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On the Dialectics of Intoxication in Cronenberg’s
Naked Lunch

Universidade do Estado da Bahia
Universidade do Estado do Rio Grande do Norte
State University of Campinas (UNICAMP)

The notoriety of Burroughs’
Naked Lunch (1959) can be accounted both on its content and form: a) the book’s shocking depiction of all sorts of obscenity and abjection; b) its experimentalism by an extensively use of a vigorous technique of rupture with formal and cohesive text syntax immediately, and associated with modernist transgressive writing. This essay intends to discuss Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch film version by investigating a series of cinematic devices that favors an attainable meaning, promptly denied by the book, but fundamental to guarantee the circulation of any mass cultural product. The argument seeks to demonstrate that whereas Burroughs’ oeuvre is epitomized by the motto “nothing is true: everything is permitted”, Cronenberg’s film version departs from the author’s defense of intoxication as a means to achieve a truly creative literary process, in order to develop a narrative structure that inverts the conventional opposition valences between the categories of hallucination and soberness. The result then is a tension of two opposing realms in which the protagonist’s hallucinative state is framed by a narrative procedure akin to mainstream film formulas such as noir and conspiracy genres. Following this, a detailed reading of the film’s structural components evinces that the realm of hallucination strives to forge a cohesive narrative pattern, creating “a sense of reality” (both in the protagonist and viewers alike), only to be destabilized by minor interferences that can be taken as technical flaws. Finally, the article concludes that the film’s hallucinative narrative structure is built upon a coercive naturalization of images and film aesthetics analogous to the procedures of homogenization of reality perception pointed out in the critique of Culture Industry.

Keywords: Naked Lunch, David Cronenberg, intoxication, Culture Industry


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