The Junkie Deva at 102


Here is to the author who gave Gilles Deleuze the nomenclature for the Society of Control; the man who became for me the DEVA of the Cut-Up, the Process by which I sublimated my melancholy in the  mid-90s.

Happy birthday Mr. Burroughs.

How do you write a masterpiece? It’s inside you, you know it’s inside you: How do you get it out? Well, if you’re William S. Burroughs, malingering and malefacting through the mid-20th century, you follow a procedure that resembles something from the nonsense kitchen of the poet Edward Lear, one of his recipes for Gosky Patties or Crumbobblious Cutlets. The instructions, roughly speaking, are these: flit around disreputably between Tangier, Copenhagen, Paris, and London, with coat-hanger shoulders and a love-starved face; irradiate yourself with drugs; consort with boy prostitutes and petty thieves; when you write, spew, expelling without stint the untreated matter, comical and terrible, of your low-life dream life (plot, character, structure—the hell with all that); enlist a couple of your loopiest friends to help you organize the resulting mess; do this for years, drifting chemical years, an endless process, until a publisher of erotica and the avant-garde tells you he wants a viable manuscript in two weeks, at which point you and your friends go into furious sleepless sweatshop mode. Amass, excise, compress! Or to put it in Lear’s terms: “Serve up in a clean dish, and throw the whole out of window as fast as possible.”

Laid out for us in Barry Miles’s enormous new biography, Call Me Burroughs, is the stringent program of dependency, disorientation, and artistic dereliction by which Burroughs brought himself, in 1959, at the age of 45, to the authorial climax of The Naked Lunch. Perhaps disorientation is the wrong word, actually, because Burroughs always knew where he was, knew himself to be a citizen—perhaps one of the few conscious citizens, at the time—of a floating, borderless nation-state whose shrines hovered invisibly over pharmacies and late-night diners and whose laws were enacted in rented rooms, in low company, with super-heavy eyelids. When the owner of Olympia Press, Maurice Girodias, snapped his fingers in Paris, Burroughs (although weakened by opiate withdrawal) answered the call of duty. With the artist Brion Gysin doing last-minute typing, and the South African poet Sinclair Beiles running back and forth between the druggy hotel room and the typesetter, The Naked Lunch took shape. Or refused to take shape. “The book’s final sequence,” writes James Grauerholz in the Burroughs anthology Word Virus, “was mostly determined, at Beiles’ suggestion, by the ‘random’ order in which chapters had been finished and sent for typesetting; but Burroughs would later pose the paradox: ‘How random is random?’ ”

Source: The Junkie Genius – The Atlantic

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