Psychic Travel in 'Naked Lunch'
Written for a module dealing with literary French travelogues in the Middle East, this essay shifts the focus to American fiction, and to a novelistic treatment of the Middle East that is at the same time more generalised and emblematic, and more specifically political and subversive than traditional Orientalistic works. Burroughs' treatment of the imaginary yet distinctively Middle-Eastern locale of Interzone within 'Naked Lunch' appeared, from an impressionistic first reading, to play some part in the novel's general subversion of Western (and especially American) mores. However, it was no small task to clearly distinguish and place its implications within the intricate thematic web spun by the novel's highly fragmentary and associative prose. I opted for a close reading of the novel, largely ignoring narrative flow and paying attention instead to frequently recurring themes, especially when they seemed to be associated with foreigners in general and Middle Easterners in particular. In this way I hoped to discover the thematic structure and hierarchy underpinning the narrator's invocation of the Middle East throughout the novel. My findings suggested that the Oriental here functions as a metaphor for authentic humanity repressed. Close contact with it/them, as through physical travel to the actual Middle East or psychical travel (e.g. through reading a novel) to the mentality symbolised by Interzone, seems to function here as an act both of spiritual emancipation and of intellectual rebellion. It constitutes an attempt, rather than criticising repression, to unashamedly embrace the repressed and maligned role and thus transcend it