Sunday, January 23, 2011

On W.S. Burroughs

I confess, I do not always understand William S. Burroughs. At first, I wasn't even sure if I liked his writing or not. Part of this may have been due to the fact that I first picked up Naked Lunch for a serious read while I had the flu and was taking Nyquil. Too weak and sick for anything else, I would eat a popsicle and read a bit, then pass out cold, the empty popsicle stick still clutched in my hand. Nothing I read made any sense at all, but I forged ahead and finished, not long after the flu had finished ravaging me, and left behind only weariness and a vague malaise. No wonder none of it made sense. No wonder I failed to find any humor in it. No wonder there are so few lines highlighted.

I fared better with the Nova Trilogy. All three books have been pretty well marked up with vivid, hot pink highlighter. Some passages are gross, scatalogical. Some sexually intense, no matter what your proclivities. Some out and out funny. And some -- my favorites -- shimmer up from the page like jewels accidentally dropped in the mud, and they take you by surprise and leave you breathless with wonder.

~vast music in the throat of God~

~Dream singing came before body without a shadow without relics
--face healed and half-healed in wind and rain~

~These colorless sheets are what flesh is made from
--Becomes flesh when it has color and writing
--That is Word And Image write the message that is you
on colorless sheets determine all flesh.~

~So I am alone as always
--You understand nova is where I am born in such pain
no one else survives in one piece
--Born again and again cross the wounded galaxies
--I am alone but not what you call 'lonely'
--Loneliness is a product of dual mammalian structure
--'Loneliness,' 'love,' 'friendship,' all the rest of it
--I am not two--I am one
--But to maintain my state of oneness
I need twoness in other life forms
--Other must talk so that I can remain silent
--If another becomes one then I am two
--That makes two ones makes two
and I am no longer one
--Plenty of room in space you say?
--But I am not one in space I am one in time~

And startling profundities:

~who programs you
~who decides what tapes play back in present time
~who plays back your old humiliations and defeats
holding you in prerecorded preset time
~you don't have to listen to that sound
you can program your own playback
you can decide what tapes
you want played back in present time~

~Modern man has lost the option of silence.
Try halting your sub-vocal speech.
Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence.
You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk.~

I could quote a lot more. There are many highlighted passages in my copies of the Nova books. But one last quote, this from Burroughs' beautiful book of essays/visions, "The Cat Inside."

~This cat book is an allegory, in which the writer's life is presented to him in a cat charade. Not that the cats are puppets. Far from it. They are living, breathing creatures, and when any other being is contacted, it is sad: because you see the limitations, the pain and fear and the final death. That is what contact means. That is what I see when I touch a cat and find that tears are flowing down my face.~

And at that, my friends, I found tears flowing down my own face. O, dear God!

The risks one takes, in simply making contact with another soul, knowing one day it will end! Or at least, what we have known will end. Life will go elsewhere. To Heaven or Hell, or recycled by the Almighty into another body. (Some might call that sort of recycling a form of relive and have only vague memories of what you might have f*cked up in a previous life, yet know, somehow, that you did indeed f*ck up, and you have been sent back to right that wrong.)

The end brings change. If I have known "you" before, will I know "you" again? Will I recognize "you," or at least have a sense of "you," and who "we" were?

Dear old Bill, sometimes the way you make me think hurts...

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