Mess, taste, and gastric criticism: digesting Naked Lunch

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes


Critical responses to William Burroughs’s work uniformly evoke strong nausea, physical disgust, and allegories of consumption, perpetuated by the title of his best-known work, Naked Lunch. Reviews indicate the powerfully anacathartic effect of Burroughs’s writing. Raymond Walters (New York Times) highlights the book’s ‘spicy content’; ‘glug, glug’, writes John Willett (TLS), comparing Burroughs’s writing to ‘grey porridge’ and envisioning vomiting jurors at the anticipated obscenity trial. Anthony Burgess likens Naked Lunch to ‘a ghastly meat’, and various TLS correspondents chime in, remarking that ‘no one has yet claimed one good dinner to be worth half a dozen naked lunches’, that Burroughs’s writing ‘smells very poisonous’, and that ‘American stomachs [are] stronger than ours’.

Burroughs’s seminal novel was originally entitled Naked Lust, but a misreading resulted in the title becoming Naked Lunch. Taking this error as its departure point, I interrogate the ‘gastronomic criticism’ inspired by Burroughs’s work, arguing that if we approach Naked Lunch as a meal, we are bound to be disgusted. By viewing Naked Lunch as an embodied experience of taste, I examine the conflation of literary appetites with literal appetites, exploring the sense of profound violation experienced by readers who expect Naked Lunch to ‘taste’ very different.

Bibliographic note

Not yet published as of 09/09/2021.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBurroughs Unbound
Subtitle of host publicationWilliam S Burroughs and the Performance of Writing
EditorsS.E. Gontarski
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Nov 2021