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A sweet toothache pain: interior space and the toxic human

Chad Weidner (UGent)
Author
Organization
Abstract
William Burroughs (1914-1997) was a core member of the Beat Generation, an American twentieth century literary movement that apparently developed as a reaction to cold war fears. A prolific and inventive writer, Burroughs made a significant contribution to American letters. While the author is widely recognized as postmodern champion, no scholars have yet tied him to environmental thinking. Frederic Jameson believes that postmodern theory shows the long process of modernization is complete, and therefore that nature has been irreversibly and permanently displaced (ix). Greg Garrard, a British environmental thinker, has cautioned that postmodern approaches are largely irreconcilable with Ecocriticism and insists: “postmodern theory [is] inimical to Ecocriticism” (14). I believe Garrard is far too pessimistic on this point, and that Ecocriticism shares much in common with postmodern thought. Can a reconsideration of Naked Lunch help bridge the gap between postmodern views and the current state of Ecocriticism? Naked Lunch was Burroughs’ most significant text. In the narrative, he retreats to romantic writing, and even makes momentary contact with Native Americans and “Mexican Indians with fierce innocent faces…” (67). However, such glimpses are infrequent. The dynamic space of Interzone is much more open to investigation. The urban setting of Interzone is remarkable in that it functions as a unique geographic location that provides space to explore multiculturalism and migration. The setting exceeds any single state or nation, and thus represents a truly global perspective. Moreover, Interzone embodies an antiseptic cultural space that is not bound by geography. Moreover, Interzone acts as a separate space in which the reader can recuperate and consolidate the larger fragmentary text of the Naked Lunch narrative, and incorporates the disconnected pieces into a tightly condensed urban location. Additionally, the carnival atmosphere of Interzone provides a space for boundless possibilities as well as banal triviality. While such an electric atmosphere might represent the whole circus of modern life, the show is always the same, and while vibrant and colorful, is also monotonous and superficial. Interzone remains an imagined conceptual landscape, and the writer had to rely on destructive drugs to reach this location in the first place, which creates a problem if Burroughs were truly in touch with nature. The issue of drug consumption in Naked Lunch is important since chemicals transform the human body, and ultimately produce a condition I call Modern Toxic Man, an alternative form of ecological identity that challenges mainstream environmental views, but nonetheless represents an authentic form of human existence in the modern world. While drugs can function as a form of therapy and healing, at the same time they are instruments of conquest. Even if the addict believes narcotics work to subvert attempts at control, at the same time drugs reinforce the addict’s conquered state. Ultimately, Modern Toxic Man embodies the modern human struggle in a toxic culture. Burroughs’ message is that those who suffer because of chemical contamination deserve healing, which echoes the antitoxic advocacy endorsed by environmental thinkers.
Keywords
William Burroughs, Beat Generation, Modern Toxic Condition, Ecocriticism, Modern Toxic Man, Postmodernism, Green Cultural Studies

Citation

Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

Chicago
Weidner, Chad. 2011. “A Sweet Toothache Pain: Interior Space and the Toxic Human.” In Species, Space, and the Imagination of the Global (ASLE - 2011), Abstracts.
APA
Weidner, C. (2011). A sweet toothache pain: interior space and the toxic human. Species, space, and the imagination of the global (ASLE - 2011), Abstracts. Presented at the Species, Space, and the Imagination of the Global (ASLE - 2011).
Vancouver
1.
Weidner C. A sweet toothache pain: interior space and the toxic human. Species, space, and the imagination of the global (ASLE - 2011), Abstracts. 2011.
MLA
Weidner, Chad. “A Sweet Toothache Pain: Interior Space and the Toxic Human.” Species, Space, and the Imagination of the Global (ASLE - 2011), Abstracts. 2011. Print.
@inproceedings{1270567,
  abstract     = {William Burroughs (1914-1997) was a core member of the Beat Generation, an American twentieth century literary movement that apparently developed as a reaction to cold war fears.  A prolific and inventive writer, Burroughs made a significant contribution to American letters.  While the author is widely recognized as postmodern champion, no scholars have yet tied him to environmental thinking. Frederic Jameson believes that postmodern theory shows the long process of modernization is complete, and therefore that nature has been irreversibly and permanently displaced (ix).  Greg Garrard, a British environmental thinker, has cautioned that postmodern approaches are largely irreconcilable with Ecocriticism and insists: {\textquotedblleft}postmodern theory [is] inimical to Ecocriticism{\textquotedblright} (14).  I believe Garrard is far too pessimistic on this point, and that Ecocriticism shares much in common with postmodern thought.  Can a reconsideration of Naked Lunch help bridge the gap between postmodern views and the current state of Ecocriticism? Naked Lunch was Burroughs{\textquoteright} most significant text.  In the narrative, he retreats to romantic writing, and even makes momentary contact with Native Americans and {\textquotedblleft}Mexican Indians with fierce innocent faces{\textellipsis}{\textquotedblright} (67).  However, such glimpses are infrequent.  The dynamic space of Interzone is much more open to investigation.  The urban setting of Interzone is remarkable in that it functions as a unique geographic location that provides space to explore multiculturalism and migration.  The setting exceeds any single state or nation, and thus represents a truly global perspective.  Moreover, Interzone embodies an antiseptic cultural space that is not bound by geography.  Moreover, Interzone acts as a separate space in which the reader can recuperate and consolidate the larger fragmentary text of the Naked Lunch narrative, and incorporates the disconnected pieces into a tightly condensed urban location. Additionally, the carnival atmosphere of Interzone provides a space for boundless possibilities as well as banal triviality.  While such an electric atmosphere might represent the whole circus of modern life, the show is always the same, and while vibrant and colorful, is also monotonous and superficial.  Interzone remains an imagined conceptual landscape, and the writer had to rely on destructive drugs to reach this location in the first place, which creates a problem if Burroughs were truly in touch with nature. The issue of drug consumption in Naked Lunch is important since chemicals transform the human body, and ultimately produce a condition I call Modern Toxic Man, an alternative form of ecological identity that challenges mainstream environmental views, but nonetheless represents an authentic form of human existence in the modern world.  While drugs can function as a form of therapy and healing, at the same time they are instruments of conquest.  Even if the addict believes narcotics work to subvert attempts at control, at the same time drugs reinforce the addict{\textquoteright}s conquered state.  Ultimately, Modern Toxic Man embodies the modern human struggle in a toxic culture.  Burroughs{\textquoteright} message is that those who suffer because of chemical contamination deserve healing, which echoes the antitoxic advocacy endorsed by environmental thinkers.},
  author       = {Weidner, Chad},
  booktitle    = {Species, space, and the imagination of the global (ASLE - 2011), Abstracts},
  keyword      = {William Burroughs,Beat Generation,Modern Toxic Condition,Ecocriticism,Modern Toxic Man,Postmodernism,Green Cultural Studies},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Indiana, IN, USA},
  title        = {A sweet toothache pain: interior space and the toxic human},
  year         = {2011},
}