Naked Lunch | Study Guide

William Burroughs

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Naked Lunch | Chapter 11 : A.J.'s Annual Party | Summary

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Summary

A.J. hosts a party with live entertainment, emceed by The Great Slashtubitch. The entertainment commences with a blue (pornographic) movie of a sex act presented by Mary, Johnny, and Mark. They have sex with one another, partly with the assistance of an artificial mechanical phallus called Steely Dan. They hang one another from a gallows in midcoitus, then Johnny sets himself and Mary on fire. The film cuts to show Johnny and Mary alive and having sex in a room before their "bodies disintegrate in green explosions."

The scene shifts to The Beagle, who takes heroin. The narrative describes a surreal sequence which involves a plane and a burglar. An old man talks about his sex life in younger years, among other memories. A sheriff displays a young man whose penis measures nine inches before hanging him. The boy chases a "screaming fag down the midway" before the gay man jumps into an arcade and has sex with a black man. Mary, Johnny, and Mark appear at the end of this blue movie to take a bow, ropes still around their necks.

Analysis

A.J.'s party parallels the action that takes place in Hassan's rumpus room in Chapter 9. In Chapter 15 A.J. is described as a jokester who enjoys creating chaos and provoking responses from people, particularly those overly concerned with status and appearances. Here he shows his guests a sexually explicit film, and the descriptions of the activities are lurid, but impersonal. The performers use a mechanical device on one another, heightening the absence of human connection between them.

In another parallel with the scene in Hassan's rumpus room, the performers in the blue movie hang one another while engaging in sex. The hangings are presented as a means of heightening whatever pleasure exists in the acts. In addition, they provide an extension of the criticism Burroughs talks about in his essay "Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness." He explains these scenes are written as a satire in the vein of Jonathan Swift's work. Swift's essay "A Modest Proposal" (1729) satirically presents infanticide as a means to reduce poverty in Ireland. Similarly, Burroughs criticizes the death penalty by showing execution combined with acts most of mainstream America would easily deem obscene. The point here is the practice of capital punishment is no less obscene, but mainstream America finds that practice acceptable, even desirable.

The latter half of the blue movie combines the surreal imagery of heroin intoxication, beginning when The Beagle takes a dose. A Beagle in drug culture is a person who is able to locate, or sniff out like a beagle, drug stashes with ease. The sequence with the sheriff illustrates a propensity in law enforcement to humiliate suspects. The sequence that follows speaks to the American tendency to victimize homosexuals and other minorities. When the three primary players appear, alive, at the end of the performance, it serves as a reminder this is all a movie. Still, the performers seem worse for the wear.

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