Judgment day; or William S. Burroughs is Life

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“Lee on junk is covered, protected and also severely limited. Not only does junk short-circuit the sex drive, it also blunts emotional reactions to the vanishing point, depending on the dosage. Looking back over the action of Queer, that hallucinated month of acute withdrawal takes on a hellish glow of menace and evil drifting out of neon-lit cocktail bars, the ugly violence, the .45 always just under the surface. On junk I was insulated, didn’t drink, didn’t go out much, just shot up and waited for the next shot. When the cover is removed, everything that has been held in check by junk spills out. The withdrawing addict is subject to the emotional excesses of a child or an adolescent, regardless of his actual age. And the sex drive returns in full force. Men of sixty experience wet dreams and spontaneous orgasms (an extremely unpleasant experience, agaçant as the French say, putting the teeth on edge). Unless the reader keeps this in mind, the metamorphosis of Lee’s character will appear as inexplicable or psychotic. Also bear in mind that the withdrawal syndrome is self-limiting, lasting no more than a month. And Lee has a phase of excessive drinking, which exacerbates all the worst and most dangerous aspects of the withdrawal sickness: reckless, unseemly, outrageous, maudlin—in a word, appalling—behavior

― William S. Burroughs, “Junky”


If teenage me saw this cover for the book “Junky” by William S. Burroughs, I’d buy in a second. As an adult, I feel like the name and cover is a little exploitative – I’d  pick it up, though, and read the back. It’s an autobiographical novel, with some of Burroughs’ later themes and weirdness built in.

As an adult, I’m less interested in the blatant drug use than how he sees people and his views on the world – I can see where and how this book impacted my development… I’m surprised I’m not more amoral than I am…was? The main character is your typical anti-hero, and no one in this book even has a full set of morals.

This book does warn against the behavior associated with drug use. There’s promiscuity, theft, and terrible people. At one point, he steals drunks’ wallets off of a train. Then, he goes into detail about when a man caught up to him and Burroughs kicked him in the ribs… no part of this book makes the lifestyle around drug use seem beautiful or tempting. Rather, he describes the experience of the drug, but all the warnings about the pain of kicking and having to keep an irregular and a temporary style of life are flagrant.

He’s moving back and forth between St. Louis, Mexico, and other places, and ends up kicking at Riker’s. What in the name of life made drug use seem appealing as a teenager/pre-teen? I must have viewed life itself as something terrible and saw drug use as the only escape.


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