The Apocalypse of William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch Essay

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The Apocalypse of William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man. (William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, p. 7) In 1980, William S. Burroughs delivered a speech at the Planet Earth Conference at the Institute of Ecotechnics in Aix-en-Provence titled ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’.1 In this speech, Burroughs, following religious tradition, says that the four horsemen of the apocalypse are Famine, Plague, War, and Death and moves on to prophesise a more contemporaneous apocalypse. In Burroughs’ apocalypse, War and Plague, for example, have become allies; this alliance,…show more content…
But he was never considered to be an apocalyptist before this speech. As I shall argue in this paper, in Naked Lunch (1959), Burroughs serves us a naked apocalypse that is not simply cataclysmic and frightening but eternal, parodic, and comic. In 1988, Burroughs was asked to write the introduction to a Keith Haring exhibition catalogue, Apocalypse.2 In it, Burroughs is more specific about his conception of the apocalypse: Consider an apocalyptic statement: ‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted’ – Hassan i Sabbath. Not to be interpreted as an invitation to all manner of unrestrained and destructive behavior; that would be a minor episode, which would run its course. Everything is permitted because nothing is true. It is all make-believe, illusion, dream…. ART. When art leaves the frame and the written world leaves the page – not merely the physical frame and page, but the frames and pages of assigned categories – a basic disruption of reality occurs: the literal realization of art… Success will write APOCALYPSE across the sky. (Burroughs and Haring, p. 1) If nothing is true then there can be no prohibition and no law and everything is permitted, and permitted in the form of creative art because only that can disrupt reality. The effect of Burroughs’ experiments with writing is to demystify literature as an institution and to make it available for creative work. ‘Anybody can make cut-ups’, he

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