William S. Burroughs – “Crab Nebula” (1964)

July 6, 2009 at 8:57 am (Poetry & Literature, The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

This excerpt from WSB’s 1964 “cut-up” novel Nova Express, which was published on Nov. 9, 1964 by Grove Press…


They do not have what they call “emotion’s oxygen” in the atmosphere. The medium in which animal life breathes is not in that soulless place — Yellow plains under white hot blue sky — Metal cities controlled by The Elders who are heads in bottles — Fastest brains preserved forever — Only form of immortality open to the Insect People of Minraud — An intricate bureaucracy wired to the control brains directs all movement — Even so there is a devious underground operating through telepathic misdirection and camouflage — The partisans make recordings ahead in time and leave the recordings to be picked up by control stations while they are free for a few seconds to organize underground activities — Largely the underground is made up of adventurers who intend to outthink and displace the present heads — There has been one revolution in the history of Minraud — Purges are constant — Fallen heads destroyed in The Ovens and replaced with others faster and sharper to evolve more total weapons — The principal weapon of Minraud is of course heat — In the centre of all their cities stand The Ovens where those who disobey the control brains are brought for total disposal — A conical structure of iridescent metal shimmering heat from the molten core of a planet where lead melts at noon — The Brass And Copper Streets surround The Oven — Here the tinkers and smiths work pounding out metal rhythms as prisoners and criminals are led to Disposals — The Oven Guards are red crustacean men with eyes like the white hot sky — Through contact with oven pain and captured enemies they sometimes mutate to breathe in emotions — They often help prisoners to escape and a few have escaped with the prisoners –

(When K9 entered the apartment he felt the suffocation of Minraud crushing his chest stopping his thoughts — He turned on reserve ate dinner and carried conversation — When he left the host walked out with him down the streets of Minraud past the ovens empty and cold now — calm dry mind of the guide beside him came to the corner of 14th and Third –

“I must go now,” said the guide — “Otherwise it will be too far to go alone.”
He smiled and held out his hand fading in the alien air — )

K9 was brought to the ovens by red guards in white and gold robe of office through the Brass and Copper Street under pounding metal hammers — The oven heat drying up life source as white hot metal lattice closed around him –

“Second exposure — Time three point five,” said the guard –

K9 walked out into The Brass and Copper Streets — A slum area of vending booths and smouldering slag heaps crossed by paths worn deep in phosphorescent metal — In a square littered with black bones he encountered a group of five scorpion men — Faces of transparent pink cartilage burning inside — stinger dripping the oven poison — Their eyes flared with electric hate and they slithered forward to surround him but drew back at sight of the guard –

They walked on into an area of tattoo booths and sex parlors — A music like wind through fine metal wires bringing a measure of relief from the terrible dry heat — Black beetle musicians saw this music out of the air swept by continual hot winds from plains that surrounded the city — The plains are dotted with villages of conical paper-thin metal houses where a patient gentle crab people live unmolested in the hottest regions of the planet –

Controller of the Crab Nebula on a slag heap of smouldering metal under the white hot sky channels all his pain into control thinking — He is protected by heat and crab guards and the brains armed now with The Blazing Photo from Hiroshima and Nagasaki — The brains under his control are encased in a vast structure of steel and crystal spinning thought patterns that control whole galaxies thousand years ahead on the chessboard of virus screens and juxtaposition formulae –

So the Insect People of Minraud formed an alliance with the Virus Power of the Vegetable People to occupy planet earth — The gimmick is reverse photosynthesis — The Vegetable People suck up oxygen and all equivalent sustenance of animal life — Always the colorless sheets between you and what you see taste smell eat — And these green vegetable junkies slowly using up your oxygen to stay on the nod in carbon dioxide –

When K9 entered the café he felt the colorless smell of the vegetable people closing round him taste and sharpness gone from the food people blurring in slow motion fade out — And there was a whole tank full of vegetable junkies breathing it all in — He clicked some reverse combos through the pinball machine and left the café — In the street citizens were yacking like supersonic dummies — The SOS addicts had sucked up all the silence in the area were now sitting around in blue blocks of heavy metal the earth’s crust buckling ominously under the their weight — He shrugged: “Who am I to be critical?”

He knew what it meant to kick an SOS habit: White hot agony of thawing metal — And the suffocating panic of carbon dioxide withdrawal –

Virus defined as three-dimensional coordinate point of a controller — Transparent sheets with virus perforations like punch cards passed through the host on the soft machine feeling for a point of intersection — The virus attack is primarily directed against affective animal life — Virus of rage hate fear ugliness swirling round you waiting for a point of intersection and once in immediately perpetrates in your name some ugly noxious or disgusting act sharply photographed and recorded becomes now part of the virus sheets constantly presented and represented before your mind screen to produce more virus word and image around and around it’s all around you the invisible hail of bring down word and image –

What does virus do wherever it can dissolve a hole and find traction? — It starts eating — And what does it do with what it eats? — It makes exact copies of itself that start eating to make more copies that start eating to make more copies that start eating and so forth to the virus power the fear hate virus slowly replaces the host with virus copies — Program empty body — A vast tapeworm of bring down word and image moving through your mind screen always at the same speed on a slow hydraulic-spine axis like the cylinder gimmick in the adding machine — How do you make someone feel stupid? — You present to him all the times he talked and acted and felt stupid again and again any number of times fed into the combo of the soft calculating machine geared to find more and more punch cards and feed in more and more images of stupidity disgust propitiation grief apathy death — The recordings leave electromagnetic patterns — That is any situation that causes rage will magnetize rage patterns and draw around the rage word and image recording — Or some disgusting sex practice once the connection is made in childhood whenever the patterns are magnetized by sex desire the same word and image will be presented — And so forth — The counter move is very simple — This is machine strategy and the machine can be redirected — Record for ten minutes on a tape recorder — Now run the tape back without playing and cut in other words at random — Where you have cut in and re-recorded words are wiped off the tape and new words in their place — You have turned time back ten minutes and wiped electromagnetic word patterns off the tape and substituted other patterns — You can do the same with mind tape after working with the tape recorder — (This takes some experimentation) — The old mind tapes can be wiped clean — Magnetic word dust falling from old patterns — Word falling — Photo falling — “Last week Robert Kraft of the Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories reported some answers to the riddle of exploding stars — Invariably he found the exploding star was locked by gravity to a nearby star — The two stars are in a strange symbiotic relationship — One is a small hot blue star — (Mr. Bradly) Its companion is a larger red star — (Mr. Martin) — Because the stellar twins are so close together the blue star continually pulls fuel in the form of hydrogen into an incandescent figure eight — One circle of the eight encloses one star — The other circle encloses the other — supplied with new fuel the blue star ignites.” — Quote, Newseek, Feb. 12, 1962 –

The Crab Nebula observed by the Chinese in 1054 A.D. is the result of a supernova or exploding star — Situated approximately three thousand light years from the earth — (Like three thousand years in hot claws at the window — You got it? -) — Before they blow up a star they have a spot picked out as many light years away as possible — Then they start draining all the fuel and charge to the new pitch and siphon themselves there right after and on their way rejoicing — You notice we don’t have as much time as people had say a hundred years ago? — Take your clothes to the laundry write a letter pick up your mail at American Express and the day is gone — They are short-timing us as many light years as they can take for the getaway — It seems that there were survivors on The Crab Pitch who are not in all respects reasonable men — And The Nova Law moving in fast — So they start the same old lark sucking all the charge and air and color to a new location and then? — Sput — You notice something is sucking all the flavor out of food the pleasure out of sex the color out of everything in sight? — Precisely creating the low pressure area that leads to nova — So they move cross the wounded galaxies always a few light years ahead of the Nova Heat — That is they did — The earth was our set — And they walked right into the antibiotic handcuffs — It will readily be seen that having created one nova they must make other or answer for the first — I mean three thousand years in hot claws at the window like a giant crab in slag heaps of smouldering metal — Also the more novas the less time between they are running out of pitches — So they bribe the natives with a promise of transportation and immortality –

“Yeah, man flesh and junk and charge stacked up bank vaults full of it — Three thousand years of flesh — So we leave the bloody apes behind and on our way rejoicing right? — It’s the only way to live -”

And the smart operators fall for it every fucking time — talk about marks — One of our best undercover operators is known as The Rube — He perfected The Reverse Con — Comes on honest and straight and the smart operators all think they are conning him — How could they think otherwise until he slips on the antibiotic handcuffs —

“There’s a wise guy born every minute,” he says. “Closing time gentlemen — The stenographer will take your depositions -”

“So why did I try to blow up the planet? — Pea under the shell — Now you see it now you don’t — Sky shift to cover the last pitch — Take it all out with us and hit the road — I am made of metal and that metal is radioactive — Radioactivity can be absorbed up to a point but radium clock hands tick away — Time to move on — Only one turnstile — Heavy planet — Travel with Minraud technicians to handle the switchboard and Venusians to make flesh and keep the show on the road — Then The Blazing Photo and we travel on — Word is flesh and word is two that is the human body is compacted of two organisms and where you have two you have word and word is flesh and when they started tampering with the word that was it and the blockade was broken and The Nova Heat moved in — The Venusians sang first naturally they were in the most immediate danger — They live underwater in the body with an air line — And that air line is the word — Then the technicians spilled and who can blame them after the conditions I assigned to keep them technicians — Like three thousand years in hot claws — So I am alone as always — You understand nova is where I am born in such pain no one else survives in one piece — Born again and again cross the wounded galaxies — I am alone but not what you call ‘lonely’ — Loneliness is a product of dual mammalian structure — ‘Loneliness,’ ‘love,’ ‘friendship,’ all of the rest of it — I am not two — I am one — But to maintain my state of oneness I need twoness in other life forms — Other must talk so that I can remain silent — If another becomes one then I am two — That makes two ones make two and I am no longer one — Plenty of room in space you say? — But I am not one in space I am one in time — Metal time — Radioactive time — So of course I tried to keep you all out of space — That is the end of time — And those who were allowed out sometimes for special services like creating a useful religious concept went always with a Venusian guard — All the ‘mystics’ and ’saints’ — All except my old enemy Hassan I Sabbah who wised up the marks to space and sad they could be one and need no guard no other half no word –

“And now I have something to say to all you angle boys of the cosmos who thought you had an in with the Big Operators — ‘Suckers! Cunts! Marks! — I hate you all — And I never intended to cut you in or pay you off with anything but horse shit — And you can thank The Rube if you don’t go up with the apes — Is that clear enough or shall I make it even clearer? You are the sucker cunts marks I invented to explode this dead whistle stop and go up with it –’”

William S. Burroughs

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