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William S. Burroughs

William S. Burroughs at his 69th birthday in 1983.
Born February 5, 1914(1914-02-05)
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Died August 2, 1997 (aged 83)
Lawrence, Kansas, U.S.
Pen name William Lee
Occupation Novelist, Short story writer, Essayist
Genres Beat, Science fiction, Satire
Literary movement Beat
Postmodern
Notable work(s) Naked Lunch,
Junky,
Queer
Spouse(s) Ilse von Klapper (1937-1946)
Joan Vollmer (1946-1951)
Children William S. Burroughs, Jr.
Relative(s) William Seward Burroughs I, grandfather
Ivy Lee, maternal uncle

William Seward Burroughs II (February 5, 1914(1914-02-05) – August 2, 1997; pronounced /ˈbʌroʊz/) was an American novelist, essayist, social critic, painter and spoken word performer. Much of Burroughs's work is semi-autobiographical, drawn from his experiences as an opiate addict, a condition that marked the last fifty years of his life. A primary member of the Beat Generation, he was an avant-garde author who affected popular culture as well as literature. In 1975, he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Contents

Early life and education

Burroughs was born in 1914, the younger of two sons born to Mortimer P. Burroughs (June 16, 1885–January 5, 1965) and Laura Hammon Lee (August 5, 1888–October 20, 1970). The Burroughs were a prominent family in St. Louis, Missouri. His grandfather, William Seward Burroughs I, founded the Burroughs Adding Machine company, which evolved into the Burroughs Corporation. Burroughs' mother, Laura Hammon Lee, was the daughter of a minister whose family claimed to be related to Robert E. Lee. His maternal uncle, Ivy Lee, was an advertising pioneer later employed as a publicist for the Rockefellers. His father, Mortimer Perry Burroughs, ran an antique and gift shop, Cobblestone Gardens; first in St. Louis, then in Palm Beach, Florida.

As a boy, Burroughs lived on Pershing Ave. in St. Louis's Central West End. He attended John Burroughs School in St. Louis where his first published essay, "Personal Magnetism," was printed in the John Burroughs Review in 1929.[1] He then attended The Los Alamos Ranch School in New Mexico, which was stressful for him. The school was a boarding school for the wealthy, "where the spindly sons of the rich could be transformed into manly specimens."[2] Burroughs kept journals documenting an erotic attachment to another boy. According to his own account, he destroyed these later, ashamed of their content.[3] Due to the repressive context where he grew up, and from which he fled, that is, a "family where displays of affection were considered embarrassing,"[4] he kept his sexual orientation concealed well into adulthood when, ironically, he became a well known homosexual writer after the publication of Naked Lunch in 1959. Some say that he was expelled from Los Alamos after taking chloral hydrate in Santa Fe with a fellow student. Yet, according to his own account, he left voluntarily: "During the Easter vacation of my second year I persuaded my family to let me stay in St. Louis."[3]

Harvard University

He finished high school at Taylor School in St. Louis and, in 1932, left home to pursue an arts degree at Harvard University. During the summers, he worked as a cub reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, covering the police docket. He disliked the work, and refused to cover some events, like the death of a drowned child. He lost his virginity in an East St. Louis brothel that summer with a female prostitute he regularly patronized.[5] While at Harvard, Burroughs made trips to New York City and was introduced to the gay subculture there. He visited lesbian dives, piano bars, and the Harlem and Greenwich Village homosexual underground with Richard Stern, a wealthy friend from Kansas City. They would drive from Boston to New York in a reckless fashion. Once, Stern scared Burroughs so much, he asked to be let out of the vehicle.[6]

Burroughs graduated from Harvard in 1936. According to Ted Morgan's Literary Outlaw,

His parents, upon his graduation, had decided to give him a monthly allowance of $200 out of their earnings from Cobblestone Gardens, a tidy sum in those days. It was enough to keep him going, and indeed it guaranteed his survival for the next twenty-five years, arriving with welcome regularity. The allowance was a ticket to freedom; it allowed him to live where he wanted to and to forgo employment.[7]

Burroughs's parents sold the rights to his grandfather's invention and had no share in the Burroughs Corporation. Shortly before the 1929 stock market crash they sold their stock for $200,000.[8]

Europe

After leaving Harvard, Burroughs's formal education ended, except for brief flirtations as a graduate student of anthropology at Harvard and as a medical student in Vienna, Austria. He traveled to Europe, which proved a window into Austrian and Hungarian Weimar-era homosexuality; he picked up boys in steam baths in Vienna, and moved in a circle of exiles, homosexuals, and runaways. There, he met Ilse Klapper, a Jewish woman fleeing the country's Nazi government. The two were never romantically involved, but Burroughs married her, in Croatia, against the wishes of his parents, to allow her to gain a visa to the United States. She made her way to New York City, and eventually divorced Burroughs, although they remained friends for many years.[9] After returning to the U.S., he held a string of uninteresting jobs. In 1939, his emotional health became a concern for his parents, especially after he deliberately severed the last joint of his left little finger, right at the knuckle, to impress a man with whom he was infatuated.[10] This event made its way into his early fiction as the short story "The Finger."

Beginning of the Beats

Burroughs enlisted in the U.S. Army early in 1942, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II. But when he was classified as a 1-A Infantry, not an officer, he became dejected. His mother recognized her son's depression and got Burroughs a civilian disability discharge — a release from duty based on the premise he should have not been allowed to enlist due to previous mental instability. After being evaluated by a family friend, who was also a neurologist at a psychiatric treatment center, Burroughs waited five months in limbo at Jefferson Barracks outside St. Louis before being discharged. During that time he met a Chicago soldier also awaiting release, and once Burroughs was free, he moved to Chicago and held a variety of jobs, including one as an exterminator. When two of his friends from St. Louis, Lucien Carr, a University of Chicago student, and David Kammerer, Carr's homosexual admirer, left for New York City, Burroughs followed.

Joan Vollmer

In 1944, Burroughs began living with Joan Vollmer Adams in an apartment they shared with Jack Kerouac and Edie Parker, Kerouac's first wife. Vollmer Adams was married to a GI with whom she had a young daughter, Julie Adams. Burroughs and Kerouac got into trouble with the law for failing to report a murder involving Lucien Carr, who had killed David Kammerer in a confrontation over Kammerer's incessant and unwanted advances. This incident inspired Burroughs and Kerouac to collaborate on a novel entitled And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. Completed in 1945, the two fledgling authors were unable to get it published, but the manuscript was finally published in November 2008 by Grove Press and Penguin Books.

During this time, Burroughs began using morphine and quickly became addicted. He eventually sold heroin in Greenwich Village to support his habit.

Vollmer also became an addict, but her drug of choice was Benzedrine, an amphetamine sold over the counter at that time. Because of her addiction and social circle, her husband immediately divorced her after returning from the war. Vollmer would become Burroughs’ common law wife. Burroughs was soon arrested for forging a narcotics prescription and was sentenced to return to his parents' care in St. Louis. Vollmer's addiction led to a temporary psychosis, which resulted in her admission to a hospital, and the custody of her child was endangered. Yet after Burroughs completed his "house arrest" in St. Louis, he returned to New York, released Vollmer from the psychiatric ward of Bellevue Hospital, and moved with her and her daughter to Texas. Vollmer soon became pregnant with Burroughs's child. Their son, William S. Burroughs, Jr., was born in 1947. The family moved briefly to New Orleans in 1948.

Burroughs was arrested after police searched his home and found letters between him and Allen Ginsberg referring to a possible delivery of marijuana.

Mexico and South America

Burroughs fled to Mexico to escape possible detention in Louisiana's Angola state prison. Vollmer and their children followed him. Burroughs planned to stay in Mexico for at least five years, the length of his charge's statute of limitations. Burroughs also attended classes at Mexico City College in 1950 studying Spanish, "Mexican picture writing" (codices) and the Mayan language.

In 1951, Burroughs shot and killed Vollmer in a drunken game of "William Tell" at a party above the American-owned Bounty Bar in Mexico City. He spent 13 days in jail before his brother came to Mexico City and bribed Mexican lawyers and officials to release Burroughs on bail while he awaited trial for the killing, which was ruled culpable homicide.[11] Vollmer’s daughter, Julie Adams, went to live with her grandmother, and William S. Burroughs, Jr. went to St. Louis to live with his grandparents. Burroughs reported every Monday morning to the jail in Mexico City while his prominent Mexican attorney worked to resolve the case. According to James Grauerholz two witnesses had agreed to testify that the gun had gone off accidentally while he was checking to see if it was loaded, and the ballistics experts were bribed to support this story.[12] Nevertheless, the trial was continuously delayed and Burroughs began to write what would eventually become the short novel Queer while awaiting his trial. However, when his attorney fled Mexico after his own legal problems involving a car accident and altercation with the son of a government official, Burroughs decided, according to Ted Morgan, to "skip" and return to the United States. He was convicted in absentia of homicide and sentenced to two years, which was suspended.[13] Although Burroughs was writing before the shooting of Joan Vollmer, this event marked him and, biographers argue, his work for the rest of his life.[14]

After leaving Mexico, Burroughs drifted through South America for several months, looking for a drug called Yagé, which promised the user telepathy. A book, composed of letters between Burroughs and Ginsberg, The Yage Letters, was published in 1963 by City Lights Books.

Beginning of literary career

Burroughs later said that shooting Vollmer was a pivotal event in his life, and one which provoked his writing:

I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan's death, and to a realization of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to escape from possession, from control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a life long struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.[15]

Yet he had begun to write in 1945. Burroughs and Kerouac collaborated on And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, a mystery novel loosely based on the Carr/Kammerer situation that was left unpublished. Years later, in the documentary What Happened to Kerouac?, Burroughs described it as "not a very distinguished work." An excerpt of this work, in which Burroughs and Kerouac wrote alternating chapters, was finally published in Word Virus[16], a compendium of William Burroughs's writing that was published after his death in 1997.

Before Vollmer died, Burroughs had largely completed his first two novels in Mexico, although Queer would not be published until 1985. Junkie was written at the urging of Allen Ginsberg, who was instrumental in getting the work published, even as a cheap mass market paperback. Ace Books published the novel in 1953 as part of an Ace Double under the pen name William Lee, retitling it Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict. (it was later republished as Junkie or Junky). In any case, the fact remains that Burroughs did not become a full time writer until after the shooting.

Naked Lunch

For more information, see main article: Naked Lunch

During 1953, Burroughs was at loose ends. Due to legal problems, he was unable to live in the cities towards which he was most inclined. He spent time with his parents in Palm Beach, Florida, and New York City with Allen Ginsberg. When Ginsberg refused his romantic advances,[17] Burroughs went to Rome to meet Alan Ansen on a vacation financed from his parents' continuing support. When he found Rome and Ansen’s company dreary, inspired by Paul Bowles' fiction, he decided to head for Tangier, Morocco.[18] In a home owned by a known procurer of homosexual prostitutes for visiting American and English men, he rented a room and began to write a large body of text that he personally referred to as Interzone.[19] Burroughs lived in Tangier for several months, before returning to the United States where he suffered several personal indignities—Ginsberg was in California and refused to see him, A. A. Wyn, the publisher of Junkie, was not forthcoming with his royalties and his parents were threatening to cut off his allowance.

All signs pointed him back to Tangier, a place where his parents would have to continue the support and one where drugs were freely available. He left in November 1954 and spent the next four years there working on the fiction that would later become Naked Lunch, as well as attempting to write commercial articles about Tangier. He sent these writings to Ginsberg, his literary agent for Junkie, but none were published until 1989 when Interzone, a collection of short stories, was published. Under the strong influence of a marijuana confection known as majoun and a German-made opioid called Eukodol, Burroughs settled in to write. Eventually, Ginsberg and Kerouac, who had traveled to Tangier in 1957, helped Burroughs type, edit, and arrange these episodes into Naked Lunch.[20]

Whereas Junkie and Queer were conventional in style, Naked Lunch was his first venture into a non-linear style. After the publication of Naked Lunch, a book whose creation was to a certain extent the result of a series of contingencies, Burroughs was exposed to Brion Gysin's cut-up technique at the Beat Hotel in Paris in September 1959. He began slicing up phrases and words to create new sentences.[21] At the Beat Hotel Burroughs discovered "a port of entry" into Gysin's canvases: "I don't think I had ever seen painting until I saw the painting of Brion Gysin."[22] The two would cultivate a long-term friendship that revolved around a mutual interest in artworks and cut-up techniques. Scenes were slid together with little care for narrative. Perhaps thinking of his crazed physician, Dr Benway, he described Naked Lunch as a book that could be cut into at any point. Although not considered science fiction, the book does seem to forecast—with eerie prescience — such later phenomena as AIDS, liposuction, autoerotic fatalities, and the crack pandemic.[23]

Excerpts from Naked Lunch were first published in the United States in 1958. The novel was initially rejected by City Lights Books, the publisher of Ginsberg's Howl, and Olympia Press publisher Maurice Girodias, who had published English language novels in France that were controversial for their subjective views of sex and anti-social characters. But Allen Ginsberg worked to get excerpts published in Black Mountain Review and Chicago Review in 1958. Irving Rosenthal, student editor of Chicago Review, a quarterly journal partially subsidized by the university, promised to publish more excerpts from Naked Lunch, but he was fired from his position in 1958 after Chicago Daily News columnist Jack Mabley (1915-2006) called the first excerpt obscene. Rosenthal went on to publish more in his newly created literary journal Big Table No. 1; however, these copies elicited such contempt, the editors were accused of sending obscene material through the United States Mail by the United States Postmaster General, who ruled that copies could not be mailed to subscribers. This controversy made Naked Lunch interesting to Girodias again, and he published the novel in 1959.

After the novel was published, it slowly became notorious across Europe and the United States, garnering interest from not just members of the counterculture of the 1960s, but literary critics such as Mary McCarthy. Once published in the United States, Naked Lunch was prosecuted as obscene by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, followed by other states. In 1966 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declared the work "not obscene" on the basis of criteria developed largely to defend the book. The case against Burroughs's novel still stands as the last obscenity trial against a work of literature—that is, a work consisting of words only, and not including illustrations or photographs — prosecuted in the United States.

The manuscripts that produced Naked Lunch also produced the later works The Soft Machine (1961), The Ticket That Exploded (1962), and Nova Express (1963). These novels feature extensive use of the cut-up technique, which influenced all of Burroughs' subsequent fiction to a degree. During his friendship and artistic collaborations with Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville the technique was combined with images, Gysin's paintings, and sound, via Somerville's tape recorders. Burroughs was so dedicated to the cut-up method that he often defended his use of the technique before editors and publishers, most notably Dick Seaver at Grove Press in the 1960s[24] and Holt, Rinehart & Winston in the 1980s. The cut-up method, because of its random or mechanical basis for text generation, combined with the possibilities of mixing in text written by other writers, deemphasizes the traditional role of the writer as creator or originator of a string of words, while simultaneously exalting the importance of the writer's sensibility as an editor. In this sense the cut-up method may be considered as analogous to the collage method in the visual arts.

Paris and the 'Beat Hotel'

Burroughs moved to a run down hotel in Latin Quarter of Paris in 1959 when Naked Lunch was still looking for a publisher. Tangier with its easy access to drugs, small groups of homosexuals, growing political unrest and odd collection of criminals became increasingly unhealthy for Burroughs.[25] He went to Paris to meet Ginsberg and talk with Olympia Press. In so doing, he left a brewing legal problem, which eventually transferred itself to Paris. Paul Lund, a former British career criminal and cigarette smuggler Burroughs met in Tangier, was arrested on suspicion of importing narcotics into France. Lund gave up Burroughs and some evidence implicated Burroughs in the possible importation into France of narcotics. Once again, the man faced criminal charges, this time in Paris for conspiracy to import opiates, when the Moroccan authorities forwarded their investigation to French officials. Yet it was under this impending threat of criminal sanction that Maurice Girodias published Naked Lunch, and it was helpful in getting Burroughs a suspended sentence, as a literary career, according to Ted Morgan, is a respected profession in France.

The 'Beat Hotel' was a typical European style rooming house hotel, with common toilets on every floor, and a small place for personal cooking in the room. Life there was documented by the photographer Harold Chapman, who lived in the attic room. This shabby, inexpensive hotel was populated by Gregory Corso, Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky for several months after Naked Lunch first appeared. The actual process of publication was partly a function of its 'cut-up' presentation to the printer. Girodias had given Burroughs only ten days to prepare the manuscript for print galleys, and Burroughs sent over the manuscript in pieces, preparing the parts in no particular order. When it was published in this authentically random manner, Burroughs liked it better than the initial plan. International rights to the work were sold soon after, and Burroughs used the $3,000 advance from Grove Press to buy drugs.[26] Naked Lunch was featured in a 1959 Life magazine cover story, partly as an article that highlighted the growing Beat literary movement.

The London years

Burroughs left Paris for London in 1966 to take the cure again with Dr. Dent, a well known English medical doctor who spearheaded a painless heroin withdrawal treatment using an electronic box affixed to the patient's temple. Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg would take this same cure over a decade later from Dr. Dent's nurse, Smitty.[27] Though he ultimately relapsed, Burroughs ended up working out of London for six years, traveling back to the United States on several notable occasions, including one time escorting his son to Lexington Narcotics Farm and Prison after the younger Burroughs had been convicted of prescription fraud in Florida. In the "Afterward" to the compilation of his son's two previously published novels Speed and Kentucky Ham, Burroughs writes that he thought he had a "small habit" and left London quickly without any narcotics because he suspected the U.S. customs would search him very thoroughly on arrival. He claims he went through the most excruciating two months of opiate withdrawal while seeing his son through his trial and sentencing, actually traveling with Billy to Lexington, Kentucky from Miami to ensure his son entered the hospital he once spent time in as a volunteer admission.[28] Earlier Burroughs revisited St. Louis, Missouri taking a large advance from Playboy to write an article about his trip back to St. Louis that was eventually published in The Paris Review, after Burroughs refused to alter the style for Playboy's publishers. In 1968 Burroughs joined Jean Genet, John Sack, and Terry Southern in covering the 1968 Democratic National Convention for Esquire magazine. Southern and Burroughs, who had first become acquainted in London, would remain lifelong friends and collaborators. In 1972, Burroughs and Southern unsuccessfully attempted to adapt Naked Lunch for the screen in conjunction with American game show producer Chuck Barris.[29]

Burroughs supported himself and his addiction by publishing pieces in small literary presses. His avant garde reputation grew internationally as the hippie counterculture discovered his earlier works. He developed a close friendship with Anthony Balch and lived with a young hustler named John Brady who continuously brought home young women despite Burroughs' protestations. In the midst of this personal turmoil, Burroughs managed to complete two works: a novel written in screen play format, The Last Words of Dutch Schulz (1969); and the traditional prose-format novel The Wild Boys (1971).

Burroughs was a fan of Harold S. Schroeppel [30] and passionately studied the manuscripts that were made available from the Institute for Advanced Perception. The teachings were known as the Lessons in Advanced Perception. Copies of these manuscripts, dated February 1960, along with four pages of notes exist in the William S. Burroughs archives at Ohio State University.[31]

In the 1960s Burroughs also joined and left the Church of Scientology. In talking about the experience, he claimed that the techniques and philosophy of Scientology helped him and that he felt that further study into Scientology would produce great results. However, he was skeptical of the organization itself, and felt that it fostered an environment that did not accept critical discussion.[32] His subsequent critical writings about the church and his review of Inside Scientology by Robert Kaufman led to a battle of letters between Burroughs and Scientology supporters in the pages of Rolling Stone magazine.

Return to U.S.

In 1974, concerned about his friend's well-being, Allen Ginsberg gained for Burroughs a contract to teach creative writing at the City College of New York. Burroughs successfully withdrew from heroin use and moved to New York. He eventually found an apartment, affectionately dubbed "The Bunker," on the Lower East Side of Manhattan at 222 Bowery. The dwelling was a partially converted YMCA gym, complete with lockers and communal showers. The building fell within New York City rent control policies that made it extremely cheap; in fact, it was only about four hundred dollars a month until 1981 when the rent control rules changed, doubling the rent overnight.[33] Burroughs added "teacher" to the list of jobs he did not like, as he lasted only a semester as a professor; he found the students uninteresting and without much creative talent. Although he needed income desperately, he even turned down a teaching position at the University at Buffalo for $15,000 a semester. "The teaching gig was a lesson in never again. You were giving out all this energy and nothing was coming back."[34] His savior was the newly arrived, twenty-one-year-old book seller and Beat Generation devotee James Grauerholz, who worked for Burroughs part-time as a secretary as well as in a book store. It was Grauerholz who floated the idea of reading tours, something similar to rock and roll touring, or stand-up comedian dates in clubs across the country. Grauerholz had managed several rock bands in Kansas and took the lead in booking Burroughs reading tours that would help support him throughout the next two decades. It raised his public profile, which eventually aided in obtaining new publishing contracts. Through Grauerholz, Burroughs became a monthly columnist for the noted popular culture magazine Crawdaddy, for which he interviewed Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page in 1975. Burroughs decided to relocate back to the United States permanently in 1976. He then began to associate with New York cultural players such as Andy Warhol, John Giorno, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, and Susan Sontag, frequently entertaining them at the Bunker. Throughout early 1977, Burroughs collaborated with Southern and Dennis Hopper on a screen adaptation of Junky. Financed by a reclusive acquaintance of Burroughs, the project lost traction after financial problems and creative disagreements between Hopper and Burroughs.

Organized by Columbia professor Sylvère Lotringer, Giorno, and Grauerholz, the Nova Convention was a multimedia retrospective of Burroughs's work held from 30 November to 2 December 1978 at various locations throughout New York. The event included readings from Southern, Ginsberg, Smith, and Frank Zappa (who filled in at the last minute for Keith Richards, then entangled in a legal problem) in addition to panel discussions with Timothy Leary & Robert Anton Wilson and concerts featuring The B-52's, Suicide, Philip Glass, and Debbie Harry & Chris Stein.

In 1976, Billy Burroughs was eating dinner with his father and Allen Ginsberg in Boulder, Colorado, at Ginsberg’s Buddhist poetry school (Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics) at Chogyam Trungpa's Naropa University when he began to vomit blood. Burroughs senior had not seen his son for over a year and was alarmed at his appearance when Billy arrived at Ginsberg’s apartment. Although Billy had successfully published two short novels in the 1970s, and was deemed by literary critics like Ann Charters as a bona fide "second generation beat writer",[35] his brief marriage to a teenage waitress had disintegrated. Under his constant drinking, there were long periods where Billy was out of contact with any of his family or friends. The diagnosis was liver cirrhosis so complete that the only treatment was a rarely performed liver transplant operation. Fortunately, the University of Colorado Medical Center was one of two places in the nation that performed transplants under the pioneering work of Dr. Thomas Starzl. Billy underwent the procedure and beat the thirty-percent survival odds. His father spent many months in 1976 and 1977 in Colorado, helping Billy through many additional surgeries and complications. Ted Morgan’s biography asserts that their relationship was not spontaneous and lacked real warmth or intimacy. Allen Ginsberg was supportive to both Burroughs and his son throughout the long period of recovery.[36]

In London, he had begun to write what would become the first novel of a three book trilogy. Between 1981 and 1987 he published Cities of the Red Night (1981), The Place of Dead Roads (1983) and The Western Lands (1987). Grauerholz helped edit Cities when it was first rejected by Burroughs' long-time editor Dick Seaver at Holt Rinehart, after it was deemed too disjointed. The novel was written as a straight narrative and then chopped up into a more random pattern, leaving the reader to sort through the characters and events. This technique was definitely different from the author's earlier cut-up methods, which were organically accidental from the start. Nevertheless, the novel was reassembled and published, still without a straight linear form, but with fewer breaks in the story. The back-and-forth sway of the read replicated the theme of the trilogy; time-travel adventures where Burroughs's narrators rewrite episodes in history and thus reform mankind.[37] Reviews were mixed for Cities. Novelist and critic Anthony Burgess panned the work in Saturday Review, saying Burroughs was boring readers with repetitive episodes of pederast fantasy and sexual strangulation that lacked any comprehensible world view or theology; other reviewers, like J. G. Ballard, argued that Burroughs was shaping a new literary "mythography".[37]

In 1981, Billy Burroughs died in Florida. He had cut off contact with his father several years before, even publishing an article in Esquire magazine claiming the author had poisoned his life and revealing that he had been molested by one of his father's friends as a fourteen-year-old while visiting his father in Tangier, something that he had previously kept to himself. The liver transplant had not cured his urge to drink, and Billy suffered from serious health complications years after the operation. He had stopped taking his transplant rejection drugs and was found near the side of a Florida highway by a stranger. He died shortly afterwards. Burroughs was in New York when he heard from Allen Ginsberg of the tragedy.

Burroughs himself, by 1979, was once again addicted to heroin. The cheap heroin that was easily purchased outside his door on the Lower East Side "made its way" into his veins, coupled with "gifts" from the overzealous if well-intentioned admirers who frequently visited the Bunker. Although Burroughs would have episodes of being free from heroin, from this point until his death he was regularly addicted to the drug. He died in 1997 on a methadone maintenance program. In an introduction to Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs, James Grauerholz (who managed Burroughs's reading tours in the 80s and 90s) mentions that part of his job was to deal with the “underworld” in each city to secure the author’s needed drugs.[38]

Later years in Kansas

Burroughs moved to Lawrence, Kansas, in 1981 and lived the remainder of his life there, at 1927 Learnard Avenue. In 1984 he signed a seven-book deal with Viking Press after he signed with literary agent Andrew Wylie. This deal included the publication rights to the 1953 unpublished novel Queer. With this money he purchased a small bungalow for $29,000.[39] He was finally inducted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1983 after several attempts by Allen Ginsberg to get him accepted. He attended the induction ceremony in May 1983. Lawrence Ferlinghetti remarked the induction of Burroughs into the Academy proved Herbert Marcuse's point that capitalistic society had a great ability to incorporate its one-time outsiders.[40]

Burroughs became a counterculture figure and inspired 1970’s proto punk rock band Doctors of Madness and in the 1980’s collaborated with performers ranging from Bill Laswell's Material and Laurie Anderson to Throbbing Gristle, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and Ministry, and in Gus Van Sant's 1989 film Drugstore Cowboy, playing a character based on a short story he published in Exterminator!, "the "Priest" they called him". In 1990, he released the spoken word album Dead City Radio, with musical back-up from producers Hal Willner and Nelson Lyon, and alternative rock band Sonic Youth. A collaboration with musicians Nick Cave and Tom Waits resulted in a collection of short prose, Smack My Crack, later released as a spoken word album in 1987. He also collaborated with Tom Waits and director Robert Wilson to create The Black Rider, a play which opened at the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg in 1990, to critical acclaim, and was later performed all over Europe and the U.S. In 1991, with Burroughs's sanction, director David Cronenberg took on the seemingly impossible task of adapting Naked Lunch into a full-length feature film. The film opened to critical acclaim.

He became a member of a chaos magic organization, the Illuminates of Thanateros, in 1993, a group whose very existence would not have been possible without his works.[41]

During his later years in Kansas, Burroughs also developed a painting technique whereby he created abstract compositions by placing spray paint cans in front of, and some distance from, blank canvasses, and then shooting at the paint cans with a shotgun. These splattered canvasses were shown in a Chicago gallery in the late 1980s and a New York City gallery in the early 1990s.

Burroughs's final filmed performance was in the video for "Last Night on Earth" by Irish rock band U2, filmed in Kansas City, Missouri, directed by Richie Smyth and also featuring Sophie Dahl.[42]

Death

Burroughs died in Lawrence, at 6:50 p.m. on August 2, 1997 from complications of a heart attack he had suffered the previous day.[8] He was interred in the family plot in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri,[43] with a marker bearing his full name and the epitaph "American Writer." The grave lies to the right of the white granite obelisk of William Seward Burroughs I (1857-1898).

After his death

Since 1997, several posthumous collections of Burroughs's work have been published. A few months after his death, a collection of writings spanning his entire career, Word Virus, was published (according to the book's introduction, Burroughs himself approved its contents prior to his death)[16]. Aside from numerous previously released pieces, Word Virus also included one of the few surviving fragments of And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, an unpublished novel by Burroughs and Kerouac. A collection of journal entries written during the final months of Burroughs's life was published as the book Last Words in 2000. Publication of a memoir by Burroughs entitled Evil River by Viking Press has been delayed several times; after initially being announced for a 2005 release, Web retailers such as Amazon.com indicated a 2007 release, complete with an ISBN number (ISBN 0670813516), but no such release has, to date, occurred.[44] In December 2007, Ohio State University Press released Everything Lost: The Latin American Journals of William S. Burroughs. Edited by Oliver Harris, the book contains transcriptions of journal entries made by Burroughs during the time of composing Queer and The Yage Letters.[45] In addition, special editions of The Yage Letters, Naked Lunch and Junkie/Junky have been published in recent years, all containing additional material and essays on the works.

The complete Kerouac/Burroughs manuscript And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks was published for the first time in November 2008.[46]

Literary style and periods

Burroughs's major works can be divided into four different periods. The dates refer to the time of writing, not publication, which in some cases was not until decades later:

  • Early Work (early 1950s): Junkie, Queer and The Yage Letters are relatively straightforward linear narratives, written in and about Burroughs's time in Mexico City and South America.
  • The Cut-Up Period (mid 1950s to mid 1960s): Naked Lunch is a fragmentary collection of "routines" from The Word Hoard - manuscripts written in Tangier, Paris, London, as well as of some other texts written in South America such as "The Composite City", blending into the cut-up and fold-in fiction also heavily drawn from The Word Hoard: The Soft Machine, Nova Express, The Ticket That Exploded, also referred to as "The Nova Trilogy" or "the Nova Epic", self-described by Burroughs as an attempt to create "a mythology for the space age". Interzone also derives from this period.
  • Experiment & Subversion (mid 1960s to mid 1970s): This period saw Burroughs continue experimental writing with increased political content and branching into multimedia such as film and sound recording. The only major novel written in this period was The Wild Boys, but he also wrote dozens of published articles, short stories, scrap books and other works, several in collaboration with Brion Gyson. The major anthologies representing work from this period are The Burroughs File, The Adding Machine and Exterminator!.
  • The Red Night Trilogy (mid 1970s to mid 1980s): The books Cities of the Red Night, The Place of Dead Roads and The Western Lands came from Burroughs in a final, mature stage, creating a complete mythology.

Burroughs also produced numerous essays and a large body of autobiographical material, including a book with a detailed account of his own dreams (My Education: A Book of Dreams).

Reaction to critics and view on criticism

Several literary critics treated Burroughs's work harshly. For example Anatole Broyard and Philip Toynbee wrote devastating reviews of some of his most important books. In a short essay entitled A Review of the Reviewers, Burroughs answers his critics in this way:

Critics constantly complain that writers are lacking in standards, yet they themselves seem to have no standards other than personal prejudice for literary criticism. (...) such standards do exist. Matthew Arnold set up three criteria for criticism: 1. What is the writer trying to do? 2. How well does he succeed in doing it? (...) 3. Does the work exhibit "high seriousness"? That is, does it touch on basic issues of good and evil, life and death and the human condition. I would also apply a fourth criterion (...) Write about what you know. More writers fail because they try to write about things they don't know than for any other reason.

William S. Burroughs, 'A Review of the Reviewers [47]

Burroughs clearly indicates here that he prefers to be evaluated against such criteria over being reviewed based on the reviewer's personal reactions to a certain book. Always a contradictory figure, Burroughs nevertheless criticized Anatole Broyard for reading authorial intentionality into his works where there is none, which sets him at odds both with New Criticism and the old school as represented by Mathew Arnold.

Legacy

William S. Burroughs
Video, Color Laserprint by Christiaan Tonnis, 2006

Burroughs is often called one of the greatest and most influential writers of the twentieth century, most notably by Norman Mailer whose quote on Burroughs, "The only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius", appears on many Burroughs publications. Others, however, consider him overrated. Still others consider his concepts and attitude more influential than his prose. Prominent admirers of Burroughs's work have included British critic and biographer Peter Ackroyd, the rock critic Lester Bangs and the authors J. G. Ballard, Angela Carter, Jean Genet, William Gibson, Charles Bukowski, Alan Moore, and Ken Kesey.

Burroughs continues to be named as an influence by contemporary writers of fiction. Both the New Wave and, especially, the cyberpunk schools of science fiction are indebted to him. Admirers from the late 1970s—early 1980s milieu of this subgenre include William Gibson and John Shirley, to name only two. First published in 1982, the British slipstream fiction magazine Interzone (which later evolved into a more traditional science fiction magazine) paid tribute to him with its choice of name. He is also cited as a major influence by musicians Roger Waters, Patti Smith, Genesis P-Orridge, Ian Curtis, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Tom Waits and Kurt Cobain.[48]

Drugs, homosexuality and death, common among Burroughs's themes, have been taken up by Dennis Cooper, of whom Burroughs said, "Dennis Cooper, God help him, is a born writer." Cooper, in return, wrote, in his essay 'King Junk', "along with Jean Genet, John Rechy, and Ginsberg, [Burroughs] helped make homosexuality seem cool and highbrow, providing gay liberation with a delicious edge." Splatterpunk writer Poppy Z. Brite has frequently referenced this aspect of Burroughs's work. Burroughs's writing continues to be referenced years after his death; for example, a November 2004 episode of the TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation included an evil character named Dr. Benway (named for an amoral physician who appears in a number of Burroughs's works). This is an echo of the hospital scene in the movie Repo Man, made during Burroughs's lifetime, in which both Dr. Benway and Mr. Lee (a Burroughs pen name) are paged.

Burroughs was cited by Robert Anton Wilson as the first person to notice the "23 Enigma":

I first heard of the 23 Enigma from William S. Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch, Nova Express, etc. According to Burroughs, he had known a certain Captain Clark, around 1960 in Tangier, who once bragged that he had been sailing 23 years without an accident. That very day, Clark’s ship had an accident that killed him and everybody else aboard. Furthermore, while Burroughs was thinking about this crude example of the irony of the gods that evening, a bulletin on the radio announced the crash of an airliner in Florida, USA. The pilot was another Captain Clark and the flight was Flight 23.

—Robert Anton Wilson, Fortean Times[49]

Appearances in media

In music

Burroughs appears on the cover of The Beatles eighth studio album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Burroughs participated on numerous album releases by Giorno Poetry Systems, including The Nova Convention (featuring Frank Zappa, John Cage, and Philip Glass) and You're the Guy I Want to Share My Money With (with John Giorno and Laurie Anderson). He is featured in a spoken word piece entitled "Sharkey's Night" on Laurie Anderson's album Mister Heartbreak. In addition, Burroughs provided vocal samples for the soundtrack of Anderson's 1986 concert film, Home of the Brave, and made a cameo appearance in it. He also recites the lyrics of R.E.M.'s "Star Me Kitten" for a special version of the song on the Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by the X-Files soundtrack.

In 1990, Island Records released Dead City Radio, a collection of readings set to a broad range of musical compositions. It was produced by Hal Willner and Nelson Lyon, with musical accompaniment from John Cale, Donald Fagen, Lenny Pickett, Chris Stein, Sonic Youth, and others. The remastered edition of Sonic Youth's album Goo includes a longer version of "Dr. Benway's House," which had appeared, in shorter form, on Dead City Radio.

In 1992 he recorded "Quick Fix" with Ministry, which appeared on their single for "Just One Fix." The single featured cover art by Burroughs and a remix of the song dubbed the "W.S.B. mix." Burroughs also made an appearance in the video for "Just One Fix." The same year he also worked on the EP the "Priest" they called him; Burroughs reads the short story of the same name, while Kurt Cobain creates layers of guitar feedback and distortion. Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic is featured on the cover as the titular "Priest." In 1992 Burroughs worked with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy on Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales, with the duo providing musical background and accompaniment to Burroughs's spoken readings from several of his books.

Burroughs appears near the end of U2's music video Last Night on Earth, pushing a shopping cart with a large spotlight positioned inside it. The video ends with a close up of his eyes.

In 2000, Spring Heel Jack released the album Oddities, on which appears the band's remix of Material's "Road to the Western Lands," featuring Burroughs, which had originally appeared on the remix album Seven Souls.

In film and television

Burroughs played Opium Jones in the 1966 Conrad Rooks cult film Chappaqua, which also featured cameo roles by Allen Ginsberg, Moondog, and others. In 1968, an abbreviated—77 minutes as opposed to the original's 104 minutes—version of Benjamin Christensen's 1922 film Häxan was released, subtitled Witchcraft Through The Ages. This version, produced by Anthony Balch, featured an eclectic jazz score by Daniel Humair and narration by Burroughs.[50] He also appeared in a number of short films in the 1960s directed by Balch.[51]

Burroughs narrated part of the 1980 documentary Shamans of the Blind Country by anthropologist and filmmaker Michael Oppitz.[52] He gave a reading on Saturday Night Live on 7 November 1981, in an episode hosted by Lauren Hutton.

Burroughs subsequently made cameo appearances in a number of other films and videos, such as David Blair's Wax: or the Discovery of Television among the Bees, in which he plays a beekeeper, in an elliptic story about the first Gulf War, and Decoder by Klaus Maeck.[53] He played an aging junkie priest in Gus Van Sant's 1989 film Drugstore Cowboy. He also appears briefly at the beginning of Van Sant's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (based on the Tom Robbins novel), in which he is seen crossing a city street; as the noise of the city rises around him he pauses in the middle of the intersection and speaks the single word "ominous". Van Sant's short film "Thanksgiving Prayer" features Burroughs reading the poem "Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1986," from Tornado Alley, intercut with a collage of black and white images.

A documentary titled Burroughs, directed by Howard Brookner, was released in 1984. It included footage of Burroughs and many of his friends and colleagues.

Near the end of his life, recordings of Burroughs reading his short stories "A Junky's Christmas" and "Ah Pook is Here" were used to great effect on the soundtracks of two highly acclaimed animated film adaptations.

As a fictional character

Burroughs was fictionalized in Jack Kerouac's autobiographical novel On the Road as "Old Bull Lee". In the 2004 novel Move Under Ground, Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and Kerouac team up to defeat Cthulhu.

Burroughs appears in the first part of The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson during the 1968 Democratic Convention riots and is described as a person devoid of anger, passion, indignation, hope, or any other recognizable human emotion. He is presented as a polar opposite of Allen Ginsberg, as Ginsberg believed in everything and Burroughs believed in nothing. Robert Anton Wilson would recount in his Cosmic Trigger Vol II his having interviewed both Burroughs and Ginsberg for Playboy the day the riots began as well as his experiences with Robert Shea during the riots, providing some detail on the creation of the fictional sequence.

Band names

Many musical aggregations have found their names in Burroughs's work. The most widely known of these is Steely Dan, a group named after a dildo in Naked Lunch.[54] Also from Naked Lunch came the name The Mugwumps. British band Soft Machine took its moniker from a Burroughs novel of the same name, as did the Protopunk band Dead Fingers Talk, from Hull, England; their only album was titled Storm the Reality Studios, after a quote from Nova Express. Alt-country band Clem Snide is named for a Burroughs character. Thin White Rope took their name for Burroughs's euphemism for ejaculation.[55] The American extreme metal band Success Will Write Apocalypse Across the Sky took their name from the 1989 text "Apocalypse",[56] in which Burroughs describes "art and creative expression taking a literal and physical form."[57]

Bibliography

Further reading

  • Charters, Ann (ed.). The Portable Beat Reader. Penguin Books, New York 1992. ISBN 0-670-83885-3 (hc); ISBN 0-14-015102-8 (pbk).
  • Gilmore, John. Laid Bare: A Memoir of Wrecked Lives and the Hollywood Death Trip. Searching for Rimbaud. Amok Books, 1997.
  • Harris, Oliver. William S. Burroughs and the Secret of Fascination. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, IL 2003.
  • Miles, Barry. William Burroughs: El Hombre Invisible, A Portrait. Hyperion, New York 1992.
  • Schneiderman, Davis and Philip Walsh. Retaking the Universe: William S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization. Pluto Press, LOndon 2004.
  • Stevens, Michael. The Road to Interzone: Reading William S. Burroughs Reading. suicide press, Archer City, Texas 2009.

Notes

  1. ^ William S Burroughs Popsubculture.com Biography.
  2. ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p. 44.
  3. ^ a b Word Virus: The William S. Burroughs Reader. James Grauerholz, Ira Silverberg, Ann Douglas, eds., Grove Press, 2000, p. 21
  4. ^ Morgan, Ted, Literary Outlaw, p. 26
  5. ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p. 62.
  6. ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p. 611
  7. ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p. 65
  8. ^ a b Severo, Richard (August 3, 1997). "William S. Burroughs Dies at 83; Member of the Beat Generation Wrote 'Naked Lunch'". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950DEED6123DF930A3575BC0A961958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all. Retrieved 2007-10-22. 
  9. ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. pp. 65-8
  10. ^ Grauerholz, James. Introduction p. xv, in William Burroughs. Interzone. New York: Viking Press, 1987.
  11. ^ Grauerholz, James. "The Death of Joan Vollmer Burroughs: What Really Happened?". American Studies Department, University of Kansas. lawrence.com. http://www.lawrence.com/news/2003/dec/09/the_death/. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  12. ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p. 202.
  13. ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p. 214.
  14. ^ Morgan, Ted, Literary Outlaw, pp. 197-198
  15. ^ Queer, Penguin, 1985 p.xxiii
  16. ^ a b James Grauerholz. Word Virus, New York: Grove, 1998
  17. ^ Bill Morgan, I Celebrate Myself, 2006, New York Viking Press, p.159
  18. ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p.232-34.
  19. ^ James Grauerholz writes, in Interzone, the body of text that Burroughs was working on was called Interzone, see Burroughs, William S. Interzone. "Introduction", p.ix-xiii. New York: Viking Press, 1987.
  20. ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p.238-42.
  21. ^ Miles, Barry "The Inventive Mind of Brion Gysin" in José Férez Kuri (ed) Brion Gysin: Tuning in to the Multimedia Age, London: Thames and Hudson, 2003, p.124-125.
  22. ^ Burroughs, William S., Ports of Entry - Here is Space-Time Painting, p.32.
  23. ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p.355.
  24. ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p. 425.
  25. ^ Grauerholz, James. Introduction p. xviii, in William Burroughs. Interzone. New York: Viking Press, 1987.
  26. ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p.316-326.
  27. ^ Stratton, Richard. "Keith Richards Interview 1978". High Times Reader. Thunder's Mouth, Nation Books: New York, 2004.
  28. ^ Burroughs, William, S. "Afterward". Speed/Kentucky Ham: Two Novels. Overlook Press: New York, 1984.
  29. ^ Lee Hill A Grand Guy: The Art and Life of Terry Southern.
  30. ^ Harold S. Schroeppel - Obituary
  31. ^ WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS PAPERS,The Ohio State University, University Libraries, Rare Books and Manuscripts, SPEC.CMS.40, Box #48, Item # 482
  32. ^ Burroughs on Scientology, Los Angeles Free Press, 6 Mar 1970.
  33. ^ Bockris, Victor. With William Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker. St. Martin's Griffin, New York: 1996
  34. ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p. 477.
  35. ^ Charters, Ann. "Introduction". Speed/Kentucky Ham: Two Novels. Overlook Press: New York, 1984.
  36. ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p. 495-536.
  37. ^ a b Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p. 565.
  38. ^ Burroughs, William. "Introduction". Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs. New York: Grove Press, 2000.
  39. ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p.596.
  40. ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p.577.
  41. ^ The Illuminates of Thanateros. 1993, available online at: "Magick and Photography," Douglas Grant, Ashé Journal 2(3)
  42. ^ William S. Burroughs: Overview from msn.com
  43. ^ William S. Burroughs at Find a Grave
  44. ^ Reality Studio.org: Evil River-A Burroughs Memoir?, a 2005 discussion on the origin of this book.
  45. ^ Amazon.ca listing, with cover art and review information.
  46. ^ Chris Hastings and Beth Jones, "New Jack Kerouac book to be published, The Telegraph, 2 March 2008 (accessed 3 March 2008)
  47. ^ Burroughs, William S. The Adding Machine: Selected Essays. Arcade Publishing, 1993
  48. ^ Wills, D. 'Modern Beats: Tom Waits', in Wills, D. (ed.) Beatdom Vol. 3 (Mauling Press: Dundee, 2007) p. ????
  49. ^ Robert Anton Wilson (2007-05). "The 23 Phenomenon". Fortean Times. http://forteantimes.com/features/commentary/396/the_23_phenomenon.html. Retrieved 2008-09-25. 
  50. ^ Mark Bourne (2001). "Häxan / Witchcraft Through the Ages: The Criterion Collection". DVD Journal. http://www.dvdjournal.com/reviews/h/haxan_cc.shtml. Retrieved 2008-10-24. 
  51. ^ U B U W E B : William S. Burroughs Films
  52. ^ Ausgewählte Publikationen von Michael Oppitz from the website of the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zürich
  53. ^ Decoder (1984) from IMDb
  54. ^ FAQ from the Official Steely Dan website
  55. ^ http://www.allmusicguide.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&searchlink=THIN|WHITE|ROPE&sql=11:hifexqr5ldse~T1
  56. ^ S. Murphy, Timothy (1998). "Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted". Wising Up the Marks: The Amodern William Burroughs. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. p. 6. ISBN 0520209516. http://books.google.com/books?id=x_x5kgD1ijAC&lpg=PA6&dq=Success%20Will%20Write%20Apocalypse%20Across%20the%20Sky&client=firefox-a&pg=PA6. Retrieved June 23, 2009. 
  57. ^ G., Richard (April 2009). "Success Will Write Apocalypse Across the Sky interview". Lords of Metal. http://www.lordsofmetal.nl/showinterview.php?id=2619&lang=en. Retrieved June 23, 2009. 

References

  • Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S.Burroughs. New York: Avon, 1988. ISBN 0-805-00901-9
  • Word Virus: The William S. Burroughs Reader. James Grauerholz, Ira Silverberg, Ann Douglas, eds., Grove Press, 2000. 576 pages. ISBN 080213694X, 9780802136947 OCLC 57590795

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Communication must become total and conscious before we can stop it.
Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can't fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.

William Seward Burroughs (5 February 19142 August 1997), more commonly known as William S. Burroughs, was an American novelist, essayist, social critic, painter and spoken word performer. Much of Burroughs' work is semi-autobiographical, drawn from his experiences as an opiate addict, a condition that marked the last fifty years of his life. He was a central member of the Beat Generation and an avant-garde author who influenced popular culture as well as literature. In 1984 he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Contents

Sourced

A paranoid man is a man who knows a little about what's going on.
  • A ghost in daylight on a crowded street.
    • Junkie (1953)
  • The junk merchant doesn't sell his product to the consumer, he sells the consumer to his product. He does not improve and simplify his merchandise. He degrades and simplifies the client.
    • "Letter from a Master Addict to Dangerous Drugs", written in 1956, first published in The British Journal of Addiction, Vol. 52, No. 2 (January 1957), p. 1 and later used as footnotes in Naked Lunch
  • Cut word lines — Cut music lines — Smash the control images — Smash the control machine — Burn the books — Kill the priests — Kill! Kill! Kill!
    • The Soft Machine (1961)
  • Communication must become total and conscious before we can stop it.
    • The Ticket That Exploded (1962)
  • The 'Other Half' is the word. The 'Other Half' is an organism. Word is an organism. The presence of the 'Other Half' is a separate organism attached to your nervous system on an air line of words can now be demonstrated experimentally. One of the most common 'hallucinations' of subject during sense withdrawal is the feeling of another body sprawled through the subject's body at an angle...yes quite an angle it is the 'Other Half' worked quite some years on a symbiotic basis. From symbiosis to parasitism is a short step. The word is now a virus. The flu virus may have once been a healthy lung cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the central nervous system. Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting sub-vocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word.
    • The Ticket That Exploded (1962)
  • 1. Never give anything away for nothing. 2. Never give more than you have to (always catch the buyer hungry and always make him wait). 3. Always take back everything if you possibly can.
    • On drug dealing, quoted in The Daily Telegraph (1964)
  • You know, they ask me if I were on a desert island and I knew nobody would ever see what I wrote, would I go on writing. My answer is most emphatically yes. I would go on writing for company. Because I'm creating an imaginary — it's always imaginary — world in which I would like to live.
    • Quoted in interview, The Paris Review (Fall 1965)
  • The hallucinogens produce visionary states, sort of, but morphine and its derivatives decrease awareness of inner processes, thoughts and feelings. They are pain killers; pure and simple. They are absolutely contraindicated for creative work, and I include in the lot alcohol, morphine, barbiturates, tranquilizers — the whole spectrum of sedative drugs.
    • Quoted in interview, The Paris Review (Fall 1965), in response to "The visions of drugs and the visions of art don't mix?"
  • A paranoid man is a man who knows a little about what's going on.
    • Quoted in Friend magazine (1970)
  • As a young child Audrey Carsons wanted to be writers because writers were rich and famous. They lounged around Singapore and Rangoon smoking opium in a yellow pongee silk suit. They sniffed cocaine in Mayfair and they penetrated forbidden swamps with a faithful native boy and lived in the native quarter of Tangier smoking hashish and languidly caressing a pet gazelle.
    • Exterminator! (1979), "The Lemon Kid"
  • Faced by the actual practice of freedom, the French and American revolutions would be forced to stand by their words.
    • Cities of the Red Night (1981)
  • There is simply no room left for 'freedom from the tyranny of government' since city dwellers depend on it for food, power, water, transportation, protection, and welfare. Your right to live where you want, with companions of your choosing, under laws to which you agree, died in the eighteenth century with Captain Mission. Only a miracle or a disaster could restore it.
    • Cities of the Red Night (1981)
  • You are a Shit Spotter. It's satisfying work. … We have observed that most of the trouble in the world has been caused by ten to twenty percent of folks who can't mind their own business, because they have no business of their own to mind, any more than a smallpox virus. Now your virus is an obligate cellular parasite and my contention is that evil is quite literally a virus parasite occupying a certain brain area which we may term the RIGHT center. The mark of a basic shit is that he has to be right. And right here we must make a diagnostic distinction between the hard-core virus-occupied shit and a plain, ordinary, mean no-good son of a bitch. Some of these sons of bitches don't cause any trouble at all, just want to be left alone.
    • The Place Of Dead Roads‎ (1983), p. 155
    • Variant, using much of this passage in a later essay:
    • Most of the trouble in the world has been caused by folks who can't mind their own business, because they have no business of their own to mind, any more than a smallpox virus has. Now your virus is an obligate cellular parasite and my contention is that evil is quite literally a virus parasite occupying a certain brain area which we may term the RIGHT center. The mark of a basic shit is that he has to be right. And right here we must make a distinction between the hard-core virus-occupied shit and a plain, ordinary, mean no-good son of a bitch. Some of these sons of bitches don't cause any trouble at all, just want to be left alone and are only dangerous when molested, like the Brown Recluse.
      • "My Own Business" in ‪The Adding Machine : Selected Essays‬‎ (1985), p. 16
  • Victimless crimes are the lifeline of the RIGHT virus. And there is a growing recognition, even in official quarters, that victimless crimes should be removed from the books or subject to minimal penalties. Those individuals who cannot or will not mind their business cling to the victimless-crime concept, equating drug use and private sexual behavior with robbery and murder. If the right to mind one's own business is recognized, the whole shit disposition is untenable and Hell hath no vociferous fury than an endangered parasite.
    • The Place Of Dead Roads‎ (1983), p. 155
  • Remember the Italian steward who put on women's clothes and so filched a seat in a lifeboat? "A cur in human shape, certainly he was born and saved to set a new standard by which to judge infamy and shame.
    • The Western Lands (1987), p. 6
  • Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can't fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.
    • The Western Lands (1987)
  • This is a war universe. War all the time. That is its nature. There may be other universes based on all sorts of other principles, but ours seems to be based on war and games. All games are basically hostile. Winners and losers. We see them all around us: the winners and the losers. The losers can oftentimes become winners, and the winners can very easily become losers.
  • After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it. I sure as hell wouldn't want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.
    • Grand Street, no. 37 & The War Universe (1992)
  • England has the most sordid literary scene I've ever seen. They all meet in the same pub. This guy's writing a foreword for this person. They all have to give radio programs, they have to do all this just to scrape by. They're all scratching each other's backs.
    • Forbes (2 April 2001), p. 172
  • Now what sort of man or woman or monster would stroke a centipede I have ever seen? "And here is my good big centipede!" If such a man exists, I say kill him without more ado. He is a traitor to the human race.
    • The Western Lands, ch. 4 (1987)

Naked Lunch (1959)

Grove Press, 2003, ISBN 0-802-11639-6, 289 pages
  • Hustlers of the world, there is one Mark you cannot beat: The Mark Inside.
    • From the chapter entitled "Rube", p. 11
  • A functioning police state needs no police.
    • From the chapter entitled "Benway", p. 31
  • I awoke from The Sickness at the age of forty-five, calm and sane, and in reasonably good health except for a weakened liver and the look of borrowed flesh common to all who survive The Sickness... When I speak of drug addiction I do not refer to keif, marijuana or any preparation of hashish, mescaline, Banisteriopsis caapi, LSD6, Sacred Mushrooms or any other drugs of the hallucinogen group... There is no evidence that the use of any hallucinogen results in physical dependence.
    • From "Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness," the introduction to the 1960 edition, pp. 199-201
  • Our national drug is alcohol. We tend to regard the use of any other drug with special horror.
    • From "Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness", p. 201

Quotes about Burroughs

  • I first heard of the 23 Enigma from William S. Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch, Nova Express, etc. According to Burroughs, he had known a certain Captain Clark, around 1960 in Tangier, who once bragged that he had been sailing 23 years without an accident. That very day, Clark’s ship had an accident that killed him and everybody else aboard. Furthermore, while Burroughs was thinking about this crude example of the irony of the gods that evening, a bulletin on the radio announced the crash of an airliner in Florida, USA. The pilot was another Captain Clark and the flight was Flight 23.

External links

Wikipedia
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Simple English

William S. Burroughs
File:Burroughs1983
William S. Burroughs at his 69th birthday in 1983.
Born February 5, 1914(1914-02-05)
St. Louis, Missouri
Died August 2, 1997 (aged 83)
Lawrence, Kansas
Pen name William Lee
Occupation Novelist, Short story writer, Essayist
Genres Beat, science fiction, satire
Literary movement Beat
Postmodern
Notable work(s) Naked Lunch
Spouse(s) Ilse von Klapper (1937-1946)
Joan Vollmer (1946-1951)
Children William S. Burroughs, Jr.
Relative(s) William Seward Burroughs I, grandfather
Ivy Lee, maternal uncle
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

William Seward Burroughs (February 5, 1914August 2, 1997) was an American writer. He was a contemporary and friend of writers Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.

Burroughs was a member of the family who owned the Burroughs Cash Register Company. A family trust paid him an income, so he did not have to work a regular job. Sometimes he lived in Mexico and other countries, because he could live there in more luxury than in the United States. One favorite apartment he had in New York City was a windowless basement, nicknamed "Bill's Bunker" by his friends. Many of them were emerging writers and artists.

Burroughs told interesting, colorful stories, but did not think he could be a writer. This changed as he came to terms with tragedy; he had killed his common law wife Joan, in an accident when they were both drunk. Burroughs began to write to work through his grief and feelings of guilt. He also abused drugs, including heroin, and it affected his writing. His first novel, Naked Lunch, was a surreal work.

Besides writing, Burroughs also recorded spoken word and musical works. One of his works paired him with musician Kurt Cobain.








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