i.m. William S. Burroughs 1914-1997
Now we are left with the career
novelists. – J G Ballard
Burroughs began writing much later than Kerouac and Ginsberg.
“I had no choice except to write my way out...”, he said. It is necessary to travel, it is not necessary to live. Two interlocked projectors turn out ‘flat’ copy, side-by-side, anamorphic.
“However there are many roads to space.”
So, tell me about it? I looked at the man in the grey suit, but before he could speak we were transported to a pizza joint on the other side of town. There was a pile of books on the dirty table:
Cities of the Red Night, The Place of Dead Roads, My Education, Ghost of Chance... he was a ‘map-maker’, an explorer of psychic areas, a ‘cosmonaut of inner space’. The message was resistance:
“Our troops operate in the area of dream and myth under guerrilla conditions... the enemy is a noncreative. parasite.”
If we are to have a future we must catch up with the past even though headlight design occupies the brightest minds – the colour is almost identical – gleaming leather ‘wild boy’ sex appeal, pure velvet, born in St Louis, Missouri. And I was not alone. Boring rituals. Record-breaking results. Many roads. Many spaces. Fluent conversation.
Interviewer: Wright Morris called Naked Lunch a hemorrhage of the imagination. Would you take that as a compliment?
Burroughs: I frankly wouldn’t know how to take it.
Edit. Delete. Rearrange. Rumours circulate endlessly – but most of these leads result in dead ends — left and right images overprinted – filters are not necessary, to live is not necessary. We entered the 1951 Telekinema, it’s bloody and gross and shot in 3D. The screenplay squirts green, hallucinatory gunk at its victims. He was one of the strangest monsters of filmdom with an extensive archive and a diversity of activities. A unique talent, hot property – have they put rat poison in the pasta? The man from El Dorado shuddered as an alien waif stumbled in through the door.
By this time Burroughs had moved further out… The trail had gone cold.
Not for him the dark sadness of amour fou.
Look at what is in front of you in silence – in hieroglyphic silence – the key is beauty and deliriously intense flashbacks. This is how an exponent of English Dada can capture the news. You don’t need subvocal speech to write about it (“I could look at the end of my shoe for eight hours”). I looked out of the window: beyond the village green were angels and devils from Sicily in the 1860s. Yesterday becomes tomorrow. Easy lessons in hieroglyphic silence rendered by excellent pre-computer animation techniques and a lock of Lolita’s hair. He works with the precision of a master chess player.
Interviewer: Therefore, you’re not upset by the fact that a chimpanzee can do an abstract painting?
Burroughs: If he does a good one, no.
Now, the seedy manservant gains the upper hand in the updated film version discussing montage with Kathy Acker. It was an ascesis, a withdrawal.
Sometime Burroughs character, Academy 23 graduate Yen Lee, materialised and said “All dead poets and writers can be reincarnate in different hosts. Vivare no es necesse…” Lee made a victory V sign hovering three or four feet from the table-top. I looked at his cold, hard eyes. According to ‘Pages from Chaos’ he had been carefully selected ‘for a high level of intuitive adjustment’. Training was carried out in the context of reality. Known as El Hombre Invisible he had had several addresses in various cities: Duke Street, St James’s, London, 1972; Rue Delacroix, Tangier, l964; 210, Center Street, New York, 1965; Villa Muniria, Tangier, 1961; rue Git le Coeur, Paris, 1960. He had The Look, The Big Break, The Star Quality…even the wind can’t resist it. Distant recording of Peggy Lee singing Fly me to the Moon (In Other Words)... I just love it here in London where less is always more. Humorous neon years of exposure.
Interviewer: Do you work while you’re travelling on trains or boats?
Burroughs: There is one example of a train trip in which I tried typing, incorporating what I saw in the passing stations...
The expedition to see Celine was organised in 1958 by Allen Ginsberg – walked for half a mile in this rundown neighbourhood… what’s new? A small but significant detail was missing. Celine, a qualified doctor you know, nailed Edith Sitwell’s nose to the lavatory door. Personally I prefer Chanel No 5. Like many artistic revolutionaries Yen Lee became a cultural icon late in life, mixing science fiction, the western, the travel book, the dream journal and other genres. But to travel you have to leave all the verbal garbage behind. “God talk, country talk, mother talk, love talk, party talk.” You have to make a distinction between the sea in summer and the sea in winter – a blessed relief and a good hangover cure – cut-ups have been used in films for years. That tired and heavy feeling is eliminated.
The man in the neat, grey suit was sitting at a cafe table next to a sign that read ‘Beautify your legs’. By now his glamorous and exotic life had descended into literary madness – a gaunt figure in sneakers and sunglasses, a dank world of privilege and tragedy. It was 10:23am and, after an antiwar march in Rome, 1969, five hundred guests swept down the world-famous red carpet, a battleground of plastic weaponry. Next morning we check out. According to J G Ballard “when Burroughs talked about Time Magazine’s conspiracy to take over the world he meant it literally”.
The first full-length feature had distinctive architectural design, it opened up fresh corners of an idiosyncratic visual style, a language of old service newsreels, popular documentary films and extreme experimentation – fantasy and cinema verite in equal measure. Dead home movies roll on. Old red stars fade over Hollywood.
Dream and myth, sir, dream and myth.
Interviewer: Your books are rarely obscure or hard to understand.
Burroughs: We think of the past as being there unchangeable. There’s nothing between them and the image. A lot of old junkies used to do this.
Edit. Delete. Rearrange.
I looked up and saw a face I thought I knew – it was – er...
Count Alfred Korzybski, author of Science and Sanity.
Count Alfred said, “Anyone who prays in space is not there.”
Then he vanished. Rats might take over the Earth.
The man from El Dorado came home to write like a master chess-player, mapmaker and explorer. Bleeding bodies swept up in a sense of satire. Trendsetter burns out over Colorado. Conspiracy within the industry. What we call ‘love’ is a fraud perpetrated by the female sex.
There had been an exorcism ceremony to evict The Ugly Spirit, not too late. To achieve complete freedom from past conditioning is “to be in space.” Take trip, a step, into regions literally unthinkable in verbal terms… addiction is a disease of exposure, and an algebra of need. Don’t believe anything they say, people feel they have already seen it on TV.
I look at my watch. It’s still 10:23am and I think of a passage from The Necronomicon translated by Herr Doktor Kurt Unruh von Steinplatz, Benway Publications (1961):
‘Knowing we know not. Techniques exist. The message is resistance...’
Explain the subtle details.
The Herr Doktor crumples into dust. There is a cold shriek on a distant wind, old folded photos exert a morbid fascination, a hemorrhage of the imagination. But the extreme edge of art, as of life, was the only place to be. The texts record ancient nightmare parasites and plagues. Human combustion becomes an everyday reality. Pure anamorphic velvet, two interlocked projectors and Boom! Rumours circulate endlessly – no call – no answer. Always the Third walks beside you – always.
City fellas demand train comes on time and with a fully stocked licensed bar. The biggest avalanche in history just missed us by inches. Stay in or opt out, it’s all the same.
Edit. Delete. Rearrange.
His roommate expectorated for about 40mins. I never take a camera.
Dream and myth, travel and money.
Accelerated history, side-by-side, a psycho-fold-in, no scissors used – I quote James Grauerholz:
“He surely had travels to tell, and yet the five-hour ride back to the City was mostly silent, as together we concentrated on the darkening highway and our own thoughts.”
I observed that, for Rilke, Death was “a bluish distillate/in a cup without a saucer...”
The man in the grey suit, in the pizza joint on the other side of town, flashed me a telepathic message:
There are many roads to space –
There are many –
There are –
Now we are left with the career novelists.
The rats take over the Earth. Recall those seismic shocks in 1921...?
Navigare necesse es. Vivare no es necesse. (Plutarch)
© A C Evans, Mortlake, 10th August, 1997
There Are Many Roads To Space is a psycho fold-in/cut-up – no scissors used.
With thanks to:
J. G. Ballard. ‘The CIA are watching me,’ he confided. Guardian, August 4th, 1997.
James Campbell. ‘Struggles with the Ugly Spirit’. Guardian, August 4th, 1997
William Burroughs. The Burroughs File. City Lights, 1984
William Burroughs. Ah Pook is Here and Other Texts. John Calder, 1979
William Burroughs & Brion Gysin. The Third Mind.John Calder, 1979.
William Burroughs & Daniel Odier. The Job. John Calder, 1984
Barry Miles. William Burroughs: El Hombre Invisible. Virgin, 1992
The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. Translated by Stephen Mitchell. Picador, 1982