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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’sstyle 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 acureandanother form that the diseasecan take. As such Burroughs’s early works anticipate the moral and aesthetic dualism ofhislater 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 orderto 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’snovels were produced in the unique historical and cultural circumstances of post-war America and out of a desire to understand and articulate the rottencore that underliescontemporary“reality”. This study untangles the myriad influencesand intertextual linksthat 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 apotentiallydestructive, fascistic force. The occult is alsoshown to have had a profound impact on Burroughs’sunique style,formand 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; Illness; Illegibility; Early Works; William Burroughs;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Arts & Humanities > School of English, Media & Theatre Studies > English
    Item ID: 16875
    Depositing User: IR eTheses
    Date Deposited: 23 Jan 2023 15:59
      Use Licence: This item is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike Licence (CC BY-NC-SA). Details of this licence are available here

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