The Flight of the Junky: Existential Posthumanism and Immanent Life in Early Burroughs
AbstractWilliam Burroughs early book Junky is generally separated from his later experimental fiction. Stylistically it accords much more to realism than the postmodern aleatory method he later innovated. However, Burroughs’ preoccupation with resisting all forms of subjectification, his disenchantment with bourgeois life and his simultaneous literal and tropic use of addiction as a form of flight from powers of normalization and conformity are strongly present in this early work. This paper explores Junky on three fronts. First, it shows the novel as an elaboration of a posthumanist existentialism by emphasizing the materiality of the body through Burroughs’ explanation of the physiological mechanisms of addiction. Through this existentialist posthumanism, the novel critically responds to Sartrian existentialism, which was so fashionable at the time of Burroughs’ writing, and repudiates the Jeffersonian idealization of the transcendental subject and its middle class figurations. The emphasis on the material body simultaneously challenges post-structuralist renderings of Burroughsian readings. This leads to a conception of strategies of flight from all forms of conformity by utilizing Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of the Body without Organs and immanent Life. Junk is a vehicle of flight and self-affirmation, a means of highly individualized, libertarian modes of subjective deterritorialization. Addiction and habitual use are not mere uncontrolled thirsts, but forms of actualizing a wholly detached social and independent individual. But the danger of junk lies in its reterritorializing of the body through new assemblages of need and dependence, leading the protagonist to ultimately seek a different mode of escape. Junk illuminates our posthuman existential condition and leads Burroughs to seek new experimental forms of aesthetic expression.
AffiliationDepartment of English and World Languages