I did some searching, and found a wonderful resource. Head on over to Burroughs, Naked Lunch and the Beat Generation at the University of Bremen’s Literature in English section.
Burroughs has always been a favorite of mine because he has fewer preprocessor directives than other people. All of us have these directives to some degree, like remembering not to pick our noses in public or talk about death around the elderly. Burroughs lived as an outsider, being both a conflicted sexual abuse victim and an abuser who shot his wife to death “accidentally,” in addition to his habits of using drugs, living outside the law, and evading day jobs. Highly intelligent, he was either too disorganized or too deeply planning to write his book until age 39, at which point he unleashed it fully formed on the world.
Naked Lunch is a book without preprocessor directives; it is the ultimate techno-punk, in that it like sci-fi it looks into our future based on the inherent but not visible trends of our technology. It is a cold, calculating, cynical look that is also playful and spirited, extremely human. Burroughs chucked out the instruction manual and wrote his book as a series of overlapping radio plays that in their revelations of philosophical concepts resemble computer code, with parentheses scattered throughout the novel. It is also devastatingly funny, if your funny bone has a cold heart and a warm soul.
Naked Lunch has given its author a permanent place in literary history because of its formal innovations, its powerful attitude of revolt, and the controversy surrounding its publication. The censorship trials, of course, attracted publicity, but also attracted the attention of serious readers because of the authors and critics who testified on behalf of the novel. Critical attention was further drawn to Naked Lunch when Mary McCarthy and Norman Mailer praised the book highly at the Edinburgh International Writer’s Conference in 1962.
Mailer proclaimed Burroughs “the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius.” Mary McCarthy defended her statement at the conference with an influential essay on Naked Lunch, first published in 1963 and still the best single critical piece on Burroughs. Grove Press was able to obtain testimonials for Naked Lunch by Mailer, Robert Lowell, Terry Southern, and John Ciardi, among others, for a publicity pamphlet in 1962.
As a result of the high praise by well-known literary figures, Naked Lunch was widely reviewed in the United States and England. Many reviewers praised the book for its power and serious purpose, and Burroughs was compared to other avant-garde writers in the modernist tradition. But Naked Lunch received strongly negative reviews as well. Some reviewers thought the novel morally offensive, artistically worthless, and revolting to the sensibilities of most readers. The most notable of these protests, because of the correspondence they generated, are those of John Wain in the New Republic, William
Phillips in Commentary, and an unsigned review entitled “Ugh” in the Times Literary Supplement.