I still didn’t get around to explaining the title of this blog, and why I like it. To associate oneself with William S. Burroughs has almost as many risks as (say) quoting Crowley in a positive context. He still seems really dangerous to many.
Anyone who thinks of me as quite a nice person might wonder why I use a quote from a cynical, misogynist, gun-toting gay junkie (I suppose, if you think in such labels).
Well, first of all – he’s very funny, to me. Especially reading his own material out loud in that wonderful W.C.Fields drawl. Ah, of course, a lot of people don’t find Fields funny, either. Hmmm.
OK – he strikes me as extremely intelligent (something I seek out wherever I can), and for all the apparently ‘damaged’ parts of him I always find rewardingly, and surprisingly insightful elements – that balance the apparent ‘cold fish’ aspect.
Of course, I also love Laurie Anderson’s work, and she did a most excellent version of ‘Language Is A Virus’ which I recommend to anyone…
Quite a lot of Burroughs’ work arrives in bite-sized chunks that he called ‘routines’ (again the parallel with show-biz comedy) – and (just as with Samuel Beckett) you might find it easy to miss the jokes.
If you want to check out his place in modern culture/literature – the book “Wising Up The Marks" might prove a good place to start.
(again with the echoes of ‘Never Give A Sucker An Even Break, and never smarten up a chump’ from Fields)
But the main lesson the gestalt of Burroughs's life and his work taught me was that there exists a sinister congruence between the control systems implicit in capitalist societies (with their obsessional manufacturing and their compulsive consuming) and the uncontrollable psyche of the drug addict. It was Burroughs's great contribution to twentieth-century literature to merge his own psychopathology with the collective malaise. Truly, to paraphrase his friend Jack Kerouac, he made us all look at what was on the end of our forks.
So - a fork with The Soft Machine on one end, and The Naked Lunch on the other.
Maybe try: My Mother and I Would Like to Know (from The Evergreen Review)
"The purpose of my writing is to expose and arrest Nova Criminals: In Naked Lunch, Soft Machine and Nova Express I show who they are and what they are doing and what they will do if they are not arrested. Minutes to go. Souls rotten from their orgasm drugs, flesh shuddering from their nova ovens, prisoners of the earth to come out, With your help we can occupy The Reality Studio and retake their universe of Fear Death and Monopoly" (Signed) INSPECTOR J. LEE, NOVA POLICE
And in case you think of him as some sort of blasphemous atheist, as opposed to a religious type, try this Burroughs-ian Gnosticism - which explores his fairly explicit Manichean connections. I have a soft spot for the Gnostics, myself. Here's a little more on the subject.
In the magical universe there are no coincidences and there are no accidents. Nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen.The dogma of science is that the will cannot possibly affect external forces,and I think that's just ridiculous. It's as bad as the church. My viewpoint is the exact contrary of the scientific viewpoint. I believe that if you run into somebody in the street it's for a reason. Among primitive people they say if someone was bitten by a snake he was murdered. I believe that.- w. s. burroughs
You might wanna check out Grey Lodge, who offered a WSB Special
And you might stop to read the piece by Korzybski, too (with whom Burroughs studied at one time, I believe)
And, of course, you can always go read Wiki... if you get interested in the Dream Machines, or Cut-Ups, or his film projects (see Ubu Web) or his later art projects, etc.
J.G.Ballard on Burroughs Biog Project Brainy Quotes The Ghost of WSB Reality Studio
Can You See a Virus? The Queer Cold War of William Burroughs
[...]those he does not repel, Burroughs fascinates[...]
If memes survive by parasitizing human minds, so, reciprocally, can the mind survive through parasitic self-replication: the viral programme “simply says ‘Copy me and spread me around.’” This is Burroughs: “all poets worthy of the name are mind parasites, and their words ought to get into your head and live there, repeating and repeating and repeating.” He could scarcely be more explicit.
A virus operates autonomously, without human intervention. It attaches itself to a host and feeds off of it, growing and spreading from host to host. Language infects us; its power derives not from its straightforward ability to communicate or persuade but rather from this infectious nature, this power of bits of language to graft itself onto other bits of language, spreading and reproducing, using human beings as hosts.The notion of the meme -- coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins to illustrate the field of memetics -- crystallizes this view of the communication process. Georges Bataille similarly argued that communication was best understood from the perspective of contagion. In Bataille any human being is no more than a conduit for communicative process, a channel for ideas which pass through him/her."If, as it appears to me, a book is communication, then the author is only a link among many readings."* The author is simply a node on a network, through which ideas pass. This found here (pssst! pass it on...)