“Last night I woke up with someone squeezing my hand. It was my other hand.”
‘Naked Lunch’ is intended to be opened at any page, hence its lack of plot. It is a collage of ideas, imagery, grotesque description and few reoccurring obscure characters. There are many instances where you find yourself unable to comprehend what is happening, despite having read what is happening. Even if you do eventually grasp your surroundings and can visualise them, they change so often to different extremes that the comprehension still fades. You may be wondering if you have never read ‘Naked Lunch’, how this affects the reader and I can only speak from my own experience. I knew what I was getting myself into before I began, simply because I watched a book review online and I saw the reviewer convey how disgusted and difficult he found the novel, simply wishing he hadn’t attempted to comprehend the plot. The book is essentially plot-less and should be read as such. Any time dedicated to finding the plot shall be wasted! There is no beginning, middle or end, rather much like a drug trip, it is a journey with no linear structure.
There are conversations between characters and internal monologues that are intensely interesting and easy to follow, at these moments the question comes to mind, does a book need a plot? If ‘Naked Lunch’ is a series of images, conversations, existential crises and drug fuel hallucinations that don’t constitute a plot, and yet is still a book, then why don’t more books have no plots if they are unnecessary?
When one has many ideas for a book buzzing around inside their head but feels they must conform to the formulaic nature of books then it’s possible this stifles creativity. Many a time people have been discouraged from writing because they couldn’t think of a good ending or how to end it. If this worry was removed because books didn’t need to adhere to any rules many pieces would be written carefree! Some authors began their novels in the middle and wrote around that specific chapter, it is unlikely that an idea for a book will come in order or that you will think of the beginning, well, at the beginning. Sometimes it is as simple as a specific scene coming to mind. ‘Naked Lunch’ is essentially Willaim Burroughs’s collective thoughts and experiences cut together. The narrative would become diluted if it were to be tamed, the highs wouldn’t be genuine if they were forced to be relatable to the reader. I believe it is easier to think of a novel as a memory that you create on behalf of other characters, and while say, detective novels can be cut-up in a way that is supposed to confuse the audience and allow them to put the pieces together, sometimes vivid memories are sporadic and fragmented with no conclusion. Therefore, this does not damage the realism of the book if that is the intention. Incomprehensibility is sometimes the only sane reaction to events and to be made to alter your vision for consumption of the public can be a disservice to them. Challenging literature is always rewarding because it makes you work for what you are discovering. Despite its random nature ‘Naked Lunch’ is an example of a story without a story and although the subject matter may turn away some readers, the fascination with the Cut-Up Technique should stay with those that have dared to read it, no matter the page they started on.
A bonus argument is that plot-less books are a lot easier to pretend you have read, just saying.
Side photo credit: Flickr/’from Naked Lunch?’ by Scott Lowe