Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
In the Dark Ages, monks and other keepers of the flame furiously transcribed the learning of the ancients that threatened to be extinguished in a flood of ignorance. Some say that currently we are merely treading water, or, for the more pessimistic, flailing wildly in a fierce undertow of violence and general stupidity. At this present moment, there are suggestions that paper illuminated with print is in the process of smoldering into ashes. Libraries are crumbling into pixels. The newspaper industry is seriously in the red and ignored by a growing number of readers. Corporate publishers are seeing their bottom line being sparked by electronic books, fanning the fire that may consume their paper output.
Are we in heading full-on into another Dark Age? How are we going to preserve the knowledge of the past in a time obsessed with “real time?” Yet possibly the destroyer of aura is our savior? Today’s monks may be the scanners, the photocopiers, the typists of the Electronic Age and the hoarders of bits in the Digital Age. In days gone by, religious and philosophical texts were preserved in commentaries and glosses of the primary material. Is not the Word Hoard of Burroughs Scripture? Is it now time to transcribe, scan, and archive all the commentary on Burroughs in underground newspapers, little magazines, and the letters outside of the Beat luminaries? These scraps of information when combined and juxtaposed create a fuller mosaic of Interzone — the hive mind of all that is Burroughsian.
There have been fits and starts. On RealityStudio and elsewhere. Jennie Skerl and Robin Lydenberg’s At the Front: Critical Reception, 1959-1989 is prime example. True, Alan Ansen on Naked Lunch from Big Table has been preserved in its pages but At the Front anthologizes academic pieces. Are the academics really the front line? What about the New American Poets, Breakthrough Fictioneers, and experimental artists riffing on Burroughs and incorporating him into their practice? Truly, this is the front line of art and literature. Matt Theado’s The Beats: A Literary Reference is more avant garde in some respects, but not really. The Beats largely preserves Burroughs’ reception in the mainstream press: The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Nation. Or the letters of Ginsberg and Kerouac. What of that in-between space of B-movies that Burroughs speaks of? What of Alan Ansen’s follow-up piece to the Big Table article, “After The Naked Lunch,” from City Lights Journal #2? Or Ted Berrigan on Nova Express in Kulchur 18? Or Douglas Blazek on APO-33 in Ole #7? What about the letters of Michael Rumaker, Gilbert Sorrentino, or Charles Olson? If we must hear from Ginsberg (and we must) let’s hear him speak to his comrades in the pages of Nomad. Yes, these are small, isolated pieces, seemingly insignificant, mere traces (the very definition of ephemeral), but if more are gathered, if more will assist in the gathering, we can reach a critical mass that will truly praise he who is invisible, yet lords over the imaginations of us all.
- Charles Olson to Elaine Feinstein (1959)
- Gilbert Sorrentino to Leroi Jones (1961)
- Allen Ginsberg, “Abstraction in Poetry” (1962)
- Edward Dorn, “Notes More or Less Relevant to Burroughs and Trocchi” (1962)
- Michael Rumaker to Don Allen (1964)
- Gilbert Sorrentino, “Prose of Our Time” (1964)
- Alan Ansen, “After the Naked Lunch” (1964)
- Ted Berrigan, Review of Nova Express (1965)
- Tom Veitch, “YES, IAM WILLIAM BURROUGHS… (1965)
- Douglas Blazek, Review of APO-33 (1967)
- Stanley Booth, “Eating the Goat” (1970)
- Greil Marcus, Excerpt on Burroughs from Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes (1997)
- Jonas Mekas, Excerpts from Movie Journal (pdf)
- Third Rail, River City Reunion Review (pdf)