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A Tribute: William S. Burroughs

A Tribute: William S. Burroughs image
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Conscious. Present. Sentient. Stare like a mollusk. I leave the tape recorder running after what seems like the end of the Michael Jewett interview. Radio Verité. I'd been rolling tape in the car on the way there. Recorded the automatic transmission, incidental traffic noise, my own grumblings. Nothing is superfluous. Jewett is describing his first-ever road trip west of the Mississippi. The transcript is first-rate poetic: "Wöunded Knee, South Dakota - the saddest place in North America. Your body! I had trouble walking. I could physically feel the tragedy of the place. Walking on sacred, hallowed ground. I could only get about 20 yards away from the entrance to the grave site. Then I had to leave. So hard to drive home. I had nothing left." Conscience. What is it vibes us in the marrow of our bones when the gravity of life takes root in the heart? Everything that's happened lives here where the plot thickened. Soil, the great transformer, is particularly active in this way. Perhaps that's why we've paved over so much of t: Soil talks. Where is the ghost of William S. Burroughs? I feel him in the crows of Ann Arbor; see them roost at night in hundreds at the tops of the trees in front of Angelí Hall. Smell the nitrous guano down below. Aromatic bitters. The ancient black bird presence. "Goodbye Mister. I must go. The tide is coming in at Hiroshima. Exploded star between us." Crow cackles from a high perch. Context. William Seward Burroughs, grandson of the inventor of the Burroughs Adding Machine. Born 1914, yearof the Great War. The war to end all wars. The ant-like crowd-play of liberty cabbage in a world made safe for democracy must have rooted itself into his mind's eyes; nobody has ever wrestled with the War Model as did Bill Burroughs. Plenty of precedent for his experiments: American writing was disintegrating and being reassembled along the lines of William Carlos Williams' "Paterson" - cut it up and paste it down. Brave synchrotron color wheel of brilliant minds: Samuel Beckett, born astride a grave; Anthony Burgess, special penchant for future shock therapy ; John Cage, agent of happenstance, deferent to the laws of chance; Karlheinz Stockhausen, the prince of short wave radio static, which Burroughs described as "most interesting sound on the air." Important that we thank Brion Gysin, who helped with the purposeful random collation of raw materials - Language. Burroughs said "the Word is literally a virus ... it has not been recognized as such because it has achieved a state of relatively stable symbiosis with its human host . . . the Word clearly bears the single identifying feature of virus: it is an organism with no internal function other than to replicate itself." He recognized writing as magie. As something close to dreaming. There are no limitations. Writing is still a mystery to writers, real writers who are not merely squeezing out Product but search instead for arteries in the air where our thoughts beat pulses in and out of time with moon, stars and planets. Burroughs taught me the art of Sci-Fi Vaudeville. Referred to much of his work as routines, slapstick. Very impatient with those who tried to lay all kinds of heavy interpretation on these fox-trots and one-steps, cosmic capers from some impossible comic strip. Ridiculous, perverse, sublime. Like Lautréamont's Maldoror, who feil in love with a shark and swam away with it into the sunset. Visions. How's about those Yage Letters of 1953? Burroughs wrote to Allen Ginsberg from South America, describing his own reckless research as he harvested the Yage vine, drinking the hallucinogenic infusión and taking notes. Yage, to Burroughs, was "Space Time Travel . The room seems to shake and vibrate with motion. The blood and substance of many races, Negro, Polynesian, Mountain Mongol, Desert Nomad, Polyglot Near East, Indian - new races as yet unconceived and unborn, combinations not yet realized - passes through your body . . . Stasis and death in closed mountain valleys where plants sprout out of the rock and vast crustaceans hatch inside and break the shell of the body ... the Composite City where all human potentials are spread out in a vast silent market . . ." Ginsberg's version: Peru 1960. He too drank the Yage tea: "... Began seeing or feeling what I thought was the Great Being, or some sense of It, approaching my mind like a big wet vagina - lay back in that for awhile - only image I can come up with is of a big black hole of God-Nose thru which I passed into a mystery - and the black hole surrounded by all creation - particularly colored snakes - all real." Burroughs' influence upon Ginsberg should be carefully studied and cherished, as this is partly how a literature grew up as word coils of a spiral of works which can sustain us in our fearful modernity. Although Ginsberg's Buddhist ways drew him along a very different and seemingly unBurroughsian path, it is interesting to contémplate the Zensounding side of Burroughs: "The answer to any question will be revealed when you stop ingiquestiopsan,dwipe,fr,ogyo(u(r, , mind the ec'ntfcp't'cff QifcSriorf." "Naked Lunch" grew directly from some of those Yage Letters, lts unprecedented outlandishness resulted in censorship trials which, like the ordeal of Ginsberg's "Howl" publication and Lenny Bruce's free speech struggles, ultimately unraveled the strictures of Christian Capitalist uptightness. We certainly take this forgranted today. "Naked Lunch" as a title was suggested by Jack Kerouac. Burroughs feit it was the perfect descriptive for his project; "A frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork." No more euphemisms, dearie. This is the raw principie: "Indeed, existence is the cause of suffering, and suffering may be good copy." As for his own sexual preferences: "Homosexuality is simply a human potential." Misogyny. This is a toxin well within each of us, male and female. In fact everything we see in Burroughs is right here in our own belfries. Burroughs is your shadow, America. The notorious Dr. Benway character, horning cocaine and butchering patients, is a monster who potentially lives inside of every physician; long hours make ya jaded! Let's be truthful about everything in this life and the next. At least Bill was honest about his own shit. And as the enigmatic fellow aged he mellowed; brilliant female artists came to love and respect him: Anne Waldman, Laurie Anderson, Patti Smith. Magie. "About to kill a centipede with a hammer, by Trungpa'sshrine. Centipede disappeared. By the sun: 11:45 A.M. Later saw centipede behind rock sheets." Check that book of dreams, "My Education" (1995, Viking). This was where Bill did a lot of his best work; the dreamspace. But the book he left behind which I recommend to everyone is called "The Cat Inside" ( 1 992, Viking) Here he reveáis his true maturity. For William S. Burroughs became a cat-loving Witch in his last decade or so. "I am cast in the role of the Guardian, to créate and nurture a creature that is part cat, part human, and part something as yet unimaginable, which might result from a unión that has not taken place for millions of years. "I have become in the last few years a dedicated cat lover, and now the creature is clearly recognized as a cat spirit, a Familiar . . . The white cat symbolizes the silvery moon prying into corners and cleansing the sky for the day to follow ... All dark, hidden places and beings are revealed in that inexorably gentle light. You can' t shake your white cat because your white cat is you. You can't hide from your white cat because your white cat hides with you ... We are the cats inside. We are the cats who cannot walk alone, and for us there is only one place."


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