William S. Burroughs – Interview (Part 2)

July 24, 2010 at 11:00 am (The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

Part 2 of this interview of WSB, not longer before his death in 1997. Burroughs always had a very distinctive voice, literally and figuratively…

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William S. Burroughs – Interview (Part 1)

July 24, 2010 at 10:48 am (The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

This is a fairly rare interview with William Burroughs by Kathy Acker, a great punk/postmodern/experimental writer, originally released on video(?) by the Institute of Contemporary Art in London although it is no longer listed in their catalog. This particular copy comes from Dutch television.

The interview was filmed at the October Gallery in London, some time before the deaths of both participants in 1997.

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William S. Burroughs – “Hassan Sabbah”

July 24, 2010 at 10:40 am (The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

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“Naked Lunch” (1991)

November 27, 2009 at 10:26 am (Cinema, Reviews & Articles, The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

Janet Maslin article from The New York Times, Dec. 27, 1991 about the David Cronenberg adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ famous novel. It wasn’t a literal adaptation of the book, as it only used parts of it. I saw this movie at the time and it was definitely strange…

Drifting In and Out of a Kafkaesque Reality

Naked Lunch, adapted by the dauntless David Cronenberg from William S. Burroughs’ 1959 landmark novel, represents a remarkable meeting of the minds. It’s hard to imagine another filmmaker who could delve so deeply into the monstrousness of Mr. Burroughs’ vision, in the end coming up with a bona fide monster movie of his own. Yet while Mr. Cronenberg’s ingenious approach to his material matches Mr. Burroughs’ flair for the grotesque, it also shares the author’s perfect nonchalance and his ice-cold wit. Seldom has a filmmaker offered his audience a more debonair invitation to go to hell.

The director of The Fly, Dead Ringers and Scanners will not disappoint viewers who appreciate his devilish ingenuity. Instead of attempting the impossible task of adapting Naked Lunch literally, Mr. Cronenberg has treated the disjointed, hallucinatory book as a secondary source. Concentrating instead on Mr. Burroughs himself, the drug experience that colors his writing and the agonies of the creative process, Mr. Cronenberg also devises purely metaphorical versions of the author’s wild and violent sexual scenarios. The result, by turns bracing, brilliant, and vile, is a screen style as audacious as Mr. Burroughs’ is on the page.

Naked Lunch makes an instantaneous break with conventional reality in its opening moments and never looks back. Centering on the adventures of Bill Lee, played by Peter Weller as a droll, deadpan evocation of the author (Lee was the maiden name of Mr. Burroughs’ mother, and William Lee his pseudonym), the film begins with smallish bugs. Then it moves on to ever more huge, horrible, and intelligent ones. Bill works in New York City as an exterminator and sees even that as a metaphor. “Exterminate all rational thought: that is the conclusion I have come to,” he says.

In addition to viewing his job in philosophical terms, Bill has also used it as an excuse to ingest narcotic bug powder, to which both he and his wife, Joan (Judy Davis), have become addicted. Ms. Davis, who is wonderfully dry and unflappable in two different bizarre incarnations, at first turns up barely long enough to inject bug powder intravenously and conduct a lazy affair with one of Bill’s friends. “Hank and I, we’re just bored,” she tells Bill. “It wasn’t serious.”

This is enough to raise Bill’s suspicions that Joan is a secret agent for an enemy spy ring, especially after a large talking beetle befriends Bill and drops that hint. Joan must be eliminated, the beetle insists, speaking from an orifice that recalls Mr. Burroughs taste for the playfully obscene and talking in the lively, Burroughs-like idiom of Mr. Cronenberg’s inventive screenplay. “It must be done this week,” the insect says, “and it must be done real tasty.”

So Bill and Joan perform their “William Tell act,” just as Mr. Burroughs and his wife, Joan Vollmer Burroughs, did on one drunken evening in Mexico City in 1951. As Bill shoots and kills Joan, the film makes one of its many allusions to the real events of Mr. Burroughs’ life. Soon afterward, he either physically or psychically flees New York for Interzone, a Tangier-like exotic setting in which the film’s nightmarishness escalates to new levels (although Naked Lunch is so thoroughly hallucinatory that it’s difficult to know exactly where its characters are, literally or figuratively). In Interzone, the suffering gets worse and the bugs get bigger as Bill attempts to write what will be Naked Lunch, the novel.

Onscreen Naked Lunch recalls both The Sheltering Sky and Barton Fink in its respective evocations of the life of the literary exile and the torment of trying to write. Mr. Cronenberg’s hideously clever contribution in the latter realm is the insect-cum-typewriter that supposedly assists Bill in his efforts but clearly has a mind of its own. Both the writing bug and the Mugwump, a man-sized and rather soigné strain of monster, are capable of registering their approval by oozing viscous, intoxicating substances from various parts of their anatomies. “I’d like you to meet a friend of mine,” Bill is told upon encountering his first cigarette-smoking Mugwump on a bar stool in Interzone. “He specializes in sexual ambivalence.”

These elements, plus a lot of attention to the addictive powers of the black meat of the giant Brazilian centipede, insure that Mr. Cronenberg’s version of Naked Lunch is no more suitable to the fainthearted than Mr. Burroughs’ was. And the film, while very different from the book, is every bit as impenetrable in its own way. By the time it reaches a repellent fever pitch, with one character literally tearing its body open to reveal someone of a different sex inside (a simple yet extravagantly weird evocation of the author’s thoughts on sexual identity), Naked Lunch has become too stomach-turning and gone too far over the top to regain its initial aplomb. Yet for the most part this is a coolly riveting film and even a darkly entertaining one, at least for audiences with steel nerves, a predisposition toward Mr. Burroughs, and a willingness to meet Mr. Cronenberg halfway.

The gaunt, unsmiling Mr. Weller looks exactly right and brings a perfect offhandedness to his disarming dialogue. (“You’re patronizing me, boys, but I don’t mind ’cause you’re so sweet to me too,” he tells the film’s Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg stand-ins.) And Ms. Davis is chillingly good as both Joan Lee and Joan Frost, a writer Bill meets with her husband in Interzone; between this and her work as the helpmate of the William Faulkner character in Barton Fink, Ms. Davis surely qualifies as the tortured writer’s Muse of the Year. Also roaming through Naked Lunch are Roy Scheider as the demented Dr. Benway, an odd fixture of the pharmacological strain in Mr. Burroughs’ writing; Ian Holm as a fellow writer with a grasp of the typewriter-bug’s habits, and Julian Sands as a debauched Interzone playboy.

“Stay until you finish the book, but then come back to us,” Bill’s friends say about his sojourn in Interzone. But if the terror so slyly and sickeningly rendered in Naked Lunch is representative, it’s a miracle that artists ever survive the creative process to come home.

Janet Maslin

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Colin Wilson – “The Mind Parasites” (1969)

July 26, 2009 at 9:03 am (Poetry & Literature, Reviews & Articles, The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

Beat author William S. Burroughs reviewed this book by Colin Wilson for the June 19, 1969 issue of New York underground magazine Rat. The copy editing was so sloppy they misspelled Burroughs’ name as “Borroughs.” 
I am not familiar with the Wilson book itself and know nothing about it, besides this review…


“The human race is being attacked by a sort of mind cancer. Something is sucking the human mind dry and has been sucking it for the past two hundred years.” That is the shattering discovery made by Professor Gilbert Austin. Who or what is responsible? Mind parasites, malignant beings who lurk in the deepest layers of the unconscious… (in precise physiological terms this would correspond to the back brain or hypothalamus) …sapping the very life force of mankind, cutting him off from his natural capacity for self renewal… It was all so unsettling that I broke the habit of a lifetime and drank a bottle of champagne at lunch time.

There is considerable inferential evidence to indicate the actual existence of such a parasitic instance as this book postulates. An Italian sociologist said if you want to get to the bottom of any situation that seems on the surface inexplicable ask yourself the simple question ‘who profits?’ Who would profit from blocking every basic discovery about the human mind? Techniques are now available to alter consciousness and effect the hypothalamus directly. In a recent Mayfair article I described the experiments of doctor Miller who has demonstrated that any mammal can learn to control such seemingly involuntary processes as brain waves, blood pressure, rate of heart beats, his whole state of mind and body. Doctor Miller had great difficulty in raising funds for his experiments. The importance of these experiments was completely missed by the press. The means are at hand to conquer inner space but they are not being used. Despite impressive technical advances the planet is still in the stone age psychologically. Who would profit from turning the clock all the way back to the stone age and keeping man out of space? A parasitic entity that lives in the human body and could not survive space. Only in the last two hundred years have technological advances made space exploration a possibility. By maintaining control of inner space the parasites can block any discovery or destroy anyone who suspects their existence. It is in fact unexplained suicides among scientists investigating inner space that leads to the discovery of the parasites by the narrator Professor Gilbert Austin. Once the presence of the parasites is inferred the means to combat them is obvious. They must be combated by the brain itself pushed up to and beyond its limits so that men can read each other’s thoughts, control their own thoughts and feelings. So they join battle with the parasites on equal terms. These are precisely the measures I have advocated in the Academy Series, measures that must be applied whether we believe in mind parasites or not if man is to expand his horizons and survive in the space age. There is no turning back to the false security of dogmatic creeds. To travel in space you must learn to leave the old verbal garbage behind: God talk, priest talk, mother talk, family talk, love talk, country talk, party talk. You must learn to exist with no religion, no country, no allies. You must learn to see what is in front of you with no preconceptions.

In Mr. Wilson’s narrative it is a space voyage that finally defeats the parasites. They cannot survive in space. As the space craft travels further and further from the earth the parasites, still lurking in the crew, are in a panic. “Now they felt their psychic links with the earth stretching and growing weaker and they were frightened. We now understood the nature of ’space fever’ that had so far frustrated all men’s efforts to penetrate further into space.” Known, watched, the parasites became desperate. They now reveal themselves as creatures of a low intelligence floundering about like a beached squid. “It happened on the fourteenth day… Something infinitely evil and slimy was pushing its way from inside me. I realized I had been wrong to think of the parasites as separate beings. They were one, they were IT, an immense jelly like octopus whose tentacles are separate from its body and can move about like individuals.” (And this being is none other than the ancient slug Abhoth the Dark also known as Abhoth the Unclean)… “Now this infinitely vile thing was coming out of its lair and I could feel its hatred of me, a hatred so powerful and maniacal that it almost needs a new word. Then the inexpressible relief of knowing that it was gone…”

What has made this planet such a soft touch for Abhoth?… The greatest human limitation is that we are all tied to the present by an arbitrary identity, personal and national. What is identity? The identity of a shark is its teeth, its size, its ability to eat and digest almost anything. An oyster’s identity is its protective shell. Identity then is the means by which an organism protects and maintains itself in a hostile environment and all environments that contain such identities are hostile. And what is the identity of Abhoth the Dark? Its ability to remain hidden and carry on a parasitic existence that is hostile to its host by parasitic necessity. So we are all playing Abhoth’s game. And by setting one identity against another Abhoth maintains himself indefinitely.

Isolation from such an environment is the first step in the unexplored territory of inner space… As man loses touch with his inner being he finds himself trapped in the world of consciousness that is to say the world of other people. “Man is a political animal” said Aristotle telling one of the greatest lies in human history. For every man has more in common with the hills and with the stars than with other men. Other men do not supply our values. Other men do not matter in the way we have believed. Man is not alone. You could be the last man in the universe and you would not be alone.

William S. Burroughs


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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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Gregory Corso & Allen Ginsberg – “Interview with William S. Burroughs” (1961)

February 27, 2009 at 3:38 am (Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Reviews & Articles, The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

Corso & Ginsberg interview WSB in 1961 for Journal for the Protection of All Beings, a periodical edited by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and published by City Lights Bookstore. This is supposedly the first published interview with WSB… 


Gregory Corso: What is your department?

William Burroughs: Kunst und Wissenschaft.

Gregory Corso: What do you say about political conflicts?

William Burroughs: Political conflicts are merely surface manifestations. If conflicts arise you may be sure that certain powers intend to keep this conflict under operation since they hope to profit from the situation. To concern yourself with surface political conflicts is to make the mistake of the bull in the ring, you are charging the cloth. That is what politics is for, to teach you the cloth. Just as the bullfighter teaches the bull, teaches him to follow, obey the cloth.

Gregory Corso: Who manipulates the cloth?

William Burroughs: Death

Allen Ginsberg: What is death?

William Burroughs: A gimmick. It’s the time-birth-death gimmick. Can’t go on much longer, too many people are wising up.

Gregory Corso: Do you feel there has been a definite change in man’s makeup? A new consciousness?

William Burroughs: Yes, I can give you a precise answer to that. I feel that the change, the mutation in consciousness, will occur spontaneously once certain pressures now in operation are removed. I feel that the principal instrument of monopoly and control that prevents expansion of consciousness is the word lines controlling thought, feeling and apparent sensory impressions of the human host.

Allen Ginsberg: And if they are removed, what step?

William Burroughs: The forward step must be made in silence. We detach ourselves from word forms — this can be accomplished by substituting for words, letters, concepts, verbal concepts, other modes of expressions: for example, color. We can translate word and letter into color — Rimbaud stated that in his color vowels, words quote “words” can be read in silent color. In other words, man must get away from verbal forms to attain the consciousness, that which is there to be perceived at hand.

Gregory Corso: How does one take that “forward step,” can you say?

William Burroughs: Well, this is my subject and is what I am concerned with. Forward steps are made by giving up old armor because words are built into you — in the soft typewriter of the womb you do not realize the word-armor you carry; for example, when you read this page your eyes move irresistibly from left to right following the words that you have been accustomed to. Now try breaking up part of the page like this:

  Are there      or just we can translate many solutions       for example color word color in the soft typewriter                               into political conflicts             to attain consciousness monopoly and control

Gregory Corso: Reading that it seems you end up where you began, with politics and it’s nomenclature: conflict, attain, solution, monopoly, control — so what kind of help is that?

William Burroughs: Precisely what I was saying — if you talk you always end up with politics, it gets nowhere. I mean man it’s strictly from the soft typewriter.

Gregory Corso: What kind of advice you got for politicians?

William Burroughs: Tell the truth once and for all and shut up forever.

Gregory Corso: What if people don’t want to change, don’t want no new consciousness?

William Burroughs: For any species to change, if they are unable and are unwilling to do so — I might, for example, have suggested to the dinosaurs that heavy armor and great size was a sinking ship, and that they do well to convert to mammal facilities — it would not lie in my power or desire to reconvert a reluctant dinosaur. I can make my feeling very clear, Gregory, I fell like I’m on a sinking ship and I want off.

Gregory Corso: Do you think Hemingway got off?

William Burroughs: Probably not.

(Next day)

Allen Ginsberg: What about control?

William Burroughs: Now all politicians assume a necessity of control, the more efficient the control the better. All political organizations tend to function like a machine, to eliminate the unpredictable factor of affect — emotion. Any machine tends to absorb, eliminate, Affect. Yet the only person who can make a machine move is someone who has a motive, who has Affect. If all individuals were conditioned to machine efficiency in the performance of their duties there would have to be at least one person outside the machine to give the necessary orders; if the machine absorbed or eliminated all those outside the machine, the machine will slow down and stop forever. Any unchecked impulse does, within the human body and psyche, lead to the destruction of the organism.

Allen Ginsberg: What kind of organization could technological society have without control?

William Burroughs: The whole point is, I feel the machine should be eliminated. Now that it has served its purpose of alerting us to the dangers of machine control. Elimination of all natural sciences — If anybody ought to go to the extermination chambers, definitely scientists. Yes, I’m definitely antiscientist because I feel that science represents a conspiracy to impose as the real and only universe, the universe of scientists themselves — they’re reality-addicts, they’ve got to have things so real so they can get their hands on it. We have a great elaborate machine which I feel has to be completely dismantled — in order to do that we need people who understand how the machine works — the mass media — unparalleled opportunity.

Allen Ginsberg: Who do you think is responsible for the dope situation in America?

William Burroughs: Old Army game, “I act under orders.” As Captain Ahab said, “You are not other men but my arms and legs –” Mr. Anslinger has a lot of arms and legs, or whoever is controlling him. Same thing as the Eichman case: he’s the front man who has got to take the rap. Poor bastard, I got sympathy for him.

Gregory Corso: Could you or do you think it wise to say who it will be or just what force it will be that will destroy the world?

William Burroughs: You want to create a panic? That’s top secret — want to swamp the lifeboats?

Gregory Corso: O.K. How did them there lifeboats get there in the first place?

William Burroughs: Take for instance some Indians in South America I’ve seen. There comes along this sloppy cop with his shirt buttons all in the wrong hole. Well then, Parkinson’s law goes into operation — there’s need not for one cop but seven or eight, need for sanitation inspectors, rent collectors, etc.; so after a period of years problems arise, crime, dope taking and traffic, juvenile delinquency. So the question is asked, “What should we do about these problems?” The answer as Gertrude Stein on her deathbed said, comes before the question — in short before the bastards got there in the first place! That’s all —

Allen Ginsberg: What do you think Cuba and the FLN think about poets? And what do you think their marijuana policy is?

William Burroughs: All political movements are basically anti-creative — since a political movement is a form of war. “There’s no place for impractical dreamers around here,” that’s what they always say. “Your writing activities will be directed, kindly stop horsing around.” “As for the smoking of marijuana, it is the exploitation for the workers.” Both favor alcohol and are against pot.

Gregory Corso: I feel capitol punishment is dooming U.S.A.

William Burroughs: I’m against Capitol Punishment in all forms, and I have written many pamphlets on this subject in the manner of Swift’s “Modest Proposal” pamphlet incorporated into “Naked Lunch”; these pamphlets have marked “Naked Lunch” as an obscene book. Most all methods of capitol punishment are designed to inflict the maximum of humiliation — not attempts to prevent suicide.

Allen Ginsberg: What advice do you have for American youth who are drawn to political action out of sympathy for the American revolution?

William Burroughs: “I wouldn’t be in your position” — old saw. If there is any political move that I would advocate it would be an alliance between America and Red China, if they’d have us.

Gregory Corso: What about the Arab peoples — how are they faring?

William Burroughs: They’re stuck back thousands of years and they think they’re going to get out with a TV set.

Gregory Corso: What about the Negros, will they make it — not only the ones in the South, but everywhere?

William Burroughs: Biologically speaking the Afro-Asiatic block is in the ascendancy — always remember that both Negro and White are minority groups — the largest race is the Mongoloid group. In the event of atomic war there is a tremendous biological advantage in the so-called undeveloped areas that have a high birth rate and high death rate because, man, they can plow under those mutations. The country with a low birth rate and low death rate will be hardest hit — and so the poor may indeed inherit the earth, because they’re healthier.

Allen Ginsberg: What do you think of White Supremacy?

William Burroughs: The essence of White Supremacy is this: they are people who want to keep things as they are. That their children’s children’s children might be a different color is something very alarming to them — in short they are committed to the maintenance of the static image. The attempt to maintain a static image, even if it’s a good image, just won’t work.

Gregory Corso: Do you think Americans want and could fight the next war with the same fire and fervency as they did in World War II?

William Burroughs: Undoubtedly, yes — because they remember what a soft time they had in the last one — they sat on their ass.

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William S. Burroughs – “The Soft Machine” (1966)

February 26, 2009 at 12:54 pm (Poetry & Literature, Reviews & Articles, The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

This review comes from Bookweek and was written by Joan Didion, March 27, 1966…


Wired for Shock Treatments

There sometimes seems a peculiar irrelevance about what is claimed for William S. Burroughs, both by those who admire him and those who do not; the insistent amorphousness of his books encourages the reader to take from them pretty much exactly what he brought to them. Burroughs has been read as a pamphleteer for narcotics reform. He has been read as a parabolist of the highest order. He has been read as a pornographer and he has been read as a prophet of the apocalypse. The Naked Lunch I read first on a beach in the Caribbean and the Naked Lunch I reread a few weeks ago in a hospital in Santa Monica, the book I read once when I was unhappy and again when I was not, did not seem in any sense the same book; to anyone who finds Burroughs readable at all, he is remarkably rereadable, if only because he is remarkably unmemorable. There are no “stories” to wear thin, no “characters” of whom one might tire. We are presented only with the fragmented record of certain fantasies, and our response to that record depends a good deal upon our own fantasies at the moment; in itself, a book by William Burroughs has about as much intrinsic “meaning” as the actual inkblot in a Rorschach test.

Nonetheless Burroughs is read for “meaning,” for we tend to be uneasy in this country until we can draw from an imaginative work some immediate social application. À la Recherche du temps perdu as precursor to the Wolfenden Report, Emma Bovary as victim of the Feminine Mystique. And, on another level, William Burroughs as “satirist,” that slipshod catch-all category for anyone who seems unconventional and modish. Burroughs is by no means successful as a “satirist” or as an “allegorist”; both satire and allegory depend upon strict control of the material, and to talk about Burroughs in that vein leads only into cul-de-sacs where Donald Malcolm can complain querulously that if Mr. Burroughs is satirizing capital punishment then Mr. Burroughs must be unaware that the trend on this issue is toward liberalization.

So it goes. First the insistence upon some fairly conventional “meaning,” then the rush to the barricades. Either Burroughs is a prophet or Burroughs is a fraud. Either he must be the “greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift” (Jack Kerouac) or he must be a fabricator of “merest trash” (John Wain). In this stampede to first discern the “message” and then take a stand on it, Burroughs’ limited but very real virtues tend to be overlooked. In a quite literal sense with Burroughs, the medium is the message: the point is not what the voice says but the voice itself, a voice so direct and original and versatile as to disarm close scrutiny of what it is saying. Burroughs is less a writer than a “sound,” and to listen to the lyric may be to miss the beat.

Consider The Soft Machine. Burroughs is uninfected by any trace of humanist sentimentality, and his imagery is that of the most corrosive nightmare, obscene, specifically homosexual, casually savage, peopled by androgynous mutations. Flesh is not flesh but “biologic material,” undifferentiated tissue which metamorphoses, dissolves into mucus, sloughs off, passes into other vessels. Hot crabs hatch out of human spines; police files spurt out bone meal. Although it is easy to read The Soft Machine as a parable of technological suicide, a kind of hallucinatory On the Beach, that reading is not going to get us very far, because Burroughs as a dreamer of didactic dreams is not only distinctly hit-and-miss but quite unremarkable, in point of fact Victorian. It has been some years, after all, since we first heard that melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, first stood upon the darkling plain of technology. Read for any such conventional meaning, The Soft Machine has only the dulling effect of a migraine attack, after pain and nausea and unwanted images have battered the nerve synapses until all connections are lost. For the Burroughs repetitiveness blunts response. The particular Burroughs preoccupations atrophy rather than engage the imagination. Ah well, one thinks, eyes glazing, fingers riffling the pages, another orgiastic hanging, all possible switches. It is difficult even to read the book sequentially; to imagine that one will be able to put the book down when the telephone rings and find one’s place a few minutes later is sheer bravura.

In fact the point is not to read the book at all, but somehow to hear the voice in it. The voice in The Soft Machine is talking about time. Some of the book is mock nostalgia, and the title, whatever else it means, seems as well to be a play upon The Time Machine. The voice roves back in time through Mexico, Panama, the Mayan Empire, back through a landscape of pervasive corruption. One city in particular appears and reappears in explicit and extraordinary details: a port city, “stuck in water hyacinths and banana rafts,” a place where jungle has overgrown the parks and diseased armadillos live in the deserted kiosks. Candiru infest the swimming pools; albinos blink in the sun. Although the city is in the here and now, it is terrorized by the Vagrant Ball Players, who seem to have come forward in time from the Mayan period. The Civil Guard tries to placate the Vagrant Ball Players, for they “can sound a Hey Rube Switch brings a million adolescents shattering the customs barriers and frontiers of time, swinging out of the jungle with Tarzan cries, crash landing perilous tin planes and rockets.”

The voice moves not only back but ahead in time, to what seems to be the end of the world. There is an ambiguity here; the last few men left on earth are clearly the survivors of some disaster, but they are also just assuming human shape, just rising from the slime. In short, what the voice in The Soft Machine is doing is giving an hallucinatory reading to Eliot’s Four Quartets: “In my beginning is my end” and “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future / And time future contained in time past.”

This is by no means unintentional. Eliot’s is one of the rhythms into which the voice in The Soft Machine slips deliberately and frequently, sometimes ironically and sometimes not. Sometimes the voice is not Eliot but Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain: “Meanwhile an angle comes dripping down and forms a stalactite in my brain.” Sometimes it is the voice of the Hearst Task Force: “I have just returned from a thousand year time trip and I am here to tell you what I saw… It is the new frontier and only the adventurous need apply — But it belongs to anyone with the courage and know-how to enter — It belongs to you.” Sometimes the voice slips into the peculiar rhythms of the hustler, sometimes into the ritualized diction of blue movies. The voice rattles off elliptical allusions, throws away joke after outrageous joke, shifts gear in mid-sentence, never falters.

It is precisely this voice — complex, subtle, allusive — that is the fine thing about The Soft Machine and about Burroughs. It is hard, derisive, inventive, free, funny, serious, poetic, indelibly American, a voice in which one hears transistor radios and old movies and all the cliches and all the cons and all the newspapers, all the peculiar optimism, all the failure. Against that voice, those of the younger “satirical” or “black” novelists sound self-conscious and faked; it is the voice of a natural, and what it is saying is in no sense the point.

Joan Didion

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“William S. Burroughs On Censorship” (1962)

November 23, 2008 at 1:29 pm (Poetry & Literature, Reviews & Articles, The Beats, William S. Burroughs)


In 1962 William S. Burroughs appeared at the International Writers’ Conference in Edinburgh. He read statements at the panels on Censorship and on The Future of the Novel. Later that year the Transatlantic Review (#11 – Winter 1962) published Burroughs’ statements along with a cut-up…






What i am saying has already been better said by Mr Henry Miller in his essay “Obscenity And The Law of Reflection” — Censorship is the presumed right of governmental agencies to decide what words and images the citizen is permitted to see: that is thought control since thought consists largely of word and image — What is considered harmful and therefore censored will of course depend on the government exercising censorship — In The Middle Ages, when the church controlled censoring agencies, the emphasis was on heretical doctrines — In Communist countries censorship is close in the area of politics — In English-speaking countries the weight of censorship falls on sexual word and image as dangerous to an economic system depending on mass production and a large public of more or less uncritical consumers — In any form censorship presupposes the right of the government to decide what people will think, what thought material of word and image will be presented to their minds — I am precisely suggesting that the right to exercise such control is called in question.

The excuse usually given for censorship is the necessity to protect children, impressionable, unstable and stupid individuals — However, this impressionable being is already subjected to a daily barrage of word and image much of it deliberately calculated to arouse sexual desires without satisfying them — That’s what advertising is all about as anyone on Madison Avenue will tell you, and much popular fiction falls into the same category — And he is continually subjected to word and image deliberately calculated to arouse aggressive impulses on TV and radio, in movies and comic strips — I can not see how he would be harmed by reading the work of Rabelais, Petronius, De Sade, Henry Miller, Jean Genet or my own work (unlikely that he would read these works if they were available to him being in many cases virtually illiterate).

What would happen if all censorship were removed? — Not much — Perhaps books would then be judged more on literary merit and a dull, poorly written book on sexual subjects would find few readers — As to whether people will be sexually stimulated by reading a book? — We know from Pavlov’s conditioned reflect that people can be sexually stimulated by almost anything through association — I think that if censorship were removed fewer people would be so stimulated by the mere sight of four-letter words on a printed page — .

The anxiety of which censorship is the overt expression has so far prevented any scientific investigation of sexual phenomena — Few investigators have asked the question: What is sex? — and taken the necessary steps to find the answers — So far as i know the only scientific work on this subject was done by Doctor Wilhelm Reich — As a result he was expelled from a number of countries before he took refuge in America where he died in a federal prison — His experiments indicate that sex is in all likelihood an electromagnetic phenomena, that physicists and mathematicians could discover precise formulae of sexual energy and contact leading to a physics of sexual behavior — It would then be possible, on the basis of precise knowledge, to determine what sexual practices were healthy and what practices were not healthy with reference to function of the human organism.


The Future of the Novel


In my writing i am acting as a map maker, an explorer of psychic areas, to use the phrase of Mr Alexander Trocchi, as a cosmonaut of inter space, and i see no point in exploring areas that have already been thoroughly surveyed — A Russian scientist has said: “We will travel not only in space but in time as well — “That is to travel in space is to travel in time — If writers are to travel in space time and explore areas opened by the space age, i think they must develop techniques quite as new and definite as the techniques of physical space travel — Certainly if writing is to have a future it must at least catch up with the past and learn to use techniques that have been used for some time past in painting, music and film — Mr Laurence Durrell has led the way in developing a new form of writing with time and space shifts as we see events from different viewpoints and realize that so seen they are literally not the same events, and that the old concepts of time and reality are no longer valid — Brion Gysin, an American painter living in Paris, has used what he calls ‘the cut up method’ to place at the disposal of writers the collage used in painting for fifty years — Pages of text are cut and rearranged to form new combinations of word and image — In writing my last two novels, Nova Express and The Ticket That Exploded, i have used an extension of the cut up method i call ‘the fold in method’ — A page of text — my own or some one elses — is folded down the middle and placed on another page — The composite text is then read across half one text and half the other — The fold in method extends to writing the flash back used in films, enabling the writer to move backwards and forewards on his time track — For example i take page one and fold it into page one hundred — I insert the resulting composite as page ten — When the reader reads page ten he is flashing forwards in time to page one hundred and back in time to page one — The deja vue phenomena can so be produced to order — (This method is of course used in music where we are continually moved backwards and foreward on the time track by repetition and rearrangements of musical themes –

In using the fold in method i edit delete and rearrange as in any other method of composition — I have frequently had the experience of writing some pages of straight narrative text which were then folded in with other pages and found that the fold ins were clearer and more comprehensible than the original texts — Perfectly clear narrative prose can be produced using the fold in method — Best results are usually obtained by placing pages dealing with similar subjects in juxtaposition –,

What does any writer do but choose, edit and rearrange material at his disposal? — The fold in method gives the writer literally infinite extension of choice — Take for example a page of Rimbaud folded into a page of St John Perse — (two poets who have much in common) — From two pages an infinite number of combinations and images are possible — The method could also lead to a collaboration between writers on an unprecedented scale to produce works that were the composite effort of any number of writers living and dead — This happens in fact as soon as any writer starts using the fold in method — I have made and used fold ins from Shakespeare, Rimbaud, from newspapers, magazines, conversations and letters so that the novels i have written using this method are in fact composites of many writers –

I would like to emphasize that this is a technique and like any technique will, of course, be useful to some writers and not to others — In any case a matter for experimentation not argument — The conferring writers have been accused by the press of not paying sufficient attention to the question of human survival — In Nova Express — (reference is to an exploding planet) and my latest novel The Ticket That Exploded i am primarily concerned with the question of survival –, with nova conspiracies, nova criminals, and nova police — A new mythology is possible in the space age where we will again have heroes and villains with respect to intentions toward this planet –


Notes on these pages


To show ‘the fold in method’ in operation i have taken the two texts i read at The Writer’s Conference and folded them into newspaper articles on The Conference, The Conference Folder, typed out selections from various writers, some of whom were present and some of whom were not, to form a composite of many writers living and dead: Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, T.S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Golding, Alexander Trocchi, Norman Mailer, Colin MacInnes, Hugh MacDiarmid.

Mr Bradly-Mr Martin, in my mythology, is a God that failed, a God of Conflict in two parts so created to keep a tired old show on the road, The God of Arbitrary Power and Restraint, Of Prison and Pressure, who needs subordinates, who needs what he calls ‘his human dogs’ while treating them with the contempt a con man feels for his victims — But remember the con man needs the mark — The Mark does not need the con man — Mr Bradley-Mr Martin needs his ‘dogs’ his ‘errand boys’ his ‘human animals’ He needs them because he is literally blind. They do not need him. In my mythological system he is overthrown in a revolution of his ‘dogs’ — “Dogs that were his eyes shut off Mr Bradly-Mr Martin.”

My conception of Mr Bradly-Mr Martin is similar to the conception developed by William Golding in “Pincer Martin” and i have made a fold in from the last pages of his book where Martin is destroyed “erased like an error”, with my own version of Bradly-Martin’s end — The end of Mr Bradly-Mr Martin is the theme of these pages — as regards The Writers Conference i shared with Mary Macarthy a feeling that something incredible was going on beyond the fact of people paying to listen – -I could not but feel that it was indeed The Last Writer’s Conference.


Nova Police besieged McEwan Hall


The last Writer’s Conference — Heroin and homosexuality war melted into air — the conferents are free to come and go visiting the obscurity behind word and image — Mr Martin was movie of which intellectual and literary elite asked the question: What is sex? –

“Hear Mr Burroughs or his answer?”: Flesh identity still resisted the question and that book in this memory erased the answer.

On reflection we can discover cross references scrawled by some boy with scars — The last invisible shadow caught and the future fumbles for transitory progress in the arts — Flutes of Ali in the door of panic leaves not a wrack of that God of whom i was a part — The future fumbles in dogs of unfamiliar dust — Hurry up — Page summons composite mutterings flashing foreward in your moments I could describe — The deja vue boatman smiles with such memory orders — Shifted with the method of composition, i have frequently left no address — Some pages of straight narrative beside you — Moments i could describe left other pages more comprehensible than the original texts that were his eyes — Inherit these by placing page deals: “Hurry up please — Heavy summons, Mr Bradly-Mr Martin, with texts moved or conveyor belts retained and copied my blood whom i created.”

You are writer since the departed choose the juxtaposition beside you — The image of the hanged man shut off, Mr Bradly-Mr Martin, to fashion heavy summons — Too much comment and the great boatman smiles — Growing suspicion departed have left no address — Falling history beside you — Dogs that were his eyes inherit this — Let them stray please, its time — And they are free to come and go — Fading this green doll out of an old sack and some rope — The great streaks of paint melted into air — Out of the circle of light you are yourself bringing panic or chaos — Heavy hand broken, erased like an error, fading here the claws in The Towers — The great claws, Martin, caught melted into air — Their whole strength with such memories still resisted — Mr Bradly-Mr Martin was movie played the vaudeville voices — These our actors visible going away erased themselves into air — Adios in the final ape of Martin — Just as silver film took it you are yourself The Visiting Center and The Claws — They were our Towers — A Street boy’s courage resisted erogenous summons muttering flesh identity — For i last center falling through ruined September beside you erased like and error –

A Russian scientist has said: “Martin disaster far now” — Shifted with travel in space — Writers were his eyes, inherit this travel in space and time — Areas opened by the heavy summons, Mr Bradly-Mr Martin — I think they must close your account — New and definite my blood whom i created leaves not the third who walks with the past and your dust now ended — These techniques that have been war melted into air — Hurry up in human survival — My last summons Nova Express — Reference is to the ticket that exploded your moments — Nova Police — Heavy summons, Mr Bradly-Mr Martin –

Cross references scrawled by some governmental agency decide what the citizen is permitted to see in Scotland since thought consists largely of the arts — Zero time to the sick areas of politics protecting unfamiliar dust — In English speaking countries, hurry up — Page summons sexual word and image — Consumer’s orders shifted — Any form of censorship left no address — Thought material of method proffers precisely the texts that were his eyes — De Sade, Henry Miller are free to come and go — Censorship is the necessity of chaos for stupid individuals advertising to thin air the story of one absent — Like an error fading here the claws we know from Pavlov — Mr Bradly-Mr Martin was movie of which sex is the overt expression — Voices asked the question: What is sex? — and erased themselves into the answer — Flesh identity, of which censorship is the overt expression, still resisted the question What is sex? and some boy’s memory erased the answers — he had come muttering things i used to say over and over as Mr Martin Weary my blood whom i pent — Then i raised my eyes and saw words scrawled by some boy — Hurry up — Page summons composites — Get it over with — I have never known you moments, but the rages were the worst such memory orders — Shifted with me frequently left no address — Hurry up please — Heavy summons — Voice all day long muttering moved on conveyor belts very low and harsh no wonder shut off — But let me get on with this day and they are free to come and go without sore throat of an old sack and some rope — These flashes out of things i used to say over and over as yourself bringing panic or chaos — Never loved anyone i think fading here in The Towers — Same old things i dont listen to — These our actors going away on the final ape of Martin — Mr Bradly-Mr Martin all day long muttering sick lies — Closed your account — Not even mine it was at the end –

This brings me respectable price of my university — The Kid just found what was left of the window — Pages deal what you might call a journey — Its faily easy thrash in old New Orleans smudged looking answer — Sick and tired of Martin — Invisible shadow tottering to doom fast — Dream and dreamer that were his eyes inherit this stage — Its time — Heavy summons, Mr Bradly-Mr Martin timeless and without mercy — You are destroyed erased like my name — The text of that God melted into air — Mr Bradly-Mr Martin walks toward September weary good bye playing over and over — Out of the circle of light you are words scrawled by some boy with chaos, for a transitory ape of Martin understood Visiting Center and Claws — He had come muttering flesh identity — His dream must have seemed so close there, whole strength to grap it — He did not know that it was still resisted, falling back in that vast obscurity behind memory as the boatman began to melt away — Enchanted texts that were his eyes inherit this continent — Mr Bradly-Mr Martin was movie played to thin air — Vaudeville voices leave the story of one absent — Silence to the stage — These our actors erased themselves into good night far from such as you, Mr Bradly-Mr Martin — Good bye of history — Your whole strength left no address — On this green land the pipes are calling, timeless and without mercy — Page summons the deja vue boatman in setting forth — All are wracked and answer texts that were his eyes — No home in departed river of Gothenberg — Shadows are free to come and go — What have i my friend to give?: An old sack and some rope — The great globe is paint in air –


William S. Burroughs

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Terry Southern – “…A Devastating Ridicule of All That Is False…” (1962)

November 11, 2008 at 1:56 am (Reviews & Articles, The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

This essay was included in the 1962 promotional “prospectus” that Grove Press prepared for the publication of “Naked Lunch”…


In life there is that which is funny, and there is that which is politely supposed to be funny. Literature, out of a misguided appeal to an imaginary popular taste and the caution of self-distrust, generally follows the latter course, so that the humor found in books is almost always vicarious — meeting certain “traditional” requirements and producing Naked Lunch the kind of laughter one might expect: rather strained. Burroughs’ work is an all-stops-out departure from this practice, and he invariably writes at the very top of his ability.
The element of humor in Naked Lunch is one of the book’s great moral strengths, whereby the existentialist sense of the absurd is taken towards an informal conclusion. It is an absolutely devastating ridicule of all that is false, primitive, and vicious in current American life: the abuses of power, hero worship, aimless violence, materialistic obsession, intolerance, and every form of hypocrisy. No one, for example, has written with such eloquent disgust about capital punishment; throughout Naked Lunch recurse sequences to portray the unfathomable barbarity of a “civilization” which can countenance this ritual. There is Naked Lunch one way, of course, to ridicule capital punishment — and that is by exaggerating its circumstances, increasing its horror, accentuating the animal irresponsibility of those involved, insisting that the monstrous deed be witness (and in technicolor, so to speak) by all concerned. Burroughs is perhaps the first modern writer to seriously attempt this; he is certain Naked Lunch is the first to have done so with such startling effectiveness. Social analogy and parallels of this sort about in Naked Lunch, but one must never mistake this author’s work for political comment, which, as in all genuine art, is more instinctive than deliberate — for Burroughs is first and foremost a poet. His attunement to contemporary language is probablly unequalled in American writing. Anyone with a feeling for English phrase at its most balanced, concise, and arresting cannot fail to see this excellence. For example, in describing the difficulty of obtaining narcotis prescriptions from wary doctors in the southwestern United States, he writes:

“Itinerant short con and carny hyp men have burned down the croakers of Texas…”

None of these words are new, but the sudden freshness of using “burned down” (to mean “having exploited beyond further possibility”) in this prosaic context indicates his remarkable power of giving life to a dead vernacular.
Or again, where the metaphysical finds expression in slang:

“One day Little Boy Blue starts to slip, and what crawls out would make an ambulance attendant puke…”

And, psychological:

“The Mark Inside was coming up on him and that’s a rumble nobody can cool…”

Imagery of this calibre puts the use of argot on a level considerably beyond merelly “having a good ear for the spoken word.” Compared to Burroughs’ grasp of modern idiom in almost every form of English — and his ability at distillation and ellipsis — the similar efforts of Ring Lardner, and of Hemingway, appear amateurish and groping.
The role of drugs is of singular importance in Burroughs’ work, as it is, indeed, in American life. In no other culture in the history of the world has the use of narcotics, both legal and illicit, become so strange and integral a part of the overall scene. And reviviscent addiction has reached such prevalence and intensity that, in teh larger view, it can no longer matter whether it be considered a “crime” or a “sickness” — it is a cultural phenomenon with far more profound implications than either diagnosis suggests.
Burroughs’ treatment of narcotics, like his treatment of homosexuality, ranges from that of personal psychology, through the sociological, and finally into pure metaphor. And he is perhaps the first writer to treat either with both humor and humility.
Although Naked Lunch, and his second novel, The Soft Machine, have not been available (except clandestinely) in either America or England — ostensibly because of the preponderance of “obscene words” — they have had, in their Paris editions, an extremely wide reading among the creatively inclined of both countries. No one writing in English, with the exception of Henry Miller, has done so much towards freeing the reader of the superstitions surrounding the use of certain words and certain attitudes. And it is safe to add that for the new generation of American writers the work of William Burroughs is by far the most seriously influential being done today.

Terry Southern

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