This is a book one will likely have mixed feelings about. Stylistically, the 'Cut-Up' method used by the author is an interesting experiment in languaThis is a book one will likely have mixed feelings about. Stylistically, the 'Cut-Up' method used by the author is an interesting experiment in language, garish and disorientating in its effect. Frustratingly though, despite a narrative being present, it is often hard to follow and needlessly obscure. If one wishes to read the kind of story suggested at by the blurb of this book, one would be better served looking elsewhere. However, if a reader is after a truly interesting linguistic experience, then this is definitely the book to read.
The 'Cut-Up' style is a stark challenge to traditional literary and narrative styles. Burroughs inserts random phrases and words into sentences, often melding several sentences and discrete units of meaning into one long and confusing mess. The writing is also rapid fire, rushed and reads such that the person digesting the garish experience could confuse their reading with a drug induced haze. The words jolt, jerk and branch off in random directions, giving the impression of not one story but a chaotic mess of slammed together micro-narratives. Jarring and hazy, Burroughs execution is strong enough that the contents of the book, read on its merits, justify attempting to piece together the contents of the pages. The style is interesting, surreal and disjointed; it is enough of a successful experiment in writing to make a reader rethink traditional narratives and stories, as well as provide a new perspective on the use of language, meaning and structure.
Perhaps to its failing, the narrative is borderline impossible to follow. The author of this review must confess that he had not the faintest clue what he had read when setting down this volume. There are a few sections where the narrative shines through - in particular the chapter where the priests are making peasants or farmers into mindless zombies. Aside from these potentially interesting moments, the story has no linearity to it, and is more often than not obscured in the rush of words of the 'Cut-Up' style.
The book also presents an interesting challenge to sexual norms. A good deal of the book tells of erections, orgasms, anal sex and 'jissom' soaked orgies. Written in the Cold War period in America, this open and rather graphic discussion of homosexuality really drives home the repressive and repressed attitude of mainstream Western society. Burroughs is unforgiving in the graphic depiction of homosexual sex, with the fuzzy style contributing to a haze and rush of sexual pleasure and release that contrasts sharply with mainstream attitudes at the time. While the book has none of the finesse of Georges Bataille's My Mother, and indeed none of the heavy handedness of Bataille's Story of the Eye, it does have a certain confronting crudeness that works in its favour. The novel is an interesting challenge to mainstream structures and norms, and the mixing of a stylistic challenge with a socio-structural challenge contributes to an interesting experience of language, sexuality and normality.
Burroughs' The Soft Machine is an interesting work of literature; challenging and chaotic and transgressive. His heavy handed work constructs a reading experience - it realistically cannot be described any other way - that challenges many basic conceptions of what it is to tell a story. A reader looking for a straight line story had best turn elsewhere (read Bataille), but one interested in a heavy handed challenge to sexual norms and a successful experiment with alternative writing styles need look no further. Burroughs' book is not one you will soon forget, and even with its obscure story, the garish and disorientating style is one that will stay with you and make you rethink the structure of modern language and society. ...more