Inspiration[ edit ] The novel was considered unpublishable more than it was controversial. Burroughs took up the task with little enthusiasm. Besides encouraging Burroughs to write, he worked as editor and agent as the manuscript was written in Mexico City. Queer, the companion piece to Junkie, was written at the same time and parts of it were designed to be included in Junkie, since the first manuscript was dismissed as poorly written and lacking in interest and insight.
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Both Junkie and Narcotic Agent have covers of beautiful garishness, featuring s damsels in distress. This cover illustration is, in fact, just that: an illustration of a scene described by Burroughs in the book. My wife grabbed the spoon and threw the junk on the floor.
From double book to stand alone; from Ace Original to Penguin Modern Classic; from unredeemed confession to cult novel; from a cheap shocker to a refined taste — the history of this text in a strange way acts as an allegory of the way the heroin subculture Burroughs depicted has mutated, spread and engrafted itself with the corpus of the wider society, in the process irretrievably altering that on which it parasitises. Just as — if you turn to his glossary of junk lingo and jive talk — you will see how many arcane drug terms have metastasised into the vigorous language.
Burroughs wrote Junky on the very brink of a transformation in western culture. With his anomic inclinations and his Mandarin intellect, he was in a paradoxical position vis a vis the coming cultural revolution of the s. An open homosexual and a drug addict, his quintessentially Midwestern libertarianism led him to eschew any command economy of ethics, while his personal inclinations meant he had to travel with distastefully socialist and liberal fellows.
For Burroughs, the re-evaluation was both discount and markup, and perhaps it was this that made him such a great avatar of the emergent counterculture. In the final paragraph of Junky he writes: "Kick is seeing things from a special angle. Kick is momentary freedom from the claims of the ageing, cautious, nagging, frightened flesh. When I say Burroughs himself must have regarded the illustration — if he thought of it at all — as evidence of the magical universe he conceived of as underpinning and interpenetrating our own, it is because the first draft of the book was completed in the months immediately preceding his killing of Vollmer on 6 September in Mexico City.
Burroughs himself described it as "the accidental shooting death"; and although he jumped bail, he was only convicted — in absentia by the Mexican court — of homicide.
However, to my mind this rings false with the way he characterised his life, and his writing, thereafter: "I live with the constant threat of possession and the constant need to escape from possession, from Control. Certainly, the hypothesis of murderous impulsiveness squares better with the impromptu "William Tell act" whereby he called upon Vollmer to place a glass upon her head, which he would then shoot off than his own bewilderment in the face of an act of such cruel stupidity and fatal rashness.
He knew the gun to shoot low, and what would have happened to the glass shards even if he had succeeded? There were others in the room. I belabour these events for two reasons. First, because I think an understanding of the milieu within which Burroughs and Vollmer operated, and the nature of their life together, is essential in disentangling the post hoc mythologising of the writer and his life from the very grim reality of active drug addiction that constitutes the action of Junky.
When Burroughs was off heroin he was a bad, blackout drunk for evidence you need look no further than his own confirmation in Junky. However much he cared for Vollmer, their life together was clearly at an impasse their sexuality was incompatible and she was even beginning to object to his drug use ; and what could be more natural — if only momentarily — than to conceive of ridding himself of an obvious blockage?
The meat of the text of Junky is as close as Burroughs could get to a factual account of his own experience of heroin. You might say it was a travel book more than anything else.
It starts where I first make contact with junk, and it ends where no more contact is possible. He also signed his letters to Ginsberg, Kerouac et al with his nom de plume, as well as using his correspondence as a form of work in progress, peppering his epistles to the Beats with his trademark riffs and routines. By the time Burroughs was living in Tangier in the late s, his sense of being little more than a cipher, or a fictional construct, had become so plangent that he practised the art of insubstantiality with true zeal, revelling in the moniker "El Hombre Invisible".
Burroughs was the perfect incarnation of late 20th-century western angst precisely because he was an addict. Self-deluding, vain, narcissistic, self-obsessed, and yet curiously perceptive about the sickness of the world if not his own malaise, Burroughs both offered up and was compelled to provide his psyche as a form of Petri dish, within which were cultured the obsessive and compulsive viruses of modernity.
Burroughs never managed to recover from his addiction at all, and died in physically dependent on the synthetic opiate methadone. I find this a delicious irony: the great hero of freedom from social restraint, himself in bondage to a drug originally synthesised by Nazi chemists, and dubbed "Dolophine" in honour of the Fuhrer; the fearless libertarian expiring in the arms of an ersatz Morpheus, actively promoted by the federal government as a "cure" for heroin addiction.
In the prologue to Junky and the introduction to The Naked Lunch, Burroughs writes of his own addiction as if it were a thing of the past, but this was never the case.
As for the text itself, it reads today as fresh and unvarnished as it ever has. Her voice was matter-of-fact as if referring to actual incest. Surely only one for whom alienation, and a lack of either moral or spiritual direction, was inbuilt. Indeed, this is the great sadness of Junky and Burroughs himself as I conceive it.
You can reread this entire text, assuming the hypothesis of addiction as a latent pathology, present in the individual prior to his having any direct experience of chemical dependency, and everything that Burroughs says about habitual heroin use begins to make perfect sense. Coke hit my head, a pleasant dizziness and tension, while the morphine spread through my body in relaxing waves. For, in describing addiction as "a way of life", Burroughs makes of the hypodermic a microscope, through which he can examine the soul of man under late 20th-century capitalism.
His descriptions of the "junk territories" his alter ego inhabits are, in fact, depictions of urban alienation itself. And just as in these areas junk is "a ghost in daylight on a crowded street", so his junkie characters - who are invariably described as "invisible", "dematerialized" and "boneless" - are, like the pseudonymous "William Lee" himself, the sentient residue left behind when the soul has been cooked up and injected into space.
Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict
It is way of life. But this is more than the story of a drug addict. The anonymous underworld fills its pages - the moochers, fags, four-flushers, stool-pigeons, thieves. We witness the sordidness of every crevice of their lives. There has never been a criminal confession better calculated to discourage imitiation by thrilling hungry teen-agers. This is the unadulterated, unglamorous, unthrilling life of the drug addict. William Lee the name of the author and of all persons appearing in this book are disguised is an unrepentant, unredeemed drug addict.
William Burroughs - the original Junkie