Tuesday, May 28, 2013

William Burroughs' Intro To Naked Lunch At $175,000

by Stephen J. Gertz

Calling Dr. Benway:

The first and final draft corrected typescripts of William S. Burroughs' Introduction to the first American edition (NY: Grove Press, 1962) of Naked Lunch (Paris: Olympia Press, 1959), his seminal, controversial work and one of the landmark publications in the history of American literature, have come to market. The asking price is $175,000.

From the collection of his friend and editor, Alan Ansen, they are being offered by Glenn Horowitz, Bookseller, the New York City dealer who has made a habit of pulling literary rabbits out of his hat. Within that context these typescripts may be fairly ranked as the rabbit who ate Cleveland.

The first, titled "Postscript" in Burroughs' penciled holograph, is comprised of five recto-only leaves corrected by Burroughs in black ink, with page numbers in same. It is unknown when, exactly, he wrote it but it appears to be c. 1960.

The heavily corrected typescript is Burroughs' first pass at his extended essay, Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness, that would serve as the introduction to the American edition of Naked Lunch. “Postscript” discursively explores the themes and sentiments which motivated Burroughs to write the introduction; it is the text upon which the polished, buffed, and published version was based. 

Bits and pieces of “Postscript” can be found throughout “Deposition,” as well as in its final post-postscript, and the relationship between “Postscript” and the published introduction is immediately obvious. For example, page one of the “Postscript” typescript includes the following notes:

"Hasheiesh [sic], Mescaline, LSD -- ? under the title what is? Who must have junk to live in the structure? When there are no addicts carriers will disintegrate - virus opium."

"Talk exact manner in which junk virus controls words in monkey considered sacred by those who purpose to keep the virus of numbers or remove the bottom number street to cover basic frequency."

The published introduction directly addresses the points noted above, concerning the difference between hallucinogens - hashish, mescaline, LSD  - and heroin. Burroughs writes in part, “There is no evidence that the use of any hallucinogen results in physical dependence. The action of these drugs is physiologically opposite to the action of junk. A lamentable confusion between the two classes of drugs has arisen owing to the zeal of the U.S. and other Narcotic departments...” The introduction also sets forth upon “the exact manner in which the junk virus operates.” 

Within the five-page “Postscript” is a handful of dialogue and a paragraph referring to “Mr Bradly Mr Martin,” a character appearing in the novels of Burroughs' Nova Trilogy: Soft Machine (1961), The Ticket that Exploded (1962), and Nova Express (1964). In part, they read:

“Light in eyes and I saw the brains...no time to stop and eat switch fuzz behind me...I told him I'd do it I told him if I catch you on the West Side push you on the tracks...hustle your own mooch...”

"And he looked at me over the blade caught the tarnish black and white subway dawn..Old photo..Couldn't reach me with the knife and fell on the tracks I told him he would and he rushed for I – overcoat I held there teaching him the cloth in the turnstile and learned the cloth stuck there like star fish smoking and switch fuzz whistling down the iron stairs and I caught an uptown cold sore…"

"Mr Bradly Mr Martin teaching him the cloth in the junk hold saw the brains fuzz the rail…"

Neither the dialogue nor the narrative made it into the Introduction and appear to be unpublished.

The final draft appears in three typescripts:

• “Deposition. Testimony Concerning a Sickness,” (ca. 1960), a corrected ribbon typescript of thirteen recto-only leaves (including the one-page “PSS or PPS” noted below), with Burroughs’ holograph corrections in blue ink and copy-editing notes in red ink.

•“Deposition. Testimony Concerning a Sickness,” (ca. 1960), a corrected carbon typescript of eleven recto-only leaves (lacking final page) very neatly incorporating in another hand the changes to the ribbon typescript above, either by erasing the type and replacing it with the correct text or interlined with Burroughs’ text.

• “PSS or PPS.” (ca. 1960), a one-leaf corrected ribbon typescript with Burroughs’ holograph corrections in black ink. It is stapled to “Deposition” above. 

These are a ribbon typescript and carbon copy of Burroughs’ introduction, "Deposition,” as published by Grove Press. The thirteen-page typescript is corrected by Burroughs and his changes are incorporated into the carbon copy as well as the final text as published. Burroughs’ holograph annotations include clarifications to language, e.g., “these notes” becomes “the notes which have now been published,” “measurable” becomes “accurately measurable,” etc., and include corrections to spelling and changes in emphasis with the addition of underlining.

The one-page “PSS or PPS” was not included in the book but did appear with “Deposition” in Grove Press' Evergreen Review (Volume 4, Issues 11-12). It was introduced “as a late post-postscript - a newspeak précis.”

Alan Ansen ("Rollo Greb" in Kerouac's On the Road) was a poet, playwright, and close friend of many Beat Generation writers. Living in Tangier, he spent time with Paul Bowles, Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and others. He lived in Greece during the last forty or so years of his life

Considered to be the only man capable of shaping the hundreds of random pages generated by Burroughs into publishable form, Ansen was brought in by Ginsberg to help edit Naked Lunch. He later preserved the Ginsberg-Burroughs correspondence along with many of the photographs from the period.

To have fresh Burroughs autograph/typescript material enter the marketplace (ABPC records no Burroughs typescript/manuscript material coming to auction within the last thirty-six years) at this late date is somewhat miraculous; all that could be found had, it seemed, been unearthed. But that was before The Amazing Horowitz waved his magic wand, said "abracadabra," and conjured this material out of nowhere and into and out of his hat.

• • •

And now, a treat: Burroughs recites passages concerning Dr. Benway - the Marcus Welby, M.D. from Hell who "performs appendectomies with a rusty sardine can" - from Naked Lunch in his deadpan nasal monotone mashed-up with footage from an episode of Dr. Kildare, and behold! Burroughs' voice coming out of Richard Chamberlain's mouth. Oh, to hear Burroughs croon Three Stars Will Shine Tonight, the 1961 TV show's hit theme song.


All images courtesy of Glenn Horowitz Bookseller with our thanks.

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