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    Illiterature: Reading Illness and Illegibility in the Early Works of William Burroughs

    Carmody, Alan (2017) Illiterature: Reading Illness and Illegibility in the Early Works of William Burroughs. PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.

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    William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch has at various times been described as a difficult, dangerous and disgusting novel. Critics and casual readers alike have been left confused and queasy by a text that refuses categorisation and undermines novelistic and literary conventions. Examining the first four novels of Burroughs’s career, this thesis seeks to explain the profound aesthetic evolution that took place after Junky, Queer and “In Search of Yage”, culminating in the impossible text of Naked Lunch. In order to explain the development of Naked Lunch’s style and form I create the neologism “Illiterature”. Illiterature is a form of writing that describes a sickness and implicitly suggests that illegibility may be both a cure and another form that the disease can take. As such Burroughs’s early works anticipate the moral and aesthetic dualism of his later works. These later texts employ the “cut-up method” as a cure for the “word virus”. However, Burroughs’s early novels of illiterature are far more ambiguous, contradictory and sceptical regarding the prospects of a cure for the pervasive illness of “Control”. Instead Burroughs’s early works evolve into an attack on the hermeneutic operations of the reader. This is done in order to make the contradictory, obscene and irrational substratum of “reality” apprehensible. The reader, by recognising the interpellated nature of their cognition and the illusory form of agency offered in the modern world, may break free of control and gain authentic freedom. Informed by material, historical and biographical research, this reading adapts theories from psychoanalysis, literary theory and the social sciences to show how Burroughs’s novels were produced in the unique historical and cultural circumstances of post-war America and out of a desire to understand and articulate the rotten core that underlies contemporary “reality”. This study untangles the myriad influences and intertextual links that inform the structure and style of Burroughs’s early novels. The addict is examined as an inscrutable “subject of illiterature”, while desire is discussed as a potentially destructive, fascistic force. The occult is also shown to have had a profound impact on Burroughs’s unique style, form and literary intention. Burroughs’s works attempt to alter the cognitive behaviour of the reader and thus step beyond the page into life.

    Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
    Keywords: Illiterature; Reading Illness; Illegibility; Early Works; William Burroughs;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Arts,Celtic Studies and Philosophy > School of English, Media & Theatre Studies > English
    Item ID: 10759
    Depositing User: IR eTheses
    Date Deposited: 29 Apr 2019 16:05

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