Here We Go Again
World War II Mobilization Blues in William Burroughs’s Junky
This short Afterword concludes the book with a comparison between the post-World War I novels at issue and Burroughs's post-World War II novel. Burroughs's autobiographical novel seems at first glance a world away from the sublimations, projections, obfuscations, and tragic romanticisms of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulkner. But on closer inspection, and despite the thrust of the Prologue and its conclusion that the narrator's drug addiction stems from a lack of motivation, Burroughs (along with his narrator) wanted to become an officer in World War II, but he was stymied in his substantial efforts to do so, much like the 1920s authors. Thus, his 1950s postmodern novel of “absent desire,” like the 1920s modernist novels of “impossible love,” is, on another level, a tale of a love or desire unrequited by the military. Given the US involvement in war in the 20th century — and the tremendous social upset, or accelerated modernizing, that mobilizing for world wars involves — along with the fact that the military was something like the supreme arbitrator of manhood in the world war eras, it is not surprising that there is a rich vein of what be called mobilization fiction in American literature, but it is a vein that has so far been mostly untapped.
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