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Naked Lunch | Quotes


As one judge said to another: 'Be just and if you can't be just be arbitrary.'

Narrator, Chapter 1

This statement is made as a joke, but it also reveals a cynical view of the justice system. There is no justice in the world of Naked Lunch, only a series of arbitrary punishments meted out for behaviors and activities deemed deviant from social norms. The Inspector repeats this line in Chapter 8.


So we stock up on H, buy a second-hand Studebaker, and start west.

Narrator, Chapter 1

The narrator leaves New York to evade police who are looking for him there, planning to arrest him for using heroin. The secondhand car reflects the need for immediate transportation—they can't afford to be picky. The stock of H, or heroin, hints more trouble with the authorities may be ahead, but giving up the habit is not an option. Heading west is a time-honored tradition of American culture. Heading west is romanticized in much of American literature (including Kerouac's On the Road [1957]) as an act filled with infinite possibility. The act of heading west in Naked Lunch is about embracing possibility, but it's also about escape.


Hustlers of the world, there is one Mark you cannot beat: The Mark Inside.

Narrator, Chapter 3

A mark is a slang term for the targets of con men and hustlers. These targets are meant to be fooled, taken advantage of, usually to obtain money or drugs. The "Mark inside" is the true self, the part of the self that hungers for drugs, the voice that won't be quieted. A hustler or con man can fool other people, but he can't fool himself, even when he thinks he can.


There is no drag like U.S. drag. You can't see it, you don't know where it comes from.

Narrator, Chapter 3

In the 1950s drag was a slang term meant to apply to something boring or unappealing. The narrator calls the boredom, the drag of time, uniquely pervasive and damaging in the United States. Because you can't see it or know where it comes from, it suffuses all parts of American life. This also means you can't escape the boredom inherent in 1950s American culture, which drives the narrator and others to seek alternate forms of stimulation.


If all pleasure is relief from tension, junk affords relief from the whole life process.

Dr. Benway, Chapter 4

Despite his sadistic tendencies, Dr. Benway often speaks words of truth about drugs and addiction. Although he means these words as caution or censure, they actually highlight the appeal of heroin to the user. Addicts don't seek traditional pleasure in junk; they seek to remove themselves from the life process, to relieve either pain or boredom.


With veins like that, Kid, I'd have myself a time!

Sailor, Chapter 6

The Sailor speaks these words to a shoeshine boy in a way the boy reads as somewhat predatory. The statement reads as a kind of invitation or temptation to the boy, but they also reflect the Sailor's lack of regret about his lifestyle. He may want to be young again, not to avoid repeating his mistakes but to have fresh veins to enhance his experience of junk.


The President is a junkie but can't take it direct because of his position.

Narrator, Chapter 7

Here the narrator seems to be referring to the president of the United States, but it could be another country. Because the country isn't specified, this statement can apply to all leaders. It indicates they all have figurative addictions—to power, to admiration—if not literal ones (which is also sometimes true). They have to conceal the darker parts of their nature because they are public figures, but these darker urges emerge through other means.


A shambles! A filthy shambles! By Allah I never see anything so downright nasty!

Hassan, Chapter 9

At the party in Hassan's rumpus room, A.J. deals with a horde of aroused American women. He does this by introducing them to a group of Eskimos ready for mating season. This is the last straw for Hassan. His rumpus room has already seen, among other things, an interspecies encounter between a young man and a Mugwump, which ended with the young man's hanging. Also, this is the only part of the orgy not sanctioned and controlled by Hassan. So he may resent the fact these events are occurring outside his control.


'I am not worthy to eat his feet.' ... 'Clay anyhoo.'

Students at Interzone University, Chapter 10

As the students feed on pearls (pearls of wisdom) thrown in a trough by their professor, one claims to be lower than his wise instructor. This is a statement echoed by many students bowled over by their professors' reputations. The response from a fellow student is a reference to the idiom "feet of clay." It applies to a person who does not come close to living up to their grand reputation. So the passage criticizes the unconditional glory and praise students often assign to their university professors.


[B]ecause there's always a space between ... giving away the basic American rottenness.

Dr. Benway, Chapter 14

Dr. Benway is referring to the space between the things considered "decent" in American society and the things censored from public view. In this space lay elements of American culture that are on the fringe of decency and indecency. The elements society finds acceptable reveal the true "rotten" character of the culture and the hypocrisy of people who want to uphold strict standards of morality.


And remember, boys, that's where champagne comes from.

A.J., Chapter 15

A.J. says this as he cracks a champagne bottle over the butt of a boy depicted in a homoerotic statue. It is placed in the entrance hall of the school he has established. A.J. plays a number of pranks meant to expose the pretense behind trappings of class and culture. In this case champagne, a symbol of celebration and wealth, is dismissed as something that can be used to christen a lewd statue. Its value as a symbol of wealth and culture only extends so far as the context in which the champagne is used. It can be debased like anything else—a first and essential lesson for the students of this school.


Shucks, boys, I'm just a blooming old cancer and I gotta proliferate.

Hassan, Chapter 15

Hassan is a known pimp and drug lord, selling illicit experiences around the world. He recognizes his role as a corrupting element of society, comparing himself to the cancer that can corrupt the human body. Like a disease, his only goal is to spread his corrupt influence. His folksy "shucks" indicates a good-natured feeling about his own corruption, showing how such corruption is an inevitable part of life.


You see control can never be a means to any practical end ... It can never be a means to anything but more control ... like junk.

Narrator, Chapter 15

The narrator makes a political statement about the means of control on the government level, criticizing the goals of the political parties of Interzone. Each party wants to control the populace, but the narrator reveals how this control is only a means to itself. Government control in any form only serves itself. It is no more productive or useful for a society or government than junk, and control is equally addictive.


It's just that the whole thing is unreal ... I'm going now. I don't care. You can't force me to stay.

Carl Peterson, Chapter 18

Carl Peterson decides to leave Dr. Benway's exam room after Dr. Benway exposes Carl's past homosexual activities in an attempt to "treat" him for these activities. For Benway treatment is always tantamount to punishment. Carl can't believe this is happening and takes a stand against the totalitarian authority of Benway and his country, Freeland. As Carl tries to leave, though, he finds the room expanding until it explodes into space. He thinks he has control over his own body and destiny, but that's all an illusion.


With that milk sugar shit? Junk is a one-way street. No U-turn. You can't go back no more.

Sailor, Chapter 21

The Sailor rejects an offer of drugs from a young man he picks up for sex. He gives the boy some heroin and then explains once you start with junk, there is no using weaker substances or smaller doses. Only larger doses of stronger drugs will satisfy the addiction because that's how heroin addiction proceeds. You can't go back because a smaller, weaker amount just won't work.

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