November 29, 2009

Lighting the darkness.

During December, the month with the shortest daylight hours of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, many households in North-West Europe are decorated with symbolic candlesticks to “banish” the darkness. It's a tradition rooted in the Christian Advent, reaching back to the Middle Ages, though the modern variants of wreaths or candlesticks, with four candles representing each of the Sundays preceding Christmas Day lit in succession, originated among German Lutherans in the mid-1850s.

The tradition of lighting Advent candles (or wreaths) didn't arrive in Sweden until the 1870s, and didn't become widespread until the 1920s, though candles had been integral to seasonal celebrations for centuries. Today electric Advent candlesticks with seven candles in a pyramid shape dominate, and seem to change the entire country's appearance overnight, displayed in practically every home, institution, and workplace from the beginning of December (occasionally earlier) to
St. Knut's Day.

Originally referred to as julljusstakar, "Yule candlesticks", to avoid confusion with the live candle variety, they are a fairly recent addition to the season's decorations. The very first electric Advent candlestick was constructed (but not patented) in 1934 by Oscar Andersson (1909-1996), an employee at the Göteborg warehouse of the Dutch electronics firm Philip

Towards the end of 1929, Philips introduced electric Christmas tree lamps in Sweden. Many of these lamp-sets, designed for 120 V common in urban centres at the time, were returned 'defective' to the Philips warehouse, having been subjected to 220 V in rural areas. Tasked at the warehouse with salvaging the functioning lamps from these sets, Mr Andersson - a technical gymnasium graduate – had the idea to mount electric Christmas tree lamps on an ordinary wooden candlestick (purchased at Grand Bazar for 2 Swedish krona, or roughly 53 cents – the equivalent of C$ 8.80 today).

Displayed in the window of his parent's apartment on Karl Gustav Street in the quarter of Landala, the approval Mr Andersson's invention garnered among passers-by encouraged him to present the electric Advent candlestick to his supervisor. Savvy to its potential, the supervisor brought the contraption to Philips' Stockholm headquarters, where initial scepticism eventually turned into an agreement to manufacture a trial run of 2000 electric candlesticks for the 1939 Christmas season.

Marketed as a “fireproof,” safer alternative to live candlesticks, the
Philips Candlesticks were completely sold out (at 13 krona apiece, or roughly C$ 3.38 – equal to C$ 44.39 today) before Christmas Day that year. Mass-production commenced once WWII ended, and the material shortages caused by it were rectified. By the mid-1990s, around a million electric Advent candlesticks were sold in Sweden annually and could be found in just over 90% of Swedish households.

Intriguingly, the advent of the electric Advent candlestick largely altered its function from a symbolic, religious one, to a practically secular, illuminating one – pleasantly dispelling the darkness for believers and non-believers alike over the past 70 years.

Note: this article originally posted on November 29, 2008.

November 23, 2009

Say No to Violence against Women.

November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, designated by the UN in 1999 (though marked by women's activists since 1981) to raise awareness of the violence, abuse, and mistreatment women and girls around the world are subjected to. The date was chosen to commemorate the murder of three of the Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic. It also marks the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women, and is part of the UN Secretary-General's 2008 - 2015 campaign to intensify action to end violence against women and girls.

Today, violence directed at women is
one of the most common violations of human rights.
One in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, most likely by a man she knows. One in five women will be the victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. Half of the women murdered around the world each year are killed by their current or former husbands or partners. Women aged 15 – 44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war.

In Canada, 51% of women over the age 16 will be subjected to an act of physical violence in their life time. They are five times more likely than Canadian men to be
seriously injured or killed by their partner, and hundreds are murdered each year. Aboriginal women in Canada are five times more likely to die as the result of violence than other women their age. In the EU, between 40% and 50% of women report some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. Between 500.000 and 2 million people – the majority of them women and children – are sold annually into prostitution, forced labour, slavery and servitude.

According to Amnesty International, an estimated 130 million women and girls alive today have been subjected to
female genital mutilation, while 2 million girls are at risk each year. This particularly sadistic practice is common worldwide, not merely confined to ingrained pockets of ignorance and superstition, as are the thousands of “honour” and dowry killings committed each year by some of the world’s most ignorant and uneducated inhabitants.

The easiest way to demonstrate your support is adding your name to the Say NO - UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, a web-based initiative of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) that's seen 5,066,549 people sign on since November 2007 to a global call to make ending violence against women a top priority worldwide.

Though Canada's Minister of State for the Status of Women officially signed on our government's behalf in November 2008, commenting that “Canada is a world leader in advancing equality for women,” the Conservative government she's a member of meanwhile cut the Status of Women Canada budget, closed twelve of sixteen Status of Women Canada regional offices, eliminated the Court Challenges Program and the Law Commission, and refused to fund women's groups that engage in advocacy, lobbying, or general research.

The day may therefore also be spent inquiring of the minister how preciesly that brand of leadership - eradicating independent organisations that defend citizen's rights, question, analyze, and provide different perspectives to government - has advanced women's equality in Canada and elsewhere. It should be apparent to everyone that this kind of "leadership" Canada's - and the world's - women can do without.

Note: this is an updated version of the article originally posted on November 24, 2008.

November 18, 2009

National Child Day.

November 20th is National Child Day in Canada, enacted a mere 39 years after the UN called upon its members to establish a national holiday celebrating childhood on November 20, 1954, and proclaimed that date Universal Children's Day. It was in fact first celebrated in October 1953, at the request of the International Union for Child Welfare, to promote children's welfare and foster contact and understanding among the world's children. It's also the anniversary of the UN's adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959.

Convention on the Rights of the Child was signed on the same date in 1989, and has since been ratified by 193 states. Though only two – Somalia and the USA – haven't ratified the Convention, many of those that have (including Canada) haven't fully implemented the Convention in domestic laws, or have done so with numerous reservations. (The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts has only been ratified by 130 states, while the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography has only been ratified by 135 states.)

This year the
20th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - Celebrating Children's Rights is the theme, meant to raise awareness of the fundamental rights to which children are entitled. In Canada, we may also be reminded that November 24th (four days after National Child Day) will mark the 20th anniversary of the unanimous parliamentary resolution to end child poverty. Especially as Canada's child poverty rate - despite decades of unprecedented economic growth - currently stands at 9.5%.

Out of 784,738 Canadians relying of food banks to survive in March 2009, some 280,900 were children and youth under the age of 18 - an 86% increase since 1989. In First Nations and Inuit communities one in four children grow up in poverty; nearly one in two children of recent immigrants to Canada live in poverty. While the current, Conservative government attempts to address the problem with paltry, monthly handouts it has the gall to call a "child care plan", and lower taxes for parents who can afford to enroll their children in sports, 760,000 Canadian children (one out of every nine kids) live in poverty.

While National Child Day may be a good opportunity to familiarise yourself with what your state's actually signed on to, or reminding your elected representatives of their commitments, the day could also be spent actually listening to a kid (doesn't have to be your own, they're all worth your attention) and perhaps doing what they'd like to do for a change. Give them a break – they get told what to do practically every other day of the year.

Note: this is an expanded and updated version of an article originally published on November 19, 2008.

November 11, 2009

A War to Remember.

On November 11, they were almost halfway, having left Québec nearly two weeks earlier. Volunteers from all across Canada, heading for a theatre of war on the other side of the globe. For some of them, who'd barely traveled outside their home province, it may as well have been the end of the Earth. For some of them, it'd be the last place they'd ever go. They had signed up to defend peace, justice, progress, and civilization itself, against an enemy who — they'd been told — threatened all with his backward religious zealotry and militant aggression. They were the vanguard, the first 1,019 Canadians out of 7,368 (including 12 female nurses) who'd fight for the British Empire in South Africa over the next two and a half years.

The Second Boer War, known as the South African War in Canada, began 110 years ago. Canadians' awareness of this conflict, its causes and consequences, isn't particularly acute — though given our current involvement in Afghanistan, and the parallels between the two conflicts, we could do with a reminder. Especially as we once again find ourselves governed by reactionaries hellbent on reshaping the identity of our nation to one that better suits their jingoist stance — as evidenced by the current Conservative governments new, revised citizenship guide, and its greater emphasis on Canada's military history. Though don't rely on it for mention of Canada's "adventures" in South Africa, given that our exploits there aren't much to brag about.

That war was precipitated by the British Empire, having already annexed the Natalia Republic (today's KwaZulu-Natal) in 1843, setting its eye on the remaining independent Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (Transvaal). Situated between the Orange and Vaal rivers, by 1870 the Orange Free State had yielded impressive diamond deposits, while the Transvaal, north of the Vaal river, was the destination of the Witwatersrand Gold Rush in 1886, following the discovery of the largest gold-bearing deposits in the world. The South African gold may not have been as pure as that produced in Australia and Canada, but it was a lot easier to extract. As for diamonds, they wouldn't be discovered in Australia and Canada until a century later.

The only obstacle between the British Empire and this new sources of wealth were the Boer (black South Africans certainly didn't count). The Boer, descendants of Dutch, German, and French settlers were weary of the influx of mainly British prospectors into their states, and — having gained their independence — certainly not interested in becoming British subjects. The situation came to a head when British colonists launched a disastrous raid into Transvaal towards the end of 1895. Though ostensibly a private enterprise, it had been backed — until the very last moment — by the British government. The Boer successfully repelled the raid, but their predicament was exacerbated further by an unexpected expression of support from the German Emperor.

To the British this was simply further evidence of German meddling in "their affairs", and a perfect pretext for full-blown conflict. As British troops began assembling along their borders, the Boer gambled on a preemptive strike, launching an offensive in October 1899. However, by January 1900, colonial reinforcements from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, gave the British the upper hand, and by September 1900 the Boer republics were overrun. Refusing to surrender, the Boer engaged in a protracted campaign of irregular warfare, lasting until May 1902.

Canada's Prime Minister, Wilfrid Laurier, initally attempted to steer clear of a conflict which had no bearing whatsoever on Canada's national interests. But a majority of English Canadians were rearing for a jolly good "adventure", with the sole opposition emanating from Québec, and a few vocal English Canadian labour unions and farmers' groups. French Canadians in particular were not only worried of setting a precedent for involvement in future conflicts, but could also sympathise with the Boer — small nations struggling for independece in a sea of Anglos. Laurier eventually bowed to pressure, and agreed to a compromise which saw Canada provide volunteers, equipment and transportation in lieu of conscription.

Though Canadians had participated in the Nile Expedition of 1884-85, this was the first time large Canadian contingents participated in armed conflict abroad. Many signed up beliving they'd fight alongside other Canadians, commanded by Canadians even. As it turned out, the Brits called the shots from beginning to end, minding to quickly get out of the way once the actual shooting started. A scenario Canadians would experience for much of the First World War as well. As it happened, the first significant British victory of the conflict was won by Canadians, in the Battle of Paardeberg. Though as wreaths are placed at the South African War memorial in Toronto, the Boer War Memorial in Montréal, and other points of rememberance throughout Canada, let's remember that this particular "victory" — like most of them — was the result of pure luck.

Having experienced their worst day of losses during the entire conflict (8 dead, 60 wounded) in their very first combat, and bungled a nighttime sneak attack which saw most of the Canadian battalion retreat, two Canadian companies managed to convince 4,019 Boer men and 50 women (roughly 10% of the Boer army) to surrender. The battle could've easily gone the other way. Today there aren't many obvious reminders of this specific conflict in Canada, beyond its most infamous commander — Horatio Herbert Kitchener — being the namesake of many a street, park, school, and public building throught the country, even a city in Ontario.

The Mennonite community once known as Berlin, was violently intimidated to change its name after the racist Field Marshall's death in 1916. No German name would be tolerated by the rabid pro-Empire Anglos — despite the fact that the conflict fought at the time was (ostensibly) against German Emperor Wilhelm II , the first grandchild of British Queen Victoria. But Kitchener is perhaps best remembered as the mustachioed Big Brother staring down from a recruitment poster — like a British Stalin — intimidating citizens of the Empire to go get killed in the First World War, the pointless conflict which spelled the end of the era of empires. (Though we're often told to revere those fallen in that war for their sacrifice to peace and democracy, let's remember none of the participating nations were democracies in any modern sense of the word.)

What is less known is the tactics Kitchener employed in 1900, once the British offensive had failed to subdue the Boer. Apart from a "scorched earth" policy, which saw the devastation of Boer farms and ranches, their livelihoods and livestock destroyed, as well as using Boer prisoners as human shields to protect trains, Kitchener also turned refugee camps into concentration camps. Though similar camps had previously been established in the Russian Empire prior to the first partition of Poland, in the USA to concentrate Native Americans, and by Spain in Cuba and the Philippines, Kitchener's concentration camps are distinguished for being the first to actually be termed such.

The internment of Boer women and children in 45 tented camps (and an additional 64 for black South Africans of various ethnicities who lived in the two independent Boer republics) was meant to deny the Boer "guerillas" access to supplies, food, and shelter. Those interned also served as a means to extort: families of Boer men still fighting received smaller rations than others, causing mass starvation. Combined with poor sanitation, lack of food soon made diseases — measles, typhoid, dysentery — endemic in the camps. Shortage of medicine and medical care quickly led to large numbers of deaths.

According to the Canadian War Museum's resident historian Cameron Pulsifer, any comparison of these camps with the more infamous ones established by the German Nazi-regime is "grossly exaggerated and unfair". An opinion that easily calls into question the point of said museum. Whether or not the British — with ample help from Canadian volunteers — had intended to perpetrate a genocide is beside the point. They waged a war on two independent states for the purpose of annexing their territories and forcibly assimilating their populations. Regardless of the stated intentions, the end result ultimately speaks for itself: nearly 25% of the Boer population, 50% of all Boer children under the age of 16, and an estimated 12% of the black South African populations died in Kitchener's camps.

Starvation, disease, and exposure killed 27,927 Boer — of whom 24,074 were children — and 14,154 black South Africans. Though as no attempt was ever made to keep records of black South Africans, their deaths were likely underestimated. As many as 22,000 of the nearly 107,000 black South Africans interned may have perished in the camps. By comparison, only some 3,000 Boer men were killed in actual combat. Additionally, of the nearly 28,000 prisoners of war taken by British forces, some 25,630 were sent to prisons overseas. While not as purposeful as the Holocaust, it's a genocide that's left a lasting effect on the demography and quality of life in the region.

Why does this matter to us now? Because Canadians participated fully in these genocidal actions, taking active part in the "suppressive" policies during the entire duration of the war. Military fetishists like Pulsifer and his fellows at the Canadian War Museum may lack the courage to admit it, but not one among all these people — men, women, children — ever posed a threat to Canada in any way whatsoever. The Canadian War Museum's obfuscation of the atrocities and war crimes committed by Canadian volunteers is disingenuous and dishonest.

Ironically, once awareness of the appalling conditions in camps had been raised, primarily by Emily Hobhouse, Kitchener allegedly issued a "take no prisoners" order to prevent overcrowding. This only came to light during the court-martial of three Australian soldiers — one of whom happend to be folk hero Harry "Breaker" Morant — put on trial for executing Boer prisoners. Kitchener denied ever issuing the order, promptly signing the death warrants of the Australians. This didn't prevent Canadian scouts from wearing black feathers to indicate they'd shoot any Boer captured under arms. And what do we have to show for our participation in this "grand adventure"? 267 Canadians killed in action, 252 wounded, three Victoria crosses, one scarf crocheted by the Queen, and a springbok on the cap badge of the Royal Canadian Dragoons.

Though the legacy of the Second Boer War also taints the dress uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, whose distinctive Stetson hats and Strathcona boots were first officially sanctioned for use by Canadian South Africa volunteers. Canada also "gained" a Minister of Militia and Defence in South Africa veteran Sam Hughes — a reactionary hothead who not only helped convince Prime Minister Laurier of the necessity of getting involved in the South African war, but would go on to whip up nationalist fervour in the build up to the First World War, goading Canadians to yet again sacrifice themselves in a foreign conflict that had little to do with them.

As we're asked by our parliament this year to pause for two rather than the traditional minute of silence on Remembrance Day, let us remind ourselves of the chauvinist forces that are in fact one of the leading sources of conflict in our world. Let us remind ourselves how easily we can be decieved to lend our support to armed aggression in far away places, against people we don't know and have never met, who pose little — if any — threat to us.

As the martial sentimentalists in our current government and in our society attempt to institutionalise militarism in our country, to ritualise rememberance ceremonies, and imbue them with chauvinist platitudes and historical revisionism in order to turn future generations into willing recruits, let us remind ourselves that in 1899, the (Liberal) government of Canada claimed the overseas expediton to South Africa would not be a precedent. Time has clearly proven otherwise. It is in our power to change that.

November 9, 2009

World Diabetes Day.

The yearly global campaign to raise awareness of the diabetes epidemic culminates on November 14, World Diabetes Day. Introduced in 1991 by the International Diabetes Federation and the World Health Organisation, the date was chosen to mark the birthday of Frederick Banting, the Canadian scientist, doctor and Nobel laureate, who led the University of Toronto team credited with the first practical extraction of insulin.

(The first one to do so was in fact Romanian physiologist Nicolae Paulescu, though his pioneering efforts are largely ignored due to his rather virulent

Although recognized since antiquity, diabetes was only understood at the beginning of the 20th century, when research led to an effective treatment – insulin injections. Prior to that, receiving the diagnosis was a death sentence. However, there is still no practical cure, and while 285 million people will be living with diabetes in 2010, their number is expected to reach
435 million by 2030. Nearly 95% of them will have to deliver their own care.

Accurate estimates of mortality attributable to diabetes is difficult to obtain, but complications caused by diabetes (eye, kidney, nerve, and circulatory system diseases) will likely cause 4.4 million premature deaths (that's eight people every minute) in 2010 - a 5.5% increase over estimates for 2007. More deaths are expected among women than men, as diabetes already is a proportionally greater contributor to female mortality.

Though one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood, diabetes is often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. If undetected, among children the disease can be fatal or result in serious brain damage. Currently an estimated 440,000 children live with diabetes worldwide; 70,000 children under 15 develop the disease each year (that's almost 192 kids each day).

World Diabetes Day has featured a different theme each year, though currently Diabetes Education and Prevention has been chosen as the theme for the period 2009-2013, with the campaign slogan for 2009 being Understand Diabetes and Take Control. So take time on Saturday to educate yourself and spread awareness (Canadian activities listed here). It can be as simple as wearing something blue.

Note: this is an expanded and updated version of an article originally published on November 13, 2008.

November 8, 2009

Shelf Aware: The Naked Lunch.

Ceci n'est pas un livre. This is not a book. It looks like a book, feels like a book, smells like a book. Parts of it even read like a book. But a book it is not. It's an art object, William S. Burroughs' (1914-1997) most infamous invocation of the objet d'art that is a book. Its non-linear text can - intentionally - be read in no particular order, beginning practically anywhere.

What narrative there is doesn't so much unfold as writhe, convulsively convoluted, retracing its own tropes. Its short spurts indulge in wordplay, anecdotal slivers of conversation overheard somewhere smoky over the din of some drunken jazz band across filthy alleys upstairs some dingy hotel room, over sirens and noisy neighbours, trains rumbling underground cars roaring overhead. Spoken word snatches of the city soundscape, the buzz and verve of the urban landscape.

Cataloguing Burroughs' obsessions, in particular pharmacological terminology and hustler's jive, The Naked Lunch samples the lingo - not so much a cut-up as a mash-up - reveling in the qualities of highly specialised talk. A word hoard embellished by "routines", like the one about the adolescent who - literally - gets "his first piece of ass" (in a manner that would make Shylock's detractors faint), or the infamous parable about the man who taught his asshole how to talk.

It roisters in all the stuff that comes out of us, is produced by us, in its undisguised form - the naked us - blending maxims, quotations, antiquated expressions, frequently veering from hip to technical jargon within the same sentence. The anarchy isn't solely designed to shock, but to utterly trash bourgeoise notions of "good taste". Burroughs has it out with practically everyone he couldn't abide: pretentious puritans, fanatical fundamentalists, mercenary merchants, rabid racists, and insipid imperialists. All seen fit for flogging.

Curiously, The Naked Lunch also manages to depress the last half-century's global political hot-buttons: consumerism, bigotry, terrorism, xenophobia, drug and disease pandemics. Proving perhaps that the current struggle is always about the past. Despite his obfuscating manner, Burroughs strove to expose readers to the true state of things; the world through the eyes of a gay man attempting to escape in every manner possible the confines of closeted middle American life.

His writing explored the nature of obedience and manipulation, in order to locate the methods of control which perpetuated the sad state of world affairs, and - if not destroy them outright - disrupt them. For without them society as it had been organised couldn't exist. To Burroughs, the church, the state, and the suppression and repression of sexuality represented the primary tools with which populations could be kept subservient.

"Americans have a special horror of giving up control, of letting things happen in their own way without interference. They would like to jump down into their stomachs and digest the food and shovel the shit out."

The Naked Lunch plunges readers into a fast-moving world of constant, frenetic action, lightly mirroring Burroughs' own itinerant existence, rushing from place to place, from hit to hit, vaguely following an ambiguous clandestine entity whose raison d'être is to bring about the collapse of all systems. It stirs up conflict, chaos, panic, confusion, wherever it appears, engaging in evil regardless of its utility. Like an exceptionally malignant virus.

Burroughs had a particular interest in the constraints imposed by language, the way its limitations determine our ability to define reality. It may be universally agreed that two plus two equals four, but what we mean by "two", and what "four" represents says a lot about who we are and where we come from. Burroughs particularly wanted to expose the culinary camouflage we employ to disguise that which would be hard to swallow if we only took the time to examine what we "actually eat and drink". We may call what quivers at the end of the fork chateaubriand, but that don't change the fact it's a piece of flesh ripped from a living creature.

The manner with which Burroughs rouses the reader may be disagreeable - the multiple fetishistic hangings interspersed with explicit homosexual and heterosexual sex, intended as a critique of capital punishment were once labeled "obscene" and "pornographic" - but sometimes the only way to snap people from their stupor is a slap across the face. Which is what reading Burroughs frequently feels like; as painful as enjoyable. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, to get hung up on Burroughs style is akin to complaining that the man who bangs on your door in the middle of the night isn't particularly eloquent when announcing that your roof is on fire.

Regardless of which version of the text one may be reading - the first published in August 1959 by Olympia Press, the first American edition published by Grove Press in 1962, or the 2001 restored text - The Naked Lunch resists interpretation precisely to point out interpretations' limitations, revealing how in order to perceive a cohesive whole certain things must be ignored. Its antiexpressive, antidiscursive antinarrative calls into question both "expressiveness" and "intentionality" in literature, expanding the concept of writing far beyond its formal limits and intentions.

As such, it has been a source of inspiration for all artists venturing outside the "normal" limits of expression - particularly in film and pop music (there are those who blame Burroughs for Cyberpunk, but they've presumably never heard of Alfred Bester). But despite being the origin of "heavy metal" and numerous band names, most of Burroughs' admirers seem more enamoured with his image than his writing.

Hence his impact on popular culture has been greater than his influence on literature, touching even those who've never read him. The idea of Burroughs - a man who stared into the abyss and came back to report on it - always more appealing than the man himself or his writing ever was. The iconic Burroughs is a middle-aged, deadpan expressionless businessman, neatly attired in a three-piece suit and tie, practical haircut, who'd taken all manner of drugs known to man, and spews notions - with the voice of a St. Louis banker - that would make your parents froth at the mouth.

"That's the sex that passes the censor, squeezes through between bureaus, because there's always a space between, in popular songs and Grade B movies, giving away the basic American rottenness..."

The Naked Lunch is the text that created this cult figure, banned and narrowly escaping censorship in a trial that established the American obscenity standards for the following decades. It follows that the work itself is obscured by myth - often embellished and perpetuated by the writer and his cohorts themselves. There's claims the writer was doped while writing, that it was assembled from jumbled sources in a mad rush two weeks before first being printed in Paris, or that it's Burroughs' first foray into cut-ups.

The last is easiest to dismiss, as Burroughs was first introduced to the technique by Brion Gysin nearly a month after the first edition of The Naked Lunch hit the stands. It's possible Burroughs was writing under the influence, but it's not entirely clear of what: drugs, or his unrequited love for Allen Ginsberg. More likely he simply wanted to obscure just how much of his own experience he (consciously) imbued the text with - particularly his personal politics, which at the time leaned more towards the cooperative than the libertarian.

The order of the text's that comprise The Naked Lunch isn't as random as purported either. While the different editions have differed significantly, the main part of the manuscript - some one hundred pages - had been written by early 1957, and remained largely unaltered since. Towards the end of 1956, Burroughs had kicked his habit for the first (but not last) time, and it's the beginning and end - if, indeed, they are such - that bear the marks of three different pairs of hands (Burroughs', Ginsberg's, and Jack Kerouac's) attempting to cobble a book together on at least four different occasions.

The myths are partially a byproduct of the main dish, a particularly runny concoction, threatening to "spill off the fork in every direction" practically all of the time. They may provide the hapless reader with some semblance of cohesion, yet simultaneously threaten to counter what may be the work's intended purpose. Half a century since it was first published, The Naked Lunch remains a baffling and fascinating indelible stain on the American literary landscape, and has become a preeminent classic of Beat literature.


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