Naked Lunch | Study Guide

William Burroughs

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Naked Lunch | Chapter 13 : The Market | Summary

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Summary

The City of Interzone is described as a sprawling city of "minarets, palms, mountains, jungle." The people lounge and take drugs, gamble, play music, and leave the city on "expeditions." The City is also overtaken by periodic outbreaks of violence. Much of the unsavory activity centers on the City Market, which houses the Meet Café.

Burroughs includes a note stating the section about the City and the Meet Café were written in a state of yage intoxication. This indigenous South American medicine brewed from a vine called Banisteriopsis caapi and other plants (ayahuasca, now a popular drug) features prominently. The narrator describes the slow and quiet state the brew induces.

The narrator relates a story about the use of yage as a tool for divination. A few residents worry a medicine man named Xiuptutol will identify a killer, but they make plans to declare him incompetent. What follows is a string of short tales of outlandish and outrageous natures from several sources, apparently agents of Islam Inc.

Clem and Jody fall in line next to a funeral procession through the Market. They carry their own coffin inscribed with the words "This was the noblest Arab of them all." A pig wearing traditional Arabic garb falls out of Clem and Jody's coffin.

Jody describes having sex in zero gravity and the possibility of "indirect conception." She goes on to tell a story about A.J. using a water gun full of semen for this purpose. In a retelling of a court hearing, A.J.'s attorney defends him against the accusations of the plaintiff. He says the woman is "preparing to emulate the Virgin Mary," denying A.J.'s involvement.

The scene shifts to a sort of performance by a "fruity old Saint" who argues with (or about) Jesus Christ, the Buddha, Mohammed, and Confucius. He dismisses each religion in turn. In each case he presents a parodic monologue characterizing the prophets and deities as con men. This diatribe ends suddenly as he decides to have his stomach tucked, and this is followed with commentary on that procedure.

A vignette about homosexual encounters, presumably in Interzone, is followed by details about how people of low social status are used for sexual degradation. Next, A.J. tells the story of a man who gives his son money to go get a "piece of ass" from a prostitute. The boy returns with the woman's ass, which he cuts off her body before having sex with her.

Clem relates the story of a woman named Iris, half Chinese and half black, addicted to dihydro-oxy-heroin. She is one of Dr. Benway's experiments, surviving on tea (the drink, not marijuana) and brown sugar. Iris claims her private parts are grotesque, but Dr. Benway denies anything is wrong with her.

Analysis

Some scholars believe Interzone is based loosely on Burroughs's experience living in Tangier, in northern Africa. However, the description of the city also includes elements of South American culture and other locations. The real-world basis of Interzone is less important than the culture presented in the city/country, which is relaxed and permissive for the most part. Sex and drugs of all kinds are readily available, but this availability comes with the price of periodic violence. In a permissive society, this is a calculated risk.

Burroughs writes about yage in some of his other works. Notable among these is a novel presented as a collection of letters he sent from South America to Allen Ginsberg, The Yage Letters (1963). The Yage Letters seems to expand on the fascination with yage the narrator expresses in this chapter.

Jody and Clem disrupt a Muslim funeral to stoke hostility toward the United States. Their motive of these former vaudeville performers turned agents is revealed in Chapter 15. They accomplish their goal by disrupting a Muslim funeral with a sacrilegious display. Islam forbids consumption of pork and contact with pigs, so their prank at the funeral is highly insulting.

The display at the funeral points to the seeds of conflict between the United States and Muslim countries already present in the 1950s. At the time, this tension was not as prominent a concern as in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, but it was definitely present. Jody and Clem want to capitalize on these seeds of conflict in their own small way. The old man's parodying of religious entities, dismissing all the major world religions, implies these beliefs are not useful or productive. However, in conjunction with Jody and Clem's prank, the conversation implies the destructive potential of extreme religious devotion.

The stories in this chapter show the characters' disregard for others. A.J.'s story reflects his irreverent sense of humor as well as his casual treatment of violence toward women—and everyone else. Clem's story adds more evidence of Dr. Benway's sadism and his own casual violence toward women—and everyone else.

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