Monday, January 27, 2014

Burroughs: "Art, like R.E.M. sleep, is a biological necessity"

“There is nothing more provocative than minding your own business.” 
― William S. Burroughs, The Place of Dead Roads

Jed Birmingham's Reality Studio is a ever-deepening vault of William Burroughs-related literature and images. It would be unfair to classify such collected scholarship for fans exclusively, but at this date the experience is as close to a trip to Burroughs' creative bunker as the internet allows. The resulting maze of Burroughsian idea and theory, control and abandon, fact and conspiracy is not for the faint-hearted or the casual browser. 

Here by way of introduction to his interview with WSB, William Weiss sketches the 70-year-old author at the time of The Place of Dead Roads (1984). Guns, films, CIA plots, time and space, and the proper use of mace are all under discussion: "Nothing worse than a weapon that fizzles.”

The full interview, uncollected from The Cleveland Edition and published 1984, is posted here with photos taken at the interview by Abe Frajndlich. Here's Weiss' original excerpted introduction.

William Burroughs smokes Players and manipulates them with a hand that is thin and pale and missing the last terrible joint of the fifth digit. We’re drinking coffee and talking and eating almond pastries around a glass-topped table in a room full of rich, soft couches, objets d’art, books… sun’s in the morning window. His presence is attentive and genuine, though his eyes sometimes sweep about furtively in response to questioning. When he wants to emphasize a point, the orbs fix and stare into you, searching: “Do you understand, dear?”

He is 70. In a league with Swift, Orwell, Huxley. I feel like Sweet Pea applying for a sorceror’s apprentice vacancy.

In 1977 he taught a class in screenplay writing at the Naropa Institute, a Buddhist college in Boulder, Colorado. He taught us all he dared of time, synchronicity and carefully measured self-confession — handfuls of that “unutterable earth.” “Time is that which ends” or “Art, like REM sleep, is a biological necessity” or “The only thing worse than a cop lover is a cop hater” and so on and so on, sitting there, unfathomable, an alien blitzkrieg.

But now we talk about his work with Laurie Anderson on her haunting Mister Heartbreak album… about .357 magnums and 9mm handguns… about the possibility of Soviet missile bases being built on the border if the U.S. abandons Central America… soon we’re into crossbows and machetes… I suggest that a sabre is the ideal weapon for slashing… he reminds me when using mace to be sure of proper pressurization and always spray directly in the face. “Nothing worse than a weapon that fizzles,” he drawls.

It’s his latest book, The Place of Dead Roads, that I’m after, a strange and wonderful novel whose protagonist — Kim Carsons — journeys through time and space exploring possible avenues of mutation and shooting it out with the shits of this planet, who want to keep the Great Illusion rigged for their own diabolical insect purposes. As a western, Roads is tough and dusty, and Kim gunfights his way into your heart. As satire, it is a well-conceived stage where many of Burroughs’ most characteristic reproaches of Western Civilization achieve formidable delirium hilarity.  ....

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