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William Burroughs and the Secret of Fascination

William Burroughs and the Secret of Fascination

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Oliver Harris


Hardcover (Other formats: Paperback)
304 pages, 6 x 9


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About the Book

Unraveling the mysteries of Naked Lunch, exploring the allure of fascination  

William Burroughs is both an object of widespread cultural fascination and one of America’s great writers. In this study, Oliver Harris elucidates the complex play of secrecy and revelation that defines the allure of fascination. Unraveling the mystifications of Burroughs the writer, Harris discovers what it means to be fascinated by a figure of major cultural influence and unearths a secret history behind the received story of one of America’s great original writers.

In William Burroughs and the Secret of Fascination, Harris examines the major works Burroughs produced in the 1950s—Junky, Queer, The Yage Letters, and Naked Lunch—to piece together an accurate, material record of his creative history during his germinal decade as a writer. Refuting the “junk paradigm” of addiction that has been used to categorize and characterize much of Burroughs’ oeuvre, Harris instead focuses on the significance of Burroughs’ letter writing and his remarkable and unsuspected use of the epistolary for his fiction. As Burroughs said to Allen Ginsberg about Naked Lunch, “the real novel is letters to you.” Drawing on rare access to manuscripts, the book suggests new ways of comprehending Burroughs’s unique politics and aesthetics and offers the first accurate account of the writing of Naked Lunch.


Oliver Harris is a professor in the School of American Studies at Keele University in Staffordshire, England. He is the editor of The Selected Letters of William S. Burroughs, 1945–1959 and the editor of the fiftieth-anniversary edition of Burroughs’ Junky. Harris is also the author of numerous scholarly articles on Burroughs, the Beat Generation, film noir, and the epistolary form.


“Harris’s study goes deeply into its subject, providing the valuable service of untangling the manuscripts, repositioning events in chronological time, and drawing sound implications and conclusions from myth and legend.”—Regina Weinreich, American Book Review