Camille Paglia’s Defense of Jordan Peterson, Excerpted from a Longer Statement Sent in Response to Queries from a Brazilian JournalistPosted: March 29, 2018
From Camille Paglia: excerpted from a longer statement sent in response to queries from a Brazilian journalist writing a profile of me for a major Brazilian magazine, Epoca.
“I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves.”
Peter Schjeldahl writes: So starts “Naked Lunch,” the touchstone novel by William S. Burroughs. That hardboiled riff, spoken by a junkie on the run, introduces a mélange of “episodes, misfortunes, and adventures,” which, the author said, have “no real plot, no beginning, no end.” It is worth recalling on the occasion of “Call Me Burroughs” (Twelve), a biography by Barry Miles, an English author of books on popular culture, including several on the Beats. “I can feel the heat” sounded a new, jolting note in American letters, like Allen Ginsberg’s “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” or, for that matter, like T. S. Eliot’s “April is the cruellest month.” (Ginsberg was a close friend; Eliot hailed from Burroughs’s home town of St. Louis and his poetry influenced Burroughs’s style.) In Burroughs’s case, that note was the voice of an outlaw revelling in wickedness. It bragged of occult power: “I can feel,” rather than “I feel.” He always wrote in tones of spooky authority—a comic effect, given that most of his characters are, in addition to being gaudily depraved, more or less conspicuously insane.
“Naked Lunch” is less a novel than a grab bag of friskily obscene comedy routines—least forgettably, an operating-room Grand Guignol conducted by an insouciant quack, Dr. Benway. “Well, it’s all in a day’s work,” Benway says, with a sigh, after a patient fails to survive heart massage with a toilet plunger. Some early reviewers spluttered in horror. Charles Poore, in the Times, calmed down just enough to be forthright in his closing line: “I advise avoiding the book.” “Naked Lunch” was five years in the writing and editing, mostly in Tangier, and aided by friends, including Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. It first appeared in 1959, in Paris, as “The Naked Lunch” (with the definite article), in an Olympia Press paperback edition, in company with “Lolita,” “The Ginger Man,” and “Sexus.” Its plain green-and-black cover, like the covers of those books, bore the alluring caveat “Not to be sold in U.S.A. or U.K.” (A first edition can be yours, from one online bookseller, for twenty thousand dollars.) The same year, Big Table, a Chicago literary magazine, printed an excerpt, and was barred from the mails by the U.S. Postal Service. Fears of suppression delayed a stateside publication of the book until 1962, when Grove Press brought out an expanded and revised edition. It sold so well that Grove didn’t issue a paperback until 1966.