Frank Rynne interviews Oliver Harris in advance of the European Beat Studies Network's Third Annual Conference which takes place in Tangier, Morocco, 16-19 November 2014.
Terry Wilson introduced me to Oliver Harris in August 1993 just after the publication of The Letters of William S. Burroughs, 1945-1959 which, he edited and introduced, had been published. A second volume of Burroughs’s letters has since emerged, but Oliver Harris’s work set a bar fairly untouchable when it comes to annotation and detail. Oliver Harris is now Professor of American Literature at Keele University and the president of the European Beat Studies Network.
In 2009 he and Ian MacFadyen organised the Naked Lunch@50 events in Paris which included a conference, musical events and the unveiling of a plaque on the former Beat Hotel at 9 rue Git le Coeur commemorating former residents Brion Gysin, Harold Norse, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Ian Sommerville and William S. Burroughs. It was Beat Hotel that Gysin and Sommerville made the first Dreamachine and Burroughs finished Naked Lunch.
On 16th November 2014 the third annual EBSN Conference kicks off in Tangier with a three day series of papers and musical events.
A separate event which I am organising with The Master Musicians of Joujouka in advance of the conference is Boujeloud for Burroughs 100 in the village of Joujouka/Jajouka where the Master Musicians introduced WSB to Boujeloud his Great God Pan and the “panic music” and rituals which feature in The Ticket That Exploded published in 1962.
In advance of the conference I asked Oliver a few questions about his life in the Burroughs world and academia.
Frank Rynne: When did you first get interested in William Burroughs's writing?
Oliver Harris: My interest in Burroughs dates back to the Manchester music scene of the early 1970s when I was a kid brother hanging around with various bands. The coolest people always referenced Burroughs, and Chris C.P. Lee, (the brains behind the comedy satire band Alberto y lost trios paranoias) gave me a couple of home-made cassettes of Burroughs reading from Naked Lunch and Nova Express. They blew my head off. I didn't know what to make of it, but I knew I wanted to know.
FR: When you were studying at university was your interest in Burroughs encouraged or frowned upon?
OH: I read English Lit at Oxford in the early 1980s, when Burroughs was just not on the radar for most academics. I decided I would rather stay on and do a PhD than get a job, and planned to research the poetry and politics of Shelley. Everyone seemed happy with the idea, but I got cold feet at the thought of spending my life in dusty archives poring over the manuscripts of dead writers. So I asked my Professor what he thought of Burroughs. The answer was so categorical - No, no, no! - that I realized he could square the circle of my ambivalence towards academia. I realized that if I did a PhD I would actually be paid to go to the US and meet him. So, although nobody in Oxford wanted anything to do with it, I went ahead...
FR: When we first met your volume of Burroughs’s letters 1946-1959 had just been published, how did that project come about?
OH: Yes, that was 1993 and my luck back then was unbelievable. A matter of timing. You see, because nobody took Burroughs seriously from a scholarly point of view, I had the field to myself. I had collected a great deal of archival material (ironically, working with manuscripts after all...) in trips to the US, including unpublished letters. I built my thesis out of these materials and when it was done sent it off to James in Lawrence, Kansas for his OK. He wrote straight back inviting me to edit a volume of letters. I suppose my work was rigorous and original - and yet, I really knew very little. So James took a gamble, and I worked incredibly hard to reward his trust in me. In a sense, I've been doing that ever since.
FR: There are many independent scholars working on Burroughs who tend to feel that the academic approach is either alien or too academic. Would it be fair to say that this view has some merits despite the potential of throwing the baby out with the bath water?
OH: Academia is in a mess, but there's still something to say for it. My position keeps me in touch with new generations of young people, so I have a very clear sense of how, for example, they respond to Burroughs. And the stability of my job allows me to take on research projects that aren't commercially viable. And while much academic work is written for too small an audience, I've been fortunate to apply scholarly rigor to work that reaches a real readership.
FR: What are your abiding memories of WSB?
OH: I was humbled by his generosity when we first met, in November 1984. He gave me his time and took me seriously. I was also astonished to find myself emotionally moved by a man so routinely described as somehow inhuman. But my strongest memories are details: the way he pursed his lips when smoking a joint; the way he called to his cats; his smile.
FR: You researched Burroughs in Tangier and the writing of Naked Lunch. Can you share some anecdotes regarding the people who helped you and the places, people and scenes that it led you to?
OH: I visited Tangier for several years in the 1980s and early '90s, mainly wondering around the medina trying to make a map of it. I went to see Paul Bowles a couple of times, and out there met up with Ira Cohen and Terry Wilson. I had a letter from Heinemann (who were going to publish a novel I was working on) and used it shamelessly to get introductions to all sorts of interesting people, like Gavin Lambert, who shared their memories of Tangier. For a week or so I went around the city with Iain Finlayson, a charming man who was writing a literary biography of Tangier. He had a terrible stammer--really terrible--and it was hilarious to see how he turned it to his advantage when interviewing people. They were so embarrassed for him that they talked and talked and talked....
FR: The European Beat Studies Network is now holding its third annual conference in Tangier from 16-19 Nov. How did the Network get established and what is the philosophy that drives the organisation?
OH: The Network was an idea really hatched by a Beat Studies colleague, Polina Mackay, in 2010. She's come to the events I helped organise in Paris for the 50th anniversary of Naked Lunch --which were wonderful - and saw the need to bring people together in the field; she said I would make a good figurehead to do that. Unfortunately, I like to be hands on with everything I do, so the Network has turned into quite a lot of work for me, but the idea is a great one. Across Europe there's so much interest in the Beats--broadly defined--and the EBSN has a mission to put them in touch with one another. I'm especially keen to break down the usual academic groupings and the Anglo-American divide from non-English speakers, although the barriers are so longstanding it's not easy. It's also hard because the EBSN is free and open to all. No fees - but also no income, so it's literally a labour of love.
FR: As a professor of American Literature you add an academic respectability to Burroughs. What are the issues re Burroughs that students raise or highlight?
OH: The most refreshing aspect of being a Professor of American Literature is every year to absolutely scandalize at least one student who picks up Naked Lunch and can't believe they can actually study it. Like, wow...
FR: Why is Burroughs's work so important to modern academics?
OH: Burroughs remains a barometer, so in some ways he's quite divisive. In a sense, nothing has changed: if you don't dig him, you're a square (and of course most people are squares!). But Burroughs is important to such a wide range of people for such different angles - Burroughs the writer, the photographer, the collage artist, the performer, the drug addict. In what other field would I be contacted by a Professor of Neurology with an interest in Burroughs (working on the treatment of Alzheimer's using Apomorphine)?
FR: Do you think Burroughs's work is as important as say Chaucer or Shakespeare or is it in another category.
OH: I think Burroughs brings the categories into question. I don't mean there aren't any--that everything is on one level--but I do definitely think that one of the great challenges of his work is due to its baffling fusion of the brilliant and the highly dubious...
FR: In this centenary year Burroughs is remembered with global events and conferences. Do you think his work will be remembered in 100 years?
OH: Remembering Burroughs is important, but I think the mission of the centenary has really been to show that his work can no more be remembered than forgotten because it's still happening. Although you can look back on his work in its historical context, the work itself seems so contemporary, so alive, so urgent - and so unlike anything else.
FR: James Grauerholz has taken Burroughs into many new areas; in the 1970s he stabilized his career and also effected his move to Kansas. The move from New York, many people were unhappy with. Do you think people misjudge James Grauerholz and negate Burroughs having free will?
OH: James was given a terrible press for years, but the people with axes to grind should have put themselves in his shoes and thought again. I've known James now for 30 years and although you couldn't find two people more different in so many ways, we share a passion for Burroughs that makes me feel like he's my brother.
FR: What is the most important Burroughs novel in your opinion and why?
OH: The question makes me laugh, because I would almost certainly answer it with whatever book I last worked on. So right now, I'd say: Nova Express.
FR: Do you think Burroughs should be on high school and secondary school curriculums?
OH: Burroughs is not for everybody. But those for whom he is intended, will find him one way or another.
FR: What would Burroughs make of the world today with the USA fighting Islamic militants as though they were the Axis powers of WWII?
OH: To be frank, the opinions of Burroughs the man don't especially interest me. I've always felt that his work was where his originality and terrible genius thrived.
The European Beat Studies Networks Third Annual Conference takes place at Hotel Chellah, Tangier, 16-19 November 2014. (Editor's note: The EBSN site is down for maintenance you will find a PDF of the draft program below for download).
The Master Musicians of Joujouka host Boujeloud for Burroughs 100 on 15 November in their village in the Ahl Srif Mountains. They will also be holding their 8th Annual Festival in the village 5-7 June 2015 :
Frank Rynne is a co-founder of the Burroughs 100 online network and manages the Master Musicians of Joujouka.
(Editors note: For more on Naked Lunch@50 see http://barrymiles.co.uk/journal/ and http://nakedlunch.org/).
The Draft program for the ESBN Conference is Below as a PDF
The Burroughs Guy: An interview with James Grauerholz by Tom King
James Grauerholz is heir and executor of the estate of William S. Burroughs-maestro of the Beats, writer of "Naked Lunch," international queer, academic junkie, wife-shooter, Harvard graduate, an undeniably American artist. Grauerholz lived 30 years with Burroughs. Street Level joins Grauerholz in a booth at Pachamama's for a moseying reminiscence of Burroughs and the Beats...
A brief history of James Grauerholz...
Grauerholz: I'm a Kansas boy from Coffeyville. Came here to KU in the late '60s, went off to New York in the early '70s. Began working with William Burroughs in 1974 and continued until he passed away in '97. Came back to Lawrence in 1979 and here you find me now.
You were responsible for bringing William Burroughs to Lawrence.
(laughs) Responsible? Am I to credit or to blame? It seemed like a good idea at the time. I left New York because I'm not down with glamour-the whole phenomenon of celebrity and fame, and how distorting that is to the famous individual's life. And even though I have some responsibility-or credit, or blame-for helping make William more famous, I got fed up with how delusional people become with their mental image of Burroughs, someone that they have to talk to.
What did you do to enhance Burroughs' fame?
Again, I don't know how much credit I can take. When he came back to the United States in January 1974 : he had pretty much been in London for 14 years or so.
When he got back to New York, he was in the category of: "Oh, him? Is he still alive?" Burroughs' fame was not recent in 1974. Only a few people really noticed that he had come back. He came back to do a semester's residency at CCNY (City College of New York)-Allen Ginsberg fixed him up with this appointment. It was a bit of money-which he needed-and it was a bit of work, and engagement with younger people, and so forth. It was also a getaway from London. I guess Allen had decided, in his opinion, that William's life in London was kind of a dead-end. William was drinking a lot, and he was preoccupied with Piccadilly Circus-they're called Dilly Boys, you know: hustlers. I mean, he had relationships too, but:
He was partying hard.
He was. It sounds funny to say about William Burroughs, but he was a disciplined person. He did work hard to write every day. But sometimes he was working too hard, and the writing wasn't : it became formulaic. He himself thought he was in a dead-end.
Here's a story you might like: When I met William, I had been given his number to make a dinner date by Allen Ginsberg-I had just arrived in New York, in February 1974. I had met Allen a year before on a visit to New York. I had written fan letters to each of them back in '72 from here in Lawrence. So Allen said: "Burroughs is here [in New York]." And I didn't even know it when I headed to New York. I was 21 at the time. I was excited to meet him. Ginsberg knew that I was a fan of Burroughs foremost of all the Beats and that I was a self-educated scholar of the Beats and their writings, and their lives. So I went over to meet William, and, when you look back on it, everything started up very quickly. We went out to dinner and had drinks. I visited again with him in a few days. And it was in a couple of weeks or less that he invited me to stay with him in the loft at 452 Broadway that he was subletting from the late painter Michael Balog. It was a huge loft. : So it turned out that I became William Burroughs' roommate. And we were very close-that was my domicile for a couple of months. Here are two anecdotes:
City College is way up in Washington Heights-Upper West Side. And to get there on the subway William had to get up at o'dark-thirty. Of course, he drank every night. He drank chilled Dewar's scotch and chilled soda-no ice. So I would sleep in, of course. Actually, I was working-I don't remember how many days a week-at Gotham Book Mart. Andreas Brown had hired me, just one of many young cataloguer types that Andy Brown helped. But I would sleep in when I could and I remember William coming back from Washington Heights and saying: "I feel like bitching you out, because here you're sleeping while I have to get up and get my ass out of here at six in the morning." Then he added: "But I realize I'm the one whose job it is, not you."
And the other anecdote is:
He once told me that he thought his : how did he put it? I'd like to get it right : He thought his talent was gone; he couldn't write another real book.
To you, who were the Beats?
Ginsberg, [Jack] Kerouac and Burroughs, not necessarily in that order. The friendships they formed, and the circle that coalesced around them at Columbia in '43, '44 and '45-during World War II-was a serendipitous combination of social backgrounds, of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. They self-consciously intended to start a school, or a movement, or a literary wave.
Why are they called Beats? "We are the Beat Generation"-Kerouac was the one who popularized that, though John Clellon Holmes was probably one who shares credit in coming up with it. Herbert Huncke, the junkie raconteur, probably was the pathway of that expression into their circle. It's a street expression: "Man, I'm really beat"; or "A guy walked in with a beat bennie"-which means his overcoat is really worn out; or "He beat me for my change"-which means he took the money and went into the place to see the dealer and went out the back door of that hotel, never to be seen again. Or beat as in "beat down"-there are acres of speculation about what it means and where it comes from. And then, of course, Kerouac famously ex post facto comes in and says: "Well, it's beat like 'beatitude.' It's beatified, it's a beatification."
Around Christmas of 1943, they all have met-and I'll spare you the begats and how they actually connected-but they met from three different worlds. Ginsberg was 17, from Paterson, New Jersey, and Jewish-an intellectual with strong labor-lawyer, socialist leanings: his Communist mother Naomi Ginsberg, and so forth. Kerouac was from Lowell, Massachusetts. He was Catholic, of French-Canadian extraction, and his early literary influences would certainly include Thomas Wolfe-that would be the kind of thing he was trying to do. Ginsberg was 17, Jack was 21 and William was about to turn 30, in February 1944. He was considerably older. ...
Burroughs invented what became known as the Beats. He was the main vector of what went into that-and I don't mean to minimize the contributions of Kerouac and Ginsberg, or any of the wider circle of arguably Beat-termed people. But William had a classical education: he was a graduate of Harvard, he'd done graduate studies in Vienna-well, that was kind of laughable-in medicine, and at Harvard in anthropology, and at Columbia in psychology. He brought to the table the left-handed path in Western letters and philosophy. He brought the Voltaire, the Jonathan Swift, the Petronius Arbiter-The Satyricon-Thomas Nashe-The Unfortunate Traveller-and, of course, Shakespeare by the yard.
Burroughs studied under Kittredge and Lowe at Harvard, major scholars of Shakespeare and Chaucer. He brought this left-handed path: satire and : sort of like the book of Ecclesiastes-it stands out from all the other books in the Bible because it basically says: "You know all that stuff about human nature being basically good, or at least perfectible? Hogwash." Human nature, apparently-at least on the record-is wicked and contemptibly stupid. And that's amusing, in a bitter way-what later was called black humor.
In what ways did the Beats influence or impact American letters?
Let me say first that I have a little problem with the concept of "the Beats." They really are so different in the end. They were only grouped together by factors like their own deliberate self-legendarization-they were legends in their own minds. They had the vanity and the grandiosity of youth. Immortality, ambition-they weren't aware of the limitations of life. American letters at the time were in the condition where any change would be in the direction of freedom-any change.
Were you a fan of Burroughs' writing, initially?
I stumbled across "Naked Lunch" at the age of 14. And it wasn't the first bitingly satirical, black-humorish thing I had read, but it was far and away the best. I loved it. It changed my life. I knew it was changing my life as I read it.
Later in life, Burroughs became a kind of patron saint to a certain breed of rock and roller: Patti Smith, Michael Stipe:
There was a time when Burroughs was just Burroughs. The time when that changes is November 1959, when Life Magazine comes out with their article about the Beats, which they called "The Only Rebellion Around"-a rather dismissive, snotty, but sensational and kind of intriguing article about Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs, but also others, very important, who'll have to forgive me for not mentioning them, as there are too many.
And then once he was Burroughs, this icon began to be built up around him. That's a collaborative creation, and it remains so. Who Burroughs was becomes a projection. Kerouac puts a Burroughs character in his books, under different names-that's his take on William. Ginsberg-not so much in his poems but in general-talks about Burroughs and promotes Burroughs. He was Burroughs' agent; he got him his first book deal for "Junkie." And I would have to say that, in a way, Burroughs starts to play into his own legend at some point-maybe not until the early '60s in London. How self-conscious it was, I don't know, I wasn't there. :
The Swingin' '60s. The youth culture was strongly related to bands, and the bands were not, by and large, what we think of as '60s bands from a U.S. point of view. A lot of it was coming out of Cambridge where you had sound experiment composers. Even McCartney used to attend concerts by Karlheinz Stockhausen. McCartney was interested in found music, in John Cage and Robert Wyatt's Soft Machine-which was named after an early '60s Burroughs novel. They were coming from prog rock avant la letter-before it had that name-and also psychedelic, before it had that name. It was trippy; Pink Floyd was trippy. So there was a music scene, and Burroughs was on the scene, and he was photogenic. His writing was influential and he was considered, as the saying goes, "mad, bad and dangerous to know."
All of which was exciting and alluring. He began to be a name check, actually-by the same token that a lot of people say they love "Naked Lunch" but, really, they didn't actually read it-which is fine with me, by the way. There's a new edition out, people. You can buy it and not read it, too. Pick it up.
The point is good. If you professed a certain kind of cool, you had to bring up Burroughs.
It was a name check. The perfect example of this is the cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." There's the collage with the 150 little faces of people, and William is one of the prominent ones. And there are a lot of relevant people - Terry Southern comes to mind. [William] brought a lot of ideas. And let's not leave out a very, very important part of this-both as to the icon of Burroughs' persona and the façade, the concept, the edifice of Burroughs' work and what was in it, what it stood for, and the music scene in Europe, particularly London, at this time-and that is Brion Gysin.
Who was a dear friend of Burroughs.
Well, yes-he became a dear friend. Gysin was two years younger. Burroughs met Gysin in Tangier in 1954, when he first got to Morocco. Their encounters were few and mediated mostly by their mutual friend, Paul Bowles. They weren't that fond of each other. They were suspicious and dismissive of each other. But then it came to pass that Gysin and Burroughs were both in Paris in early 1958 and they became fast friends. They both lived in the so-called Beat Hotel at 9 Rue Git-le-CÅur in Paris. August of 1959 is when "Naked Lunch" was published, suddenly. Years of writing were suddenly under pressure from the publisher, Maurice Girodias, and was put together into the final book and was printed.
Did it come out in the U.S. at that time?
No. It had to be smuggled in, until there were some cases filed [in court]. Banned in Boston -the famous Boston case on "Naked Lunch," which the customs office claimed was contraband because it was obscene. That didn't stand. The first American edition of "Naked Lunch" was technically published in 1962, three years later, though it wasn't actually distributed until 1966 because of the court cases. Barney Rosset and Grove Press fought the good fight, speaking of literary censorship.
But Brion Gysin is in London now, in the early 1960s. He's a very flamboyant character who knew everybody-in a way, a kind of Truman Capote: completely different height and appearance, vocal timbre and background, but the same kind of charisma. And also, a storyteller, a raconteur extraordinaire. Also, a very important person in this part of the music answer is Barry Miles, because Miles was involved with the International Times, an underground newspaper with the Indica Bookshop, which was also an art gallery-where Miles introduced John Lennon to Yoko Ono, who was having a show there. Miles had a role with Paul McCartney's financing a recording studio for projects by Ian Sommerville, Burroughs' Cambridge student boyfriend at the time, whom he had met right after "Naked Lunch" came out.
But I started to mention November 1959 because the same day Burroughs gave his interview to the Life Magazine reporter, Gysin discovered, or re-discovered, the cut-up technique. Collage and the random factor, aleatory and chance operations have a long history. I can show you them in Swift and in Dodson-I mean Lewis Carroll-and, of course, Dada and surrealism.
When Gysin found it he thought it was a fantastic idea-chance operations in writing. It was a very pregnant idea. John Cage, Earl Brown, and Marcel Duchamp are a few who stand for chance operations in music and the arts. And those ideas were very, very influential-and are to this day. And they were a little bit branded by Burroughs and Gysin, but at some point the brand wears off. At some point these ideas that were branded, "That's a Burroughs," became associated with the artists in different fields who picked up on it, who adopted it :
As Burroughs receives this credit, he also receives the attention of a new generation of rebels in rock music.
So here he is in New York in 1974, 1975, and it dawns on people by degrees that Burroughs is there. And the cognoscenti are burning up the phone lines to each other: "Burroughs is here!" And people wanted to come see him and meet him. And he started giving readings.
I remember reading Victor Bockris' book, "With William Burroughs: Report from the Bunker," nearly 30 years ago. Bockris has taken some criticism not only for his style, but also for a certain amount of self-aggrandizement. The way he portrayed the Bunker was like the Factory updated.
Well, he would. First of all, Victor Bockris is a dear friend of mine. I'm very close to him. I'm well aware, and he's well aware, of exactly those viewpoints you characterized. It really goes back to Andy [Warhol]. Andy's concept was that everyone is famous and that the mundane could be celebrated-and also the idea that glamour is contagious, it just spreads.
It was all a bit tongue-in-cheek-we know Warhol. The people he called "superstars" were guttersnipes. No offense to the surviving ones who are friends of mine-I'm sorry, Gerry. They were speed freaks and hustlers, and Warhol said: "These are the beautiful people." Well, this was very different than Camelot, which was the background to the Warhol emergence. Bockris was not only a student of, but also resonated with, the Warholian outlook on fame. It wasn't jumped-up. It wasn't overweening to make these people legendary and famous. It was part of the game.
So sure, you read "Report from the Bunker" and you're going to get an impression that it was a constant world of superstars. And Victor's editing of his material was very creative, kind of a hash of slice-and-dice. Conversations would be assembled from different days and places-that's his license. But even if you just limit yourself to the edited material of Bockris, you're going to see a comical, Keystone Kops side of the whole thing, too.
A famous example is when Victor brought Mick Jagger over to meet William at the Bunker. As the saying goes, "alcohol was involved," for one thing, and Jagger was evidently paranoid about being asked to do something. And there was some bad blood. William may have exaggerated it in his own mind, but he always felt that he had offended the Rolling Stones people when he was invited to the wedding of Mick and Bianca in Gibraltar-where Burroughs had been many times. At that point, he was living in London, and they didn't offer him a ticket. Burroughs was offended-droit de seigneur, you know: "If they want me there, they should send me a ticket." But the flip side of that was, he was broke. Anyway, there was this history there-quite a little thesis, in fact, on the Burroughs-Jagger relationship. He puts Mick in his books. I'm not going to tell you where. He makes Mick a key figure in two of his most important books. It's an open secret, actually... [Note: the secret is revealed in the podcast version of this interview below].
Many writers perceive their substance of choice as a muse. Did you see any change in Burroughs' writing, before and after?
There are two things I could say about William's attitude towards drugs and his writing. One is that he was a great believer in the beneficial, salutary effects of cannabis, in all forms. He thought that it contributed-if not necessarily always to his writing and the process of composing-at least to the generation of ideas. He would say: "I'm blocked, I'm depressed : take a few hits and sit around, and I start to get all these great ideas." Of course, that's a set-up for some right-wing joke, like: "Great ideas, ha ha! In the light of day, it's a dog's breakfast." But he found that it promoted his non-categorical thinking. It broke down barriers of ideas in his imagination.
As far as opiates-junk, as he called it; dope-he would never have said that the effect of opiates was any kind of muse for him. He had a limited interest in, and knowledge of, the allure, the seduction and the mysterious profile of opiates, but he didn't romanticize it. Well, a little bit. His main thing about junk in his writing was that it turned out, in retrospect, that getting his first habit, and everything that followed, made his career-because it gave him his subject matter. It's only in retrospect that you can see that.
There will always be discussions of whether or not Burroughs is a literary genius of the 20th century.
I recently ran across a review of "The Yage Letters Redux," a new, restored version of "The Yage Letters," edited by Dr. Oliver Harris. I saw a review in The New Criterion that was so negative and dismissive and contemptuous and scathing, it was amusing to me. :
I'll tell you what you can do with the word "genius"-here's a first-person account: In 1974, I went to some of these classroom meetings at CCNY, a creative writing class. And one of the students asked him: "Mr. Burroughs, how does it feel to be a genius?" And he said: "You get used to it."
He didn't with any grandiosity think of himself as a genius, but he had a very solid idea of his own place. You can't take away Burroughs. Burroughs is : a name that will endure.
This interview appeared on Lawrence.com July 30, 2007 to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of William S. Burroughs on August 2, 1997. Tom King is a writer, gardener and the RESIDENT caretaker of the William Burroughs house in Lawrence, Kansas. Reproduced with the kind permission of Tom King.
Originally published July 30, 2007 on Lawrence.com a subsidiary of the Lawrence-Journal World http://www.lawrence.com/news/2007/jul/30/burroughs_guy/?burroughs_2007
The Great Globe Is Paint In Air
by James W. Grauerholz
WILLIAM WAS a Foreseer. He foresaw our new century. He saw in to the shadows of his times, and he discerned the roots, deep in those darknesses, of what and who—today—we all know are the real Nova Mob. The Nova Criminals of our time, the 21st century A.C.E., have revealed themselves; they are right out in the open:
• The 147 transnational corporations who own (on paper, anyway) the vast majority of all planetary “wealth”—resources, assets, and financialized lies—on our Third Planet From the Sun ... but what they own has an aggregate “notional value” of many multiples of the planet’s actual total wealth, by any humane measure;
• The top 200 publicly-listed oil, coal and gas companies whose fossil-fuel “proven reserves” account for 1/4 of the planet’s unextracted hydrocarbons and amount to 745 gigatons of carbon dioxide—far exceeding the planet’s “remaining carbon budget,” i.e., 500 GtCO2: the absolute maximum carbon that can be further burned by Humankind without provoking global warming in excess of 2 degrees Celsius, hastening and worsening the already-begun worldwide climatic disaster;
• The Mega-Wealthy of Earth in 2012, their extravagant riches far surpassing anything ever known in all of human history ... William imagined them more than fifty years ago.
These très riches heures of Earth’s final human generations, before the Deluge, and the Ovens: in Naked Lunch,in the Cut-Up Trilogy, in The Wild Boys ... there were “A.J.” in “Le Gran Luxe,”and “Hassan,” he of the orgiastic “Rumpus Room,” and let us not overlook “Mr. Hart,” the embodiment of William Randolph Hearst as William imagined him in Ah Pook Is Here, nor his Mayan demonization of Henry Luce (“It is a control system. TIME LIFE FORTUNE is some sort of a police organization.”—WSB, January 1, 1965) ... and “Mr. Rich Parts,” the scar-carapaced, transplanted-organ king, cowering far below the surface in a refrigerated Bunker ... so many more, all right there.
We need not fine-tooth-comb the Burroughs-Scripture for Nostradamic arcana or magikal incunabula, because William laid it out bare, in plain English:
ALL OUT OF TIME AND INTO SPACE.
“Citizens of Gravity: We are converting all-out to Heavy Metal. Carbonic Plague of the Vegetable People threatens our Heavy Metal State. Report to your nearest Plating Station. It’s fun to be plated,” says this well-known radio and TV personality who is now engraved forever in gags of metal.
Sudden young energy--
Or, as William voiced a Nova Mobster saying, in one of the many tape-recorder audio works he made in the 1960s:
“Who ... let ... Burroughs ... get to that phone?!? and drop a dime on Us...?!?!”
Go to Nova Express, for Burroughs’ vision of Nature’s Revenge:
“Pay Color! Pay it all, pay it all, pay it all back!”
Or hear William’s mind inside the Controllers’ minds:
“Don’t let them see us! Don’t tell them what We are doing! Premature! Premature! Disaster to my blood whom I created!”
And here is what Burroughs said in “The Future of the Novel,” a text that he delivered in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the epochal 1962 Writers Conference:
A Russian scientist has said: “We will travel not only in Space, but in Time as well.”
That is, to travel in Space is to travel in Time. [...]
The conferring writers [here] have been accused by the press of not paying sufficient attention to the question of human survival—†
In Nova Express (reference is to an exploding planet), and my latest novel, The Ticket That Exploded,
I am primarily concerned with the question of survival--
But William Burroughs also said, quoting his closest friend and greatest collaborator, Brion Gysin:
“Man is a bad animal.”
William and Brion referred to the dogs-like aspect of Humanity:
“They will breed their ignorant peasant asses into the ocean.”
In his seventies, William allowed his Inner Misanthrope to flare-up when he read how the Third World‘s ballooning human population was deforesting Madagascar (to choose just one, very WSB-specific, example) ... their unsustainable slash-and-burn agriculture irreparably destroying Lemur habitat, and that was already 30 years ago.
William snarled to contemplate the gentle Indri lemurs hunted by starving Malagasy human beings and eaten by them, as “bushmeat” ... he sneered and cursed those humans, so deeply was his heart hurt to think of it, he growled to swallow a sob, in his latter years when he contemplated the Future that is now our Present.
In this Present of ours, most of the Lemuridae are threatened with extinction, and many species are already forever lost. In 2012, it was reported that 91% of the 103 still-extant Lemur species and subspecies are at maximum risk of extinction.
It’s the end of the line for the Lemurs this time, people.
Go on, read William’s late-life “Jesus Lemur” novella, Ghost of Chance, then try to visualize how he would have despaired at what is happening right now. It brings tears to my own eyes, just imagining it. But the memory of William’s sterner stuff dries me up quickly, as it also rescued him in the mid-1990s, his final Earth years.
That was in the aftermath of his wrenching, heart-quickening “contact” with the Cats, his beloved cats, so tearfully recounted in The Cat Inside, published 20 years ago ... the eternal Cat, the White Cat, Margaras ...the White Light of Truth, still moistening William’s pages in 1995, in his book, My Education: A Book of Dreams.
For examples of his latter-day Redemption Songs, see William’s Last Words journals—where he wrestled the dark angel of hatred to the ground, but won the match, in the end, by surrendering.
William was explicitly, mystically Manichaean—not so much with the Zoroastrians’ chiaroscuro battlescape of Light vs. Darkness, but with their idea that the outcome of this struggle between Good and Evil is not pre-ordained, not “pre-recorded.”
And in that sense, all this foreseeable eventual planetary loss and desolation is no proof that the Nova criminals shall have won the day. Because that day is not today. One day it will be today.
As William wrote in his 1975 Foreword to Ah Pook Is Here, in words that can as easily refer to the planet’s fate as to one human’s life:
Your death is an organism which you yourself create. If you fear it or prostrate yourself before it, the organism becomes your master.
Then he breaks it down for us:
Time is that which ends.
The only way out of Time is into Space.
What did William mean by Space?
He spoke cryptically and contradictorily about Space, but in January 1965, he offered this clue:
The hope lies in the development of non-body experience and eventually getting away from the body itself, away from three-dimensional coordinates and the concomitant animal reactions of fear and flight, which lead inevitably to tribal feuds and dissension.
The interviewer then asked Burroughs if he was, as Mary McCarthy had suggested, a “soured Utopian.”
William’s reply can stand for his entire life project as a morally-committed American writer and artist of the late 20th century:
I do definitely mean what I say to be taken literally, yes: to make people aware of the true criminality of our times ... to wise-up the Marks.
All of my work is directed against those who are bent, through stupidity or design, on blowing up the planet or rendering it uninhabitable.
Now I have told you who are the enemies of humanity, and have shown you that humanity is its own worst enemy. In the furnace heat of that unbearable truth, William created his writings, and his paintings, and all his art. And as for me, I think that is about all we can do—but we can do that, and it is what we do.
To the Transatlantic Review’s collection of his 1962 prophecy at Edinburgh, Burroughs added a cut-up text he made for the Conference. The last paragraph of that text calls out to me to be given a place on these pages—at the top of the bill, as it were; the show-closer.
I dedicate William’s words to the memory of his dear friend, who is with him now in “The Western Lands”—my beloved brother in soul, who was obliged to leave our Earth Party already two years ago, and far too soon--José Férez Kuri.
Twenty-five years ago this month, José joined forces with William as his personal art curator and artistic consultant; their collaboration lasted 23 years.
José was a gift to William from our lifelong friends here in The October Gallery, and now, with this exhibition, the circle is unbroken. We all miss José, and we salute eternally his central role in William’s life as an artist.
I thank you all, for reading these words, and for seeing William’s Art.
Nova Police besieged McEwan Hall 
Foot Notes :
 Vitali, Glattfelder, Battiston 2011. The network of global corporate control. Zurich: Systems Design.
 Carbon Tracker Initiative 2012. Unburnable carbon: Are the world’s financial markets carrying a carbon bubble? London: Investor Watch.
Conrad Knickerbocker w/ WSB, 1965. “The Art of Fiction, No. 36: William S. Burroughs.” New York: Paris Review.
 William S. Burroughs, 1965. Nova Express. New York: Grove Press.
† Two months before the Edinburgh conference, the “Missiles of October” had held the world in delicate balance between nuclear suicide and global survival (at least).
 William S. Burroughs, 1962. “Censorship;” “Future of the Novel;” et al. London: Transatlantic Review No. 11 (Winter 1962).
 Mittermeier et al., 2012. Primates in Peril: the world’s 25 most-endangered primates, 2012–2014. Bristol: IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group. (International Union for the Conservation of Nature)
 William S. Burroughs, 1979. Ah Pook Is Here. London: John Calder.
 Knickerbocker 1965.
 Burroughs 1962, Transatlantic Review.
By James W. Grauerholz (Nov. 21, 2012)
This text was originally published in the catalouge for the William S Burroughs show "All out of time and into space" at The October Gallery , London, December 2012.
To purchase a copy of William S. Burroughs: All Out Of Time And Into Space (October Publications) visit The October Gallery bookstore http://www.octobergallery.co.uk/bookstore/
You can view William S. Buroughs art which has been exhibited at The October Gallery on their website http://www.octobergallery.co.uk/artists/burroughs/index.shtml
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