Gentleman Junkie: The Life and Legacy of William S. Burroughs

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9780316137256: Gentleman Junkie: The Life and Legacy of William S. Burroughs
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A portrait of the iconoclastic literary pioneer describes his early life and education, his growing addiction to heroin, his role in the Beat movement, his landmark works, and his influence on the late twentieth century arts

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Review:

There have been several solid conventional biographies of William S. Burroughs (1914-1997), and this imaginative consideration of his "life and legacy" does not seek to replace them. Instead, British scholar Graham Caveney concentrates on Burroughs as a cultural phenomenon whose unsettling ability to depict personal degradation with modernist detachment first awed contemporaries in the beat generation and continued through the 1990s to inspire artists as diverse as grunge rocker Kurt Cobain, painter Keith Haring, and film director David Cronenberg. Even before Naked Lunch became a literary and legal cause célèbre--the book was ultimately judged not obscene in a landmark 1966 court decision--Burroughs was a legend in avant-garde circles for his epic drug use, unabashed homosexuality, and adventurous prose. In later years he became an elder statesman of the counterculture, an icon of excesses survived, revered for his unflinching portraits of the existential abyss. Caveney astutely examines the appeal for Americans of this complex figure whose highly experimental work had more in common with that of such Europeans as Jean Genet than with pals like Allen Ginsberg. The book's design reflects its genre-bending aspirations: Caveney's text jostles against reproductions of photos, newspaper clippings, and other documents, all of it laid out on pages colored red, orange, yellow, and blue. Words, images, and colors form an inventive whole that pays fitting tribute to a man who lived entirely by his own rules. --Wendy Smith

About the Author:

Graham Caveney lectures at the University of East Anglia.

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