader for the routines he had begun producing again. Many of these literary riffs found their way into The Naked Lunch - the talking asshole routine most famously. His letters to Ginsberg were in effect a form of collaboration, a way of testing the boundaries of an idea or image by creating for himself an implied audience. He found in Ginsberg a way of exploring the demons in himself through the critical eyes of someone else. As he acknowledged in a letter to Ginsberg: "I have to have receiver for routine. If there is no one there to receive it, routine turns back on me and tears me apart, grows more and more insane (literal growth like cancer) and impossible, and fragmentary like berserk pinball machine and I am screaming 'Stop it! Stop it!' ". Writing had thus become a form of psychodrama, with Ginsberg as both critic and analyst. Tangier began to translate itself in his writing into Interzone - the demi-monde of The Naked Lunch with himself as its most ambivalent tour guide.
Morocco may have unleashed his creativity, but the availability of drugs was incapacitating him all the more. By the end of his first year there he was shooting Eukadol every two hours. "I never had a habit like this before," he wrote Ginsberg. "A shot of Eukadol hits the head first with a rush of pleasure. Ten minutes later you want another shot. Between shots you are just killing time."
By the beginning of 1956, repeated attempts at gradual withdrawal either failed entirely or ended in relapse within a couple of weeks. In February he borrowed $500 from his parents and went to London to undergo the apomorphine cure pioneered by Dr John Yerbury Dent. Dent had discovered the potential of apomorphine in his treatment of alcoholism, and realized that it could be used to equal effect for other addictions. Burroughs discussed his treatment in his "Letter from a Master Addict to Dangerous Drugs", first published in the British Journal of Addiction and later reprinted as an appendix to The Naked Lunch. More importantly, the cure was successful and in September he returned to Tangier clean. As he was to remark later, "[apomorphine was] the turning point between life and death. I would never have been cured without it. Naked Lunch would never have been written".
Upon his return, Burroughs moved into the Villa Muniria and immersed himself in a new regime of furious writing and recreational hashish. As he wrote to Ginsberg: "Interzone is coming like dictation. I can't keep up with it," adding later, "This is almost automatic writing. I often sit high on hash for as long as six hours typing at top speed." Hash replaced narcotics, leaving Burroughs feeling healthier, even nearly happy, and he began socializing with the Tangier intelligentsia who remained distant whilst he was on junk. By this time "Beat" had become a literary sensation. "Howl" had been published in 1956, to a mixture of outrage and acclaim, with Ginsberg's coast-to-coast readings of the poem generating the electric atmosphere of a rock performance. Kerouac had signed his contract for On the Road in January 1957, and newspaper editorials buzzed with both moral panic and prurient interest about the influence of these artistic hobos. It is significant that Burroughs should have been exiled in Tangier when the Beat phenomenon made big in the States. His geographical distance also suggests an aesthetic one.
The touchstone of Beat was a defiant naivete - a stubborn refusal to allow their songs of innocence to be stifled by their experience of corporate America. Against a world of bovine maturity and faceless conformity they sought to unleash the potential of the moment, finding it in the orgasm, in jazz and in their communal solipsism.
But, as his routines to Ginsberg and then The Naked Lunch were to reveal, Burroughs was less interested in side-stepping systems of control than in exploding them from within. His writing dramatizes the various locations of power, examining how they converge and conflict, cannibalizing themselves in pursuit of their own totality.
Whereas a writer like Kerouac was to deify the blacks, finding in their oppression a metaphor for his own lost yearnings, Burroughs instead parodied the psychopathology of a racist establishment. It was not the glamour of racial invisibility that intrigued Burroughs, but the mind-set that created it. The Beats produced alternative ideologies; Burroughs looked at how we are produced by them.
His association with the Beats was, however, crucial in shaping and ultimately publishing his second book. Kerouac arrived in Tangier first, landing in February 1957 and taking a room above Burroughs's in the Villa Muniria. He worked for six hours a day on Burroughs's manuscript. A month later Ginsberg arrived with his new lover, Peter Orlovsky. The group did not quite gel as expected. Kerouac shipped out in early April, whilst Burroughs expressed his jealousy of Orlovsky with bitchy quips and an ice-cold shoulder. Yet by June, the novel had taken the form in which it was to be published. "It's quite a piece of writing," wrote Ginsberg to Lucien Carr, "all Bill's energy & prose, plus our organization & cleanup & structure."
Burroughs cut himself off from everyone and submerged himself in completing the project. "Nothing but work and weed all day," he wrote to Ginsberg.
As his writing took precedence Burroughs's affection for Tangier waned, until he began to see the city as actively hostile: "The place is plague- ridden, and the boys and the drugs no longer have any appeal."
On 4 December 1957 he wrote to Kerouac that he was planning "to join Allen in Paris". By January of the following year he had done so.Reuse content