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Thread: William Burroughs: Some Reflections

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    Mr RonPrice Ron Price's Avatar
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    William Burroughs: Some Reflections

    Out on the periphery

    William Seward Burroughs II also known by his pen name William Lee(1914-1997) was an American novelist, poet, essayist and spoken word performer or performance poet. A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th century."1 He was always far out on the periphery of my life associated as he was with the origins of Beat poetry from the mid-to-late ‘40s when I was but a child.

    In my late middle age, though, the years from 50 to 60--1994 to 2004--when I began to turn to poetry in the constellation of my interests and activities, Burroughs started to appear in the backdrop of my reading. One aspect of his writing that began to appear, that was given more than a little emphasis, was the literary notion of time as simultaneous, as montage. This was not original with Burroughs, but what was original was the scientific bent he gave this montage, and a view of the world that combined biochemistry, anthropology, and politics.

    I, too, came to combine the sciences and the social sciences, the autobiographical and memoiristic into one immense montage of simultaneity and of the personal, and of a type of cinerama called “One World.” Today I saw a doco on Burroughs,2 and for this reason I write this personal reflection on Burroughs and related subjects. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Penguin Modern Classics, the 2003 edition of Junky, and 2William Burroughs, SBSONE TV, 9 June, 2:20-3:55 p.m., 9 June 2012.

    You achieved fame & glory, but
    at what a price! With your heroin
    addiction, murder, and goodness
    knows what else under your belt.

    You began writing when I was just
    one year old, published your famous
    Naked Lunch the same year I joined
    the Baha’i Faith,1 and you graduated
    from Harvard in 1936 at the very start
    of the planning for the Baha’i teaching
    Plan I’ve been part of some 60 years!!

    You also received a $200/month sum from
    your parents until you published The Ticket
    That Exploded and Nova Express….....It was
    then that I started travelling for the Canadian
    Baha’i community in 1962…..You published
    Junkie: Confessions of Drug Addict at the start
    of the Kingdom of God on Earth in 1953--little
    did anyone know about either your book or that
    Kingdom. I trust you are now enjoying some of
    that freedom from those slings and arrows of an
    outrageous fortune which plagued you on & on
    during your life in that tempestuous 20th century!

    1 In 1959. In his life, Burroughs wrote a total of 18 novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays. Five books of his interviews and letters have been published. He also collaborated on projects and recordings with numerous performers and musicians, and made many appearances in films. “The greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift,” he was sometimes called. Norman Mailer declared him to be: "the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius."

    Ron Price
    10/6/’12 to 18/7/’15.

    Part 1:

    William Burroughs' writes in his novel Naked Lunch: "There is only one thing a writer can write about and that is: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing . . . . I am a recording instrument. . . . I do not presume to impose "story" "plot" "continuity. . ."

    For me the idea of what is in front of my senses includes memory and imagination, the inner faculties. Story, plot and continuity are unquestionably already there when I write since my work is quintessentially autobiographical. I do an inevitable amount of imposing items on these features, and I recreate my life in the process. The American poet and author of more than sixty books, Robert Creeley(1926- 2005), says that many writers and critics see Burroughs’ and Kerouac’s approach to writing back in the 1950s as an example of “a loss of coherence in contemporary American prose.” Warren Tallman makes a similar point in his analysis of some of Kerouac’s writings:

    In conventional fiction the narrative continuity is always clearly discernible. But it is impossible to create an absorbing narrative without at the same time enriching it with images, asides, themes and variations—impulses from within. It is evident that in much recent fiction—Joyce, Kafka, Virginia Woolf, and Faulkner are obvious examples—the narrative line has tended to weaken, merge with, and be dominated by the sum of variations. Each narrative step in Faulkner's work is likely to provoke many side-winding pages before a next narrative step is taken. More, a lot of Faulkner's power is to be found in the side-windings. In brief, what happens in jazz when the melody merges with the improvisations and the improvisations dominate, has been happening in fiction for some time now.

    Part 2:

    This is also true of my poetry. There is some narrative, some autobiographical, continuity which is clear, but there are also variations, improvisations, side-windings, impulses from within. The earlier senses of 'form' in poetry are not important to me. I have rejected them as irrelevant; or perhaps, better, I have introduced my own prose-poem form. There is a conceptual focus in my individual poems and my literal activity often makes the writing itself a focus.

    The objects which occur to me at any given moment of composition, what we might call objects of recognition, can be, must be, are, treated exactly as they occur to my senses. Ideas, imaginations, abstractions, conceptions, preconceptions from outside this sensory apparatus, world, paradigm are, for me, introduced to enrich the sensory, the intellectual, picture. They are handled as a series of additions to a field in such a way that a series of tensions are created, are made to hold , and to hold exactly inside the content and the context of the poem. This content and context has forced itself into being through me, through my writing as the poet.

    It is in the nature of my writing that this thinking, this approach to the writing of poetry, finds its most active, accurate, definition. The final section a poem by John Wieners' "A Poem for Painters” expresses this idea so well. I have rewritten, recrafted, this poem, but Wieners begins by saying that his poem contains:

    Part 3:

    Only the score of a man’s struggle
    to stay with what is his own,
    what lies within him to do,
    without which he is nothing.

    I come to this same struggle
    knowing the waste and leaving
    the rest up to love and its often
    twisted faces where my hands
    often claw, sometimes touching
    tenderly and sometimes drawing
    back as I see blood running there.

    It is not the blood of my veins,
    but some inner blood that knows
    no colour, heat or cold, but has
    coagulated for years twisting,
    trying, clawing in a million hidden
    ways, some known, some unknown
    to me, some me that no one knows,
    is trying to acquire precise definition.

    Ron Price
    16/5/’05 to 18/7/’15.

    Part 1:

    Allen Ginsberg was able to get William Burroughs’(1914-1997) book Junk published as a pulp paperback in 1953 under the pseudonym "William Lee" with the lurid subtitle Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict. Burroughs travelled to Columbia in 1953 to find the entheogenic vine yage. In February 1957 Jack Kerouac came to visit Burroughs in Tangiers and began to type the hundreds of handwritten pages of Burroughs' new book that Kerouac titled Naked Lunch(1959). This book was written in the form of letters to Allen Ginsberg. In this book Burroughs saw addiction as a general condition of society and not limited to drugs. Politics, religion, the family and love were all forms of addiction to Burroughs.

    He thought that in the post-Bomb society of the 1950s all the underpinnings of the social order had lost their meaning. The bankrupt nation-states were run by 'control addicts.’ Burroughs also tried to be honest about life as he saw it and experienced it in the modern tradition of poetry and prose going back to Baudelaire. Consequently, the book focussed on Burroughs’ obsessions: drug addiction, homosexuality, and fantasies of extreme criminal behaviour. The book became a test case in US obscenity laws.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, December 2 2004.

    Part 2:

    Parts of my world were crazy, man.
    They’d always been crazy--somewhere.
    Maybe since the bomb there was more
    craziness, absurdity and bankruptcy.
    Everyone had their obsessions, & their
    addictions: I certainly had mine; indeed
    I have always had my obsessions, OCD.

    Not that I had any idea of those things
    back then in ’59 playing hardball in the
    midget league, keeping my hormones
    well in control with sport, school-work
    and a religion that had just come into
    town, into Canada as far back as ’98!

    Daniel Bell was putting his End of Ideology
    into a hard-over and telling us that the
    old world order had no passion, offered
    no excitement, was intellectually devitalized,
    in a word, was moribund, dead. But, no one
    needed to tell me that, even then, back in the
    1950s with Mr Clean, Doris Day and old Ike!!

    There was passion and energy in the New Left;
    I picked up some of it on the cold steps of the
    American consulate in Toronto. But it had no
    sense of the future, no direction……This new
    religion had the future in its bones, although
    I had no idea of that either back then when a
    dozen people came into our house, and talked
    about Jesus, the Return of Christ, the Messiah
    to the Jews and ate more food than I’d even
    seen consumed in an evening in our lounge,
    or our garden on hot Canadian summer days.

    Ron Price
    2/12/’04 to 18/7/’15.
    Last edited by Ron Price; 07-18-2015 at 08:23 AM. Reason: To update the wording
    Ron Price is a Canadian who has been living in Australia for 42 years(in 2013). He is married to a Tasmanian and has been for 37 years after 8 years in a first marriage. At the age of 69 he now spends most of his time as an author and writer, poet and publisher. editor and researcher, online blogger, essayist, journalist and engaging in independent scholarship. He has been associated with the Baha'i Faith for 60 years and a member for 53

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