Archive for William S Burroughs

The Post Before Christmas: William S. Burroughs, “The Junky’s Christmas”

Posted in Miscellaneous, Silliness with tags , , on December 24, 2010 by M3

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Interviewer Daniel Odier: “[. . .] It has been said that you are a great moralist; what do you think?”

Burroughs: “Yes, I would say perhaps too much so. [. . .]“

The Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs, by Daniel Odier and William S. Burroughs

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“The Junky’s Christmas,” by William S. Burroughs

[Thanks to Kenton Stalder from UMD for sending this to me a Christmas or two ago.]

Pt. 1:

Pt. 2:

Pt. 3:

Pt. 4:

“For Christ’s sake,” Danny said, “I must have scored for the immaculate fix!”

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Gotta love the way Burroughs gets into the holidays. See also his “Thanksgiving Prayer,” directed By Gus Van Sant, which I failed to post back in November. One of my fave holiday traditions:

[p.s. Note the irony, too, in the fact that this seems to be only available via VEVO on Youtube now. I'm sure Burroughs would appreciate that fans have to sit through a Kit Kat commercial or whatever to be able to enjoy this. The incongruity is laughable. But, what would you expect? Capitalism, especially in regard to advertising intended to charm the consumer into consumption, is insidiously efficient at appropriating whatever it can to achieve its ends: no matter how antithetical the appropriated text itself is (hell, it makes a radical text that much more innocuous to the strategies of global capital, no?). Well, thanks for the Kit Kats destined to be shit out of wholesome American guts... ]

“Gentle Reader, The Word Will Leap on You With Leopard Man Iron Claws…” (2010)

Posted in Academic Writing, Literary Criticism, Miscellaneous, Philosophy with tags , , , , , , , on February 19, 2010 by M3

Something is Wrong. (William S. Burroughs)[This is a blog post I wrote for one of my classes, Book 2.0: The History of the Book and the Future, in which we've  been discussing the evolution of the book and, more recently, the neurology of reading. Since some of what I've been reading ties in with my honors thesis on William S. Burroughs, I wrote the blog about those intersection points. It needs some heavy revision, but it was at least useful in getting my thoughts together for working on my thesis. Any comments are welcome, as it will help with my thesis.]

“Gentle Reader, The Word will leap on you with leopard man iron claws…” – William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

For this blog post, I’d like to share some of my thesis research on William S. Burroughs that seems relevant to our readings from Reading in the Brain. Burroughs does occasionally  argue some laughably indefensible points: consider in The Job where Burroughs suggests that a man with confidential photos of the Bay of Pigs was assassinated by the CIA using lasers: “Lasers can move satellites in and out of orbit. They could push someone in front of a truck” (66). At other times, however, the profundity of Burroughs’ thinking borders on revelation. I would like to suggest Burroughs’ views on writing, language, and control systems as an instance of the latter category.

I was pleased to see a consistent emphasis on language and writing systems’ relationship to power and class structure in reading A Companion to the History of the Book (CHB). In the case of the Clay Tablet, for example, CHB points out that, “Cuneiform writing was fully functional by about 2400 BC but remained the preserve of the professionally literate and numerate who were employed by temples and palaces to uphold and manage institutional authority” (69). This point illustrates that, from the very beginning, language and writing systems have been a source of social stratification, a point around which people are strategically divided into “haves” and “have-nots,” as well as an instrument of social control for ideological state apparatuses. One must keep in mind “that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations” (Foucault 27).

Intriguingly, Burroughs suggests that “the Word,” or language/writing, and images contain just such an instrumental potential for control and oppression. He suggests that human beings “have possibilities of development, but they aren’t going to realize them unless they can get rid of the factors and the individuals who are suppressing them and deliberately keeping them right where they are” (98). In order to realize this potential we must reconsider our relationship to language and writing, insofar as “the word of course is one of the most powerful instruments of control” (33). In regard to how Burroughs argues that “the Word” possesses this potential, Reading in the Brain is extremely relevant.

In Reading in the Brain, Dahaene explains that our brain combines two methods of processing when reading: phonological and lexical. He explains that phonological processing entails the sounding-out of words while reading, and that, “even proficient readers continue to use the sounds of words . . . information about the pronunciation of words is automatically retrieved,” often at a “non-conscious level” (26, 28). Lexical processing, according Dahaene, is when the brain is able to bypass phonological processing and access the meaning of a word directly* (26).

That phonological processing entails an “automatic” reaction is particularly relevant to Burroughs’ analysis of “the Word” as a social control instrument. According to Burroughs

“The study of hieroglyphic languages shows us that a word is an image. . .the written word is an image. However, there is an important difference between a hieroglyphic language and a syllabic language. If I hold up a sign with the word “ROSE” written on it, and you read that sign, you will be forced to repeat the word “ROSE” to yourself. If I show you a picture of a rose you do not have to repeat the word. You can register the image in silence. A syllabic language forces you to verbalize in auditory patterns. A heiroglyphic language does not [. . .] It is precisely these automatic reactions to words themselves that enable those who manipulate words to control thought on a massive scale” (59).

Insofar as Dahaene suggests that these “automatic reations” are embedded within the very structure of our brains, he offers clarity to Burroughs view that “the Word” is a virus: “I have frequently spoken of word and image as viruses or acting as viruses, and this is not an allegorical comparison. I will be seen that the falsifications in syllabic western languages are in point of fact actual virus mechanisms” (201). In that we are compelled toward automatic reactions to written word neurologically, and insofar as the transmission of sign values (i.e., signifieds for the signifiers we encounter) through socialization remains largely in the hands of ideological state apparatuses (i.e., the family, the church, educational insitutions, etc.), what Burroughs refers generally as control systems, it seems possible to conceive of “the Word” as operating according to virus mechanisms, infiltrating our consciousness at a neuro-biological level, attacking a weakness in our genetically-transmitted determinants of cognitive structures (our reliance on phonological processing), and spreading with exposure. “The word has not been recognized as a virus,” Burroughs explains, merely “because it has achieved a state of stable symbiosis with the host” (12). Through this symbiosis, “certain formulas, word locks, [ . . .] will lock up a whole civilization for a thousand years” (49).

Burroughs solution for liberating ourselves from these “word-locks” and ultimately achieving a state “beyond the word” is learning “to see what is in front of us,” free from “the absolute barrage of images [this includes words for Burroughs] to which we are subjected so that we become blunted,” which “makes a haze over everything” (98, 34). I would suggest that this “haze” is ideological in nature, insofar as ideology is ” the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence (Althusser 241). What we require, according to Burroughs, is the “decontrol of opinion, [ . . .] being conditioned to look at the facts before formulating any verbal patterns” (138). This “new way of thinking has nothing to do with logical thought [. . .] It is precisely delineated by what it is not. Not knowing what is and is not knowing we know not [. . .] At the point where one [thought] flow stops there is a split-second hiatus. The new way of thinking grows in the hiatus between thoughts” (91).

I’m still in the process of fleshing out Burroughs’ prescriptions regarding this liberation from “the Word” in my thesis, but hopefully you’ve been able to get a sense of the direction he’s moving in and see how his analysis of language, writing, and power, relate to our recent readings. As I said in class, it was a thrill to see what writing about in regards to Burroughs backed up by scientific analysis (although I’m doubtful we’ll see any scientific justifications of the laser comments any time soon). If anyone has any suggestions on any of this, please, suggest away. Since I’ll probably be including a good bit of this in my thesis, any feed back helps.

Later!
-M3

* I find this latter definition, at least as Dahaene phrases it here, somewhat troublesome, in that it seems to imply that words actually have stable meanings (which fails to consider the play of signifiers)… Am I missing something?

Works Cited

Michel, Foucault. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York, Vintage: 1995.
Burroughs, William S. The Job: Interviews with William S Burroughs. Ed. Daniel Odier. New York, Penguin: 1989.
Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” Critical Theory Since 1965. Ed. Hazard Adams and Leroy Searle. Gainesville, U. Florida: 1986

Rediscovered Scribblings, Pt. 1 – “Not Titled” (2005)

Posted in Short Fiction with tags , , , on January 19, 2010 by M3

“Not Titled” (2005, rev. 2009)

I would advise you, at this point, not to waste any more time with this. There is nothing to be gained from this, because there is nothing to be gained. This is a bleak digression into nothing from nothing. It means nothing. It has to mean nothing, necessarily. It has to mean nothing, because nothing means anything, everything means everything means nothing; everything means nothing means everything means nothing. A cipher. I get ahead of myself though….

If you are looking for something profound, you will be disappointed. And this will not be entertaining; I am not an entertainer. I am a con, a sham, and a charlatan. I am the worst kind of filth, the kind wrapped in a shimmering veneer. I’ll always let you down in the end

(I rediscovered this last semester. It’s from 2005. It has been slightly revised and titled.)

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