Agents & Agency in Naked LunchButtercup Dew
Quotes from the Naked Lunch film are unreferenced. Quotes from the text have a chapter reference, as page references are different between the various published editions and formats.
Naked Lunch is David Cronenberg’s 1991 adaptation of William Burroughs’ novel of the same name. It is likely as close to a direct adaptation of the novel as possible, given that Naked Lunch is a postmodern piece of fiction with many asides and no clear narrative structure. The film varies between loosely shadowing the book, lifting directly from the text’s trademark macabre anecdotes, and offering new interpretations. As a translation between mediums, the exaggerated farce of the text has been pared down to specific themes and motifs which, on screen, offer a new, grisly, and fascinating experience.
The paranoia, intrigue, and international rings of predatory parasites posited by Burroughs are present, restructured into a new and meandering story where Burroughs – the narrator and protagonist – becomes gradually drawn into dealing with the grotesque and incredible in order to expose the malevolent agents at the top of the opiates industry, or “junk pyramid.” In these aspects, Naked Lunch is similar to other narcotics agent stories such as Philip K. Dick’s novel A Scanner Darkly and Werner Herzog’s film Bad Lieutenant. Both describe a narc only being able to nail the pushers by taking the substance offered and becoming gradually dislocated and schizophrenic: “Shoot him again.” “What for?” “His soul is still dancing.” Naked Lunch (the text) is partly autobiographical and is stated as such in the Epilogue. The film carries on this ambition; this version of Burroughs the author and his fictional Agent “William Lee” are one and the same.
Lee himself is played by the stern and handsome Peter Weller, exploring a different type of cinematic horror after his appearance in Robocop. He is introduced as an insect exterminator who wishes to work as a writer. We also meet his Beat friends, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. These two characters and the overarching plot arc of the “real life” Burroughs accepting his identity as an “agent” (being synonymous with “author”) is the weakest part of the film, being a framing device for the components and reinvention of Naked Lunch proper that makes up the film’s core. It becomes especially obvious as Lee travels to and from the addled world of conspiracy, with Ginsberg and Kerouac seeming like they belong in a different film altogether; their casual wear makes the suited Lee stand out as the central character, and they are merely accessories to the central drama between Lee and his handlers.
“Exterminate all rational thought,” says Burroughs in response to Ginsberg. “What is the man talking about? I was being serious . . .” complains Ginsberg. “So is he,” reproaches Kerouac. The Exterminator (as Burroughs says in the source text) Does A Good Job. The novel’s “Coke Bugs” – drug addicts ensnared into selling their lifespans short for another hit of opiates – are not present, yet the film, like the text, has an obsession with insects, insect behavior, and the transmogrification of man and insect. Burroughs’ wife Joan introduces the “domestic problem” of becoming hooked on shooting up his bug powder, which gives her a “Kafka, literary” high. Her theft costs him his job. She and Kerouac hook up whilst Ginsberg reads extracts from the Naked Lunch text: the repeated “exercisers of telepathic sensitivity . . . officials of unconstituted police states, brokers of exquisite dreams and nostalgias” are all players in the fringe society of junk and depravity, servicing what Burroughs terms “the algebra of need” (the phrase is never properly defined, but sticks in the mind). Lee agrees to shoot up with her, despite his objections that “that was the best job I ever had . . . It’s bug powder, for Christ’s sake!” and ends up murdering her through a “William Tell” act gone wrong that causes him to flee to “Interzone.”
Surprisingly, the classical racism of American nativism and a cogent anti-Semitism appears early in the film, when Lee is trying to score some bug powder after his stocks have been depleted by his wife. Three other exterminators are hanging out in the company canteen, where the Chinese junk distributor plies his trade (“The chink short-changed me!”). Whilst the actors are white, the stooped shoulders and sneers suggest a Jewish caricature. Ordinarily, they should be interpreted as just working class – possibly Irish-Americans – but these are extraordinary times. Burroughs himself writes in a “radical Jewish student handing out leaflets” on the second page of Naked Lunch, suggesting he was wise to nefarious Jewish dealings and impulses (having slaughtered millions in the Soviet Union, the liberty afforded to Jews in the United States to make the country into their personal playground is breathtaking). In fact, Peter Boretski, who plays “Exterminator #1,” also played “an old Jewish man,” Sam Cohen, in the film Sam & Me, also released in 1991. His character in Naked Lunch adds evidence that Cronenberg is critiquing his own ethnic group: “We saw you go off with the heat . . . they won’t give it [the bug powder] back to Cohen. It’s evidence, they say.”
Being from a “middle-class progressive Jewish family” (a Jewish progressive? Imagine my shock), Cronenberg could not be unaware of how it would be interpreted. Later in the film, Jewish stereotyping becomes explicit as Lee visits a pawn shop run by a balding, bespectacled Jew (a “Denkovsky”) who screws him out of as much as he can in exchange for an otherwise unsellable portable typewriter. He takes his gun: “It’s commie trash, and it’s been fired very recently . . . This plus eight dollars. You got any ammo to go with it?” The Chinese bug powder dealer refers to an autobiographical note by Burroughs: “Old time, veteran Schmeckers, faces beaten by grey junk weather, will remember . . . In 1920s a lot of Chinese pushers around found the West so unreliable, dishonest and wrong, they all packed in, so when an Occidental junky came to score, they say: “No glot . . . C’lom Fliday . . .”
Naked Lunch as a text “goes round and round. In shape it is circular, and by nature it is interminable, repetitive, and nearly unbearable . . .” and hinges on key phrases, premises and situations. It is an indictment of the vermin who are marginalised by healthy societies yet thrive like roaches in a madhouse quarantined by international law enforcement, leaving it subject to its own internal regulation. Junk dealing Chinese and “Pete men” sucking “black smoke in the Chink laundry back room” are recurring motifs for Burroughs, who returns to this detail throughout and uses it to close the novel. It reveals the isolation of being a mere individual in a society fractured into competing ethnic groups; it is a sneering reminder that cosmopolitan, multi-lingual, multi-racial panmixia (“le métissage culturel . . .”) results in universal mistrust, parasitism and mundanity: “No good . . . No Bueno . . . Hustling myself . . . C’lom Fliday.”
The detective plot is introduced when Lee is apprehended by City Narcotics and questioned over his possession of bug powder. The dialogue is cleverly ambiguous: “I was a troubled person then, I’m married. Straight. Got a good job.” Is it a reference to sexuality or drugs? Lee’s descent into Interzone is entwined with a descent into homosexuality. Interzone is a male society where women have little agency, or none at all: The men who run the place are indifferent to them, find them unbearable, or see them as playthings. But the conversation is about the authenticity of Lee’s gear: “Let’s see if this yellow stuff will kill it,” they say.
The officers produce a giant beetle out a shoebox and leave Lee and the bug alone in the room. The bug climbs into the powder and lathers itself in it. As the insect talks, a sphincter under its carapace vocalizes: “William Lee? I have arranged all this just to have a moment alone with you. I am your case officer. You are my agent. I in turn report to your controller . . .” Lee is clearly hallucinating, or thanks to the bug powder, the real world is finally becoming apparent.
The insect instructs him to kill his wife, Joan Lee, claiming she is an agent of Interzone Incorporated, “a notorious free port on the North African coast. A haven for the mongrel scum of the Earth . . . an engorged parasite on the underbelly of the West.” It sounds suspiciously like whatever bolt-hole Epstein crawled out of, and the termite parasites squealing about anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. In Burroughs’ text, the depravity of Interzone is astonishing in scale. It makes a twisted satire of the perverted tastes of those with unimaginable wealth. It is a high society of the most debased and vile individuals . . . the whole thing stinks, and the text and characters run riot. The overall impression of the book, accurately identified and re-expressed through different means in the film, is that the excess of Interzone is a frivolous distraction for powerful men with freakish designs and interests.
Here, Naked Lunch begins its commentary on writing and subversion. There is the objective world, and the world of intrigue and guesswork that the writer experiences. Does the writer have agency, is he really an “agent?” Are works of fiction and metapolitical texts the necessary precursor to political change, or is it narcissistic cover, a trivial fig leaf for effective political violence? Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch offers the perspective of a writer who imagines a conspiracy and inserts himself into the center of it, and the film sympathetically affirms that he was on to something – as the conspiracy is uncovered, the reality of Lee’s experiences is validated. The speculation about whether Burroughs was indeed an agent of the OSS is plausible, and he repeatedly insinuated that Naked Lunch was more reality than drug-trip: “A paranoid is someone who has all the facts.”
Agent Lee begins co-operating with the Mugwump creatures who make contact with him. The insect at the police station and his portable typewriter and handler, a “Clark Nova,” are implicitly Mugwumps manifesting in a different form. The Mugwump characters are genuinely alien and speak with an impassive managerial tone; they have dulled black eyes, oversized skulls, a spine of fleshy protrusions, hunched shoulders, and a gelatinous exterior like fish eggs. He is introduced to a Mugwump in person by an Interzone boy, Kiki, as he is now a fugitive, and he visits a waterfront dive bar: “A friend of mine . . . he specializes in sexual ambivalence.”
“No point acting surprised,” the Mugwump says. “You knew we would be getting in touch with you.”
Lee’s first experience in Interzone is compiling his first report for the Mugwumps regarding the assassination of his wife by “unknown forces.” His outward respectability belies his increasing level of addiction – Naked Lunch the film tends to gloss over what Burroughs emphasizes in his book: the outward visible decomposition of the addict. Constant reference is made to “grey junk mist” and “ectoplasm”; junk in Burroughs’ text is intimately linked with disintegration and the sloughing off of all life activity not related to the tides of opiate highs and withdrawal:
Use of junk removes fat, leaves muscle more or less intact. The addict seems to need less tissue . . .
I had not taken a bath in a year of changed my clothes or removed them except to stick a needle every hour in the fibrous grey wooden flesh of terminal addiction.
The infamous Bradley the Buyer anecdote about an undercover narc who gradually develops an all-absorbing, globby body of grey-green flesh riffs on this with tongue-in-cheek humor, as does the presentation of the “The Complete All American De-anxietised Man,” whose flesh “turns to a viscid, transparent jelly that drifts away in green mist, unveiling a monster black centipede.”
For Burroughs, junk – both its consumption and the power addiction of dealership – is equated with the reduction of man to a set of insect synapses: “. . . his flesh jerks in the fire in insect agony.” “He laughed, black insect laughter that seemed to serve some obscure function of orientation like a bats’ squeak.” “. . . blank and greedy, undreaming insect eyes.” It is also equated with the power high of “Sending” – one-way telepathy that reduces its victim to an object, a telepathically instructed slave. “Ever dig the Mayan codices? I figure it like this: the priests – about one percent of the population – made with telepathic broadcasts instructing the workers what to feel and when . . .” This critique is expanded and its ramifications explored in the landmark 1992 cyberpunk thriller novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson: the hacker Hiro (pronounced Hero) Protagonist has to battle the tech monopolist, a media magnate has who has achieved this exact goal (Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg, anyone?).
The titular “Snow Crash” is a DNA-altering drug that suspends or destroys the learned linguistic structures of the brain, allowing victims to be controlled by speaking in tongues directly to a deeper, more primitive brainstem. “If mystical explanations are ruled out, then it seems that glossolalia comes from structures buried deep within the brain, common to all people.” The principal villain, Bob Rife, intends to flood the anarcho-capitalist former United States landmass with Eur-Afro-Asian “refugees,” all of which have aerials implanted into their brainstems, making them mindless slaves that are effortlessly controlled through radio broadcasts:
“It’s worse than horrible because a zombie has no will of his own. You see them sometimes walking around blindly with dead eyes, following orders, not knowing what they do, not caring.”
“You mean like Democrats?”
As with contemporary Democrats who wish to erase whites from the North American landmass through simply drowning us in a blue tidal wave of human flotsam, Bob Rife enjoys support from United States political organs. The refugees are brought across through an accumulation of small boats and rafts tied to a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, formerly the USS Enterprise. This tsunami of genetic sewage is of course the blue voting base, and in real life they are similarly afflicted with neurolinguistic viruses propagated by the Jewish media, chief amongst them being the voodoo magic of hidden “racism” and “white privilege” to the goblin races. Their endocrinal systems and poor IQ prevent them accomplishing any noteworthy collaborative project. The ability of whites to cooperate and achieve social peace, stable political systems, medicine, science, and engineering seems to be a magical knack to them, like something from a fairy tale or distant realm. Nearly all modern television appears to be a form of “Sending,” a contribution to the L. Bob Rife dream of controlling a global population incapable of independent cognition. “In sum, television viewing may be so strongly linked to civic disengagement because of the psychological impact of the medium itself.”
“IND’s,” says Benway, “Irreversible Neural Damage. Overliberated, you might say . . . a drag on the industry.”
For Burroughs, the Sender at the switchboard of this televisual, neurolinguistic, metaviral nightmare is emptied of all human warmth by the experience:
“Finally the screen goes dead . . . The Sender has turned into a huge centipede . . . So the workers come in and burn the centipede and a elect a new Sender by consensus of the general will . . .”
The supposed central conflict of Naked Lunch is between the Interzone Parties of Liquefactionists, Divisionists, Senders, and Factualists (“We oppose, as we oppose atomic war, the use of such knowledge to control, coerce, debase, exploit or annihilate the individuality of another living creature”), is a gross and deadly critique on the malignant narcissism of the elite and their degenerative “control addiction” (which, if video footage of Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel is to be believed, leads to violent shaking; is this demonic possession, or the onset of kuru?). The book’s centerpiece statement, and the only text italicized in the novel, is: “[C]ontrol can never be a means to any practical end . . . It can never be a means to anything but more control . . . Like junk . . .”
Entwined into this nightmare is Burroughs’ doubts – and possibly experiences – with his sexuality. The principle disconnection from his “normal” life is the shooting of his wife, closely followed by a seemingly erotic encounter with a male insect. Kiki the Interzone boy, who introduces him to the Mugwumps, has a perfectly boyish and made-up face with startling eyes. He ends up both seducing Lee and being exploited by him for further connections within Interzone. The Mugwumps – like in the novel – are homosexual predators, though this is only shown indirectly at first. “Eve, with the wonderful car” – a dandy intrigued by Lee and his baffling, cryptic anecdotes (Lee borrows from Benway: “Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his asshole to talk?”) invites an unwilling Kiki to see his parrot collection . . .
Lee returns from the pissoir to witness Kiki’s rape and murder by Eve, who has become a giant, fleshy cockroach. The impression of both film and book is that Burroughs is (wrongly) unable to separate homosexuality from predatory behavior or even pederasty – a cursory glance at that the gay scene will prove that whilst boyishness and age difference is popular, pederasty is an unwelcome peculiarity (what gay man wants to feel his age makes him unattractive?). The notable exceptions are those who identify as “LGBT,” and so ideologically support the sexualization of children through their identification with freedom of expression and transgenderism – “there are even trans babies!” – and creatures who flee to Interzone, where their sexual addictions are encouraged. The sociopathy of trans-trash who support the sexual exploitation of “trans” children leads one to think that their human exterior is just a concealing shell for a giant cockroach, operating the mouth and face and limbs to accrue enough social status to feed their control addiction . . .
Nonetheless, homosexuality is an eccentric interest. The heterosexual majority is phobic of any ideas about male beauty or agency that do not reflect the protector/provider role desired by women. A man who puts his own preferences first will always be isolated in this way from his peers – hatred of homosexuality is in its own way a hatred of male liberation from female sexual power. Bill’s brief interactions with his case officer, Clark Nova, on the topic of his wife reflect the sort of misogynistic mistrust of women that comes from believing in the male principle contrasted with female qualities; that man with a singular, aspirational “fixedness” is in conflict with the “deception, passivity, wetness and changeability” of woman (explored in Amanda Bradley’s “Absolute Woman” Evola commentary).
The suited Bill Lee is “is the Realized Man, a fulcrum in the centre, the meeting point of all the warp and woof” (the film revolves around the axis of Lee and his reports). Disillusioned with marriage – “My god, Joan, you’re acting like a full-fledged junky” – he became ready to dispatch her. Clark Nova has some sympathy for Evola’s criticisms: “Women aren’t human, Bill. Or perhaps more precisely . . . they’re a different species from men, with different wills and different purposes on Earth.” Evola’s commentary that woman is “prone to lie and disguise her true self even when she has no need to do so . . . something linked to her deepest and most genuine nature” is echoed by Clark Nova: “Joan was an elite-corp centipede.”
Bill Lee, and all other radical men who divorce themselves from the manipulations of the weaker sex, must live with the doubt hanging over them that they might be “gay.” He who does not swim with the shoal, becomes an “agent” – of an aesthetic, ideology, or lifestyle, or an agency he can strike a deal with in order to service his own ends.
“Bill, could you do me a favor? I want you to type a few words into me, words that I’ll dictate to ya.”
“Sure, what the hell.”
“Okay. Now, the first sentence is . . .”
“Homosexuality is the best all-around cover an agent ever had . . .”
The “healthy’ heterosexual majority on the other hand are hindered by their necessary investment in the system; they must believe as their peers do in order to safeguard their social status and mental health. They become schizophrenic: “Suggest that his cover story is his identity and that he has no other. His agent identity becomes unconscious, that is, out of his control” . . . Whites with healthy instincts will instinctively cling to rationalizations and proxy issues that allow them collective agency without blowing their socially protective cover stories. They can only articulate their horror at being a disprivileged and exploited group through increasingly flimsy terminology about rights and legalities: Their “cover story and secret life” are “inextricably garbled.”
White racial consciousness is a necessary precursor to individual and collective assertion and agency. To uncover the conspiracy against them, whites must be willing to examine the Naked Lunch, the truth on the end of every fork: that the centipedes are running our society and want us eating maggots for their own amusement. A white person’s racial consciousness – and by extension, his recognition of the conspiracy to destroy him – is in Benway’s soothing words, “like an agent – an agent who’s come to believe his own cover story . . . but who’s in there, hiding in a larval state, just waiting for the proper moment to hatch out.”
 Naked Lunch, “Introduction – deposition: testimony concerning a sickness.”
 Werner Herzog, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009).
 Naked Lunch, “Introduction.”
 Naked Lunch, “I can feel the heat closing in . . .”
 Deepa Mehta, Sam & Me (1991).
 Wikipedia, David Cronenberg, original sources removed from the Web.
 Naked Lunch, “Ordinary Men and Women.”
 Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman (London: Flamingo Modern Classics, 1993). The line was omitted from the published novel, but thankfully readded by publishers in later editions. The line describes “the re-discovery of the familiar, the re-experience of the already suffered.”
 Naked Lunch, “The Algebra of Need.”
 Sarkozy, then President of France, used the line as part of a speech declaring the enforcement of racial panmixia, interbreeding, and affirmative action as both necessary and a “twenty-first century challenge.” Whilst the Left may downplay the phrase and say that the (justified) nationalist response was hysterical, the imposition of an aggressive Afro-Muslim minority on the native French by successive Left and center-Right governments is proof, if any were needed, that the French political elite despise their countrymen.
 William Burroughs, Unabridged, a documentary by Jonathon Leyser; covered by Chicago Reader. Astonishingly, the Jewish Leyser openly admits to a “Whatcha doing, rabbi?” type hate-hoax of forging an anti-Semitic letter. Quite possibly a misquote of “sometimes paranoia’s just having all the facts.”
 Naked Lunch, “Hospital.”
 Naked Lunch, “Introduction.”
 Naked Lunch, “Meeting of International Conference of Technological Psychiatry.”
 Naked Lunch, “The Black Meat.”
 Naked Lunch, “Islam Incorporated and the Parties of Interzone.”
 Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (New York: Bantam Books, 1992).
 Bob Hope in The Ghost Breakers, a 1940 American horror comedy directed by George Marshall.
 Joshua Meyrowitz, No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behaviour (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985).
 Naked Lunch, “Benway.”
 Naked Lunch, “Islam Incorporated and the Parties of Interzone.”
 Naked Lunch, “Ordinary Men and Women.”
 Amanda Jette Knox, @MavenofMayhem, in an infamous and now deleted tweet.
 “According to[Havelock] Ellis, women are fascinated by male strength, but they have no opinions about male beauty. Insensitive almost to the point of being blind, they have a discerning eye for male beauty not greatly different from that of the normal male. Sensitivity to the peculiar beauties of the male is the exclusive property of the homosexual.” Yukio Mishima, Forbidden Colors.
 James J. O’Meara, “Passing the Buck: Spy, Dandy, Übermensch.”
 Amanda Bradley, “Absolute Woman: A Clarification of Evola’s Thoughts on Women.”
 “Now look, Doc, you say something once. ‘To speak of a healthy homosexual it’s like how can a citizen be perfectly healthy with terminal cirrhosis.’ Remember?” – Naked Lunch, “Ordinary Men and Women.”
 Naked Lunch, “Benway.”
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The dingo Vic Stamp has a great appreciation of WSB:
Yeah, I know Miles Mathis thinks everyone is an intell agent, but his take on Burroughs as a (real) agent is interesting. People, even “biographers,” have been repeating the same stories about Burroughs for 50 years without asking the most basic questions. Like, how could someone take heroin for 50 years until dying at 83? Why does “Burroughs” look like he’s at least 40 in even the earliest photos? What’s with his supposed “studying” in Mexico and Vienna? Etc. Consider Naked Lunch in the context of Pizzagate and Russiagate:
“Although these events get manufactured and these plans do go forward, not everyone in government, the military, or the CIA is happy with them. Perhaps this is what Burroughs was telling us with his Liquefactionists, Senders, Factualists, and Divisionists. One faction writes history and another faction tries to unwrite it. One faction fakes an event and another faction leaks it. One faction tries to turn America into a wasteland, and another faction tries to stop them.” http://mileswmathis.com/beat.pdf
Thanks James. I tend to write just on the source material without much further research — it keeps things more accessible as a polemic. Useful further reading, especially as asking basic questions is not the strong point of conventional biographers.
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