Friday, September 11, 2009

A Beat Classic at 50

Naked Lunch or The Naked Lunch? We have this Beat Generation classic covered both ways with our recent acquisition of signed first edition copies of William Burroughs's groundbreaking novel in its original French and American editions. Olympia Press, a Parisian publisher of pornography and avant-garde literary novels was the first to press with The Naked Lunch in 1959. An American publisher in New York, Grove Press, printed its own version in the same year known simply as Naked Lunch.

So which is it? Burroughs would later claim that the Parisian publisher added the article in question. He would also credit Kerouac with the idea for the title, and elaborated on its significance. "The title means exactly what the words say: naked lunch, a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork."

Dartmouth's acquisition highlights other important differences in the two editions. First, they represent slightly different manuscripts. Burroughs wrote most of the material that would become Naked Lunch in Tangiers. When Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac visited him there, both men helped Burroughs to edit the manuscripts that became Naked Lunch. The two published versions represent Ginsberg and Kerouac’s interventions.

In the case of the American version, Naked Lunch became a cause célèbre after it was banned in Boston on grounds of obscenity. That ruling was later overturned by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and the case would help to settle obscenity laws related to literary works. The case would also elevate Burroughs’s celebrity to a status enjoyed by his Beat buddy Kerouac and Norman Mailer, an important defender of Naked Lunch in the Massachusetts court case.

Both copies were purchased on the Doris Benz Fund.
Posted by Jay Satterfield for Mark Melchior

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