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"Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in"

At one point I thought it high time I acquire a Thoreau set containing some of his standards; A Week On the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Walden, The Maine Woods, and Civil Disobedience. Some years after this purchase, I'd just about had it with seeing them languish on the shelf and made a weekend or two of it, dutifully joining his sojourns and meanders as an American reader ought.

His is a bright, stimulating prose, striding about solidly but with its face seemingly always turned to the clouds. The germ of North American occupancy is settled in that prose, I think, and though I could barely tell you the difference between an Eastern White Pine and a Red-necked Grebe, one need not be an agricultural student to wallow in Thoreau's relishing depictions of nature. While chronicling the intimate moments of the Northeastern landscape, he often runs a parallel track of sustained passages picking away at a grand scale humanity's larger existence and struggles, dressed heavily in traditional and ancient verse. The man has a real insistence on poetry as the end all be all of literary experience. Quite beautiful writing. 

One of my favorite passages, from Concord/Merrimack

"You shall see rude and sturdy, experienced and wise men, keeping their castles, or teaming up their summer's wood, or chopping alone in the woods, men fuller of talk and rare adventure in the sun and wind and rain, than a chestnut is of meat; who were out not only in '75 and 1812, but have been out every day of their lives; greater men than Homer, or Chaucer, or Shakespeare, only they never got time to say so; they never took to the way of writing. Look at their fields, and imagine what they might write, if ever they should put pen to paper. Or what have they not written on the face of the earth already, clearing, and burning, and scratching, and harrowing, and plowing, and subsoiling, in and in, and out and out, and over and over, again and again, erasing what they had already written for want of parchment."

Naked Lunch

"Hey, how is doze Boiling Hippos?"

Reading through Naked Lunch has been a wild ride. Sure I'm game for this stream of consciousness, borderline open verse marathon run and I enjoy inventing half words and compound phrases (the impression, perhaps, of thoughts bursting), though in this case I feel Burroughs has perfected 'vomit of consciousness' at a sustained level. His pacing is constant and astoundingly so, the sly references spilling off the page and confounding all attempts at context.

I have to say the greatest impact for me was at the tail end of the work, reading the appendices. After wallowing in 170+ pages of noxious filth, much of it taking turns in revulsion and hilarity, I'm hit with incredible calm and structure by the editors and then Burroughs himself -- as they document the history of the writing of Naked Lunch in all its various edits, and the author's own straightforward letter on choice drugs and their effects, written for a medical periodical. This contrast in tone is striking and allows for a bit of decompression. What flips my noodle even more is how many re-writes and extensive process drafts and shuffling went on by Burroughs, Ginsberg, Kerouac, that they were able to maintain the feel of oblivion in the final text. Sober decisions with distinctly sobering material. 

And that reminds me... this post over at Illustration Art articulates a relevant point.