Edward Dorn, “Notes More or Less Relevant to Burroughs and Trocchi” (1962)

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Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting

Edward Dorn’s “Notes More or Less Relevant to Burroughs and Trocchi” from Kulchur #7 (Autumn 1962).

Kulchur #7Explanation: these notes are from an accumulation of about a year — they occurred at random mostly as a result of having read The Naked Lunch and Cain’s Book. As they are here they are in rough chronology and the separation by asterisk indicates a different day’s entry.

Cain’s Book is a novel in the tradition. The changes are exceedingly expert, derived from a good natured relaxed dexterity of the subjective I. Trocchi is an intellectual for this reason: he is able to place the proper weights on the scale of what we already know more absolutely than one who arrives at these inevitable forms casually. Genius unbalances. Intellect is always relative, to a mastering of material, i.e, what is external to man. The External is a preoccupation of the very sane.

Genius has the same possibility as a blow to the head, it can make one roll on the floor — Burroughs is a genius, but not intellectually vigorous — for instance he makes less sense about dope than Trocchi does. It could truthfully be said Burroughs sees dope as a specter, rather than a powerful vegetable God inhabiting the traceries of “. . . a great ravelled knot . . . trailing off to a sort of stalk.” Burroughs doesn’t need dope?, making use of it, but suggesting policies against it. This is a methodology derived from the State. Trocchi never makes the mistake of turning against the best interest of his subjective universe. It is significant and at the same time a vast pleasure that there are no unsolvable in C’s B. It hardly needs pointing out the overwhelming advantages of creation by a deeply intellectual gift. If horizons are manageable it is because of such a gift; genius is shocking but largely incapable. The devil, because he is primarily cognizant man, has made use of Trocchi in a quietly fulfilled illumination.

This is a statement from Drugs and the Mind which is undoubtedly untrue, from Trocchi’s point of view:

Such are the effects of opiates. As pain relievers they are unequaled; as euphoriants, “givers of happiness,” they have nothing to offer normal man or woman. The “abyss of divine enjoyment” which De Quincey discovered in opium is evidently open only to psychopaths, and that De Quincey was a . . . (etc).

Why I wonder does he say that? Evidently there are normal doctors and nurses and former normally pain-demented people who continued the use of morphine after it was needed not because of a differential that was at first equalized, but because they liked to use it. Doctors are in the habit of trying to tell you a great deal more than they should. They know very little, and do not stick to what their training affords them — a skill for local analysis.

*

They stand there as such, no matter what Chlorpromazine is. By attaching significance to shoes and haircuts the definition of the normal is as defined as it possibly can be, as everyone knows. Drugs have no bearing except in so far as they are given a subjective receptacle. One might inject reserpine into an oak tree, but the man who would be most interested is a botanist. Whatever enlightenment proceeded from such an act would revert back to its conjunction with a “self.” Thus normal is never a definition but is a temporary fact of instance in the human subject. When it is not recognized in that way it leads to a confusion of what is Subject and what is Object, one of the more brutal confusions with which modern man is beset, is beset by arrogance originating on the outside.

*

A book of the kind of Communitas is as subjective as C’s B. The problems attacked and disposed of under the good attentions of these two authors must have a resident possibility of solution for the book to make sense in any other than a subjective way. That in turn depends on some sort of proposition that a man or group of men, in power or able to come into power on whatever level necessary, will be influenced by their areas of reasoning. One inevitability of man’s nature has been rooted in him from the time he either wobbled to his feet or fell on his pratt from a tree — he has never, starting on the local hardware store level, at any time been led (beset) by other than the most confirmedly sick members of his species. The phrase “He exhibits qualities of leadership,” is a standard indication of the baseness of an individual and a warning everyone understands as meaning that if you were to meet him, it would make you ill for however long the meeting took, and for some time afterwards. Leaders are not set aside from us because of an inherent superiority, that is not what forms the class, congeals it; rather it is violating a quarantine to approach them. Look at what they do, Burroughs’ sense of this is infallible.

In the subject properties Trocchi expands to make his book, he shows intimate awareness of this truth. In their hypothetical exercise the Goodmans pretend they don’t know this, or if not, that, they are behaving as if it isn’t so. Trocchi is his own hero, which is nearer the myth than positing a hopeful, outside figure.

Countless thinking Americans, and others, have turned a jaundiced eye towards certain signals of the American scene: Over-elevated Standard of Living; the overproduction of nonessentials is a favorite hook. From page 12 of Communitas, this statement: “With the machine-analysis of manufacture, the tasks of labor become simpler, and as the machines have become automatic our problem has become, astoundingly, not where to get labor but how to use leisure.” That’s not true. Part of the cross-purpose of research in every field is just to deaden and make empty and meaningless that leisure. The fact that leisure does not exist, and won’t, is another argument. Men look for jobs in many different ways. The ones I know walk the streets. The ones I know do not find them for very long, the majority of their lives constituted by the harassment of having no money source, and the ones I know are mostly too cowardly to steal. Unemployment is not the same thing as leisure, although a few intrepid individuals turn it into that. The cleanliness of Trocchi’s attitude toward work (the state’s) is useful and clear, not deployed by the state’s use of a man (such as Burroughs’). The effect of community planning is the same a drugs on the mind, a barrier is erected between those people who are starving “wherever they are,” and the possibility of self-disclosure: horrors are varied or replaced by the state, not abandoned.

*

Cain’s Book recalls very much to me the pleasure of reading Robinson Crusoe. They both lived on an island. Had few possessions, those calculated and laid out with simplicity. They both travel about in a small intimate realm doing no harm and behaving in a most exacting manner, a little afraid of their surroundings it’s true, as they should be, both terrifically busy and premeditating on the self. Crusoe had Friday, Trocchi has many Fridays, whom he has the added advantage of coming upon the footprints of, more often. Of course, he, Trocchi, has a masterful and graceful way of recalling and inhabiting as a tribute to it, the past. Crusoe had not that need, but the differences are less interesting than the similarities of the two books. They both watch the shore in a sense, for what washes up. Trocchi watches for women, Crusoe looks out for himself.

*

Trocchi is using a drug which has a life only in terms of a man. When the state fixes, it uses people. The difference is sufficiently clear. Needs are subjective. They can hardly be otherwise. When the state fixes it uses people, if the war is a great one like the wars called #I & #II, it may shoot an overdose and get finally hooked, (die) and not even need wars to supply itself, as now, it’s its own pusher. But the state is an object and can be anesthetized. Trocchi is apparently a dangerous man because he is harmless, i.e., without the power to starve a continent. The paradox is not so obvious. It is unnatural for the objective state to need flesh and blood for its life, a simpler proposal is that a rock is a carnivore.

*

There is a great scarcity of things, contrarily we are told there is a saturation. To take one example, it is beside the point utterly that the mass needs no more cars. One has to talk about the car. Why are Fords made at all when obviously a Ferrari is better? It is a greater pleasure to go 150 mph in a vibrationless, well grounded vehicle than to fall apart in a rut at 40. When a man maintains we need no more Fords without pointing out that all cars should be Ferraris, there is some purpose behind his thesis.

*

De Ropp’s confidence that a population on soma, run by a gallant gang at the top, will be able to sustain itself in the face of a more obvious select population which is the master of its own soul would be driven batty in no time at all by the indifference of the subjugated masses. One of the simplest reasons that addicts are never given their stuff free, although wealth is such that this is certainly possible, is that addicts enjoy addiction to the exclusion of what the giver considers to be the real world; i.e., the world they rule.

*

There are various natures possible to the I. The patience Trocchi marshals when rummaging reality, the careful picking and placing and mortising of incident and word, are enough. Defoe and Trocchi occupy the subjective with much the same sternness. It is a single stem of commitment differing from the clustered patterns of the I as Dostoevsky used it, say in Crime and Punishment, in which he is the central character who operates a battalion of impingements in the form of men and women. Crime and Punishment, along with Hardy, closer to us, is the last legitimate use of the grand emotional architecture of an elaborately constructed ego of a writer. Our world has been successfully reduced to one man. How interesting one man can be now where shipwreck is obviously impossible, has been shown by Trocchi. He is his own helmsman too, and even if he steers badly, he will probably not be lost.

*

Labor has always been in surplus. There is no theoretical or practical plan to cope with this phenomenon which doesn’t have two heads, one consuming the other. Jesus said the poor would always be with you. This was a commonplace observation for him to have made. The strata of classes from the subprofessional up — have come to thrillingly expect the perpetuation of this truth. To alter it nothing short of a grotesque evolutionary abbreviation would do the trick, and then I am not convinced that chemopsychiatry couldn’t plan ahead sufficiently to insure the safety of the class whose interest it is to have such human creatures of misery as a constant reminder of their own championship of fair play in progress. Another use of the I is that employed by Genet. In this use the I is not directly self-assertive except as it is a necessary presence. Otherwise it operates as a sponge, utterly undistinguishing, utterly at the mercy of external bombardment, engorging itself to bursting. It does not constitute a self. It is a limp, ever changing basin into which can run the fluids given off by all contact, by all touch, by all sense excitement. It is the ideal ego-condition envisioned by any power-authority. When they get around to properly studying it, chemists will find in Genet the first standard of what a chemical for man (material man, i.e., that broad mass of man who is simply treated as material) should do. This is not going to be use for leisure, but by that time all pretensions will have been permanently masked.

*

Civil disobedience has become routine; and certainly ineffectual. When Thoreau made his point it was different enough to be noticed, at least locally, at least by himself. Life disposed of its reasons and terms in a world that was limited enough, and very much familiar enough to grant a man with nerve and good humor his refusal. “Are you in there Henry?” Now it is difficult to know where one goes to apply for a refusal, a desire, a need. One remains just as aware as it was possible then to be. One also needn’t assume the world has become more “complicated” in the last 125 years. More dense, yes. Whitman said, “I can conceive a community . . . in which, on a sufficient scale, the perfect personalities without noise meet; say in some pleasant western settlement or town.” Said in his own disillusionment, that hope has proved hopeless. Something else he said however, at least in its continued necessity, is as correct now as then “. . . that the crowning growth of the United States is to be spiritual and heroic.” A clever man will laugh at that. Because it too seems radically hopeless, if you care to run your eyes over the material of men here in these United States. Suppose one wanted to write a “great poem of death,” can you imagine who, out of a population of 180,000,000, could die to that purpose if you would, as you should, exclude your personal friends. This is putting it backwards of course. But then it is backwards.

It would seem that Civil Disobedience is not the business of the writer anyway, because if he writes anything worth reading right there he is disobedient, and uncivil. Burroughs is a sort of Thoreau.

*

When Henry Miller, William Burroughs, Thoreau, or Frank Skinner try telling us how to live, it’s pretty boring — it always involves going back somewhere to pick up — back, to recapture some wisdom that’s said to be missed now, etc.

*

Burroughs . . . . . . . . how Lawrence mistook Dahlberg.

There seems something midwestern in Burroughs. Perhaps it isn’t the machine co. which I think is in Indianapolis. Dahlberg is Cleveland. Lindsay I guess Illinois. Sandburg nothing — being everywhere there is corn. Staying vegetable when those other men attempt a sighting through some siding. Sandburg is a midwest facism. What does he want? A silly Chicago rail splitter city-state. Dahlberg has his ears full of language. Not spoken language. No ear for that. American learned language. The descriptive nouns of the midsection of the U.S. See From Flushing to Calvary. Lawrence is quite wrong about Dahlberg. So is Duncan. He is not empty, wicked or whatever else, man. He exhibits that peculiarly American thing: growth — from a dismally cold bed to a complex technique of reality — like any seed. Go from Bottom Dogs and From Flushing to Calvary, (Can These Bones Live is an adjunct emotion), to the Autobiography:

Then he went out. He was in no place and no place was in him. He had nowhere to go and so he sort of went on. He walked through the light and the light walked through him

That’s certainly more the point than Eliot’s nerves flashed on the wall.

*

The Burroughs prose is of little value unless a general abandonment of the earth is forthcoming (which might appear to be the case). All writing regardless of its nature, reflects in various degrees the referent, this parenthetical proposition. If a plan like this is posited, does the sense of the Burroughs prose increase? Yes. Only if an area is to be forsaken, to be totally given up, is analogy capable of rendering sense. To begin with analogy is a special comparison, a comparison only useful if one is say, gone. Again an approximate record. There is never time enough for a “record” to complete. For instance, no one knows what a bureaucracy is, beyond a demented notation. Virus is as good as any, but no better. It operates on the comprehension with a great deal of “remains.” All quick notations do, myths, symbols, etc. This is feasible only if posited in great frameworks of time. What good is any collective recognition if there are no collectors? Languages die without completing themselves, Latin and Greek being no exception. When a language becomes hyperpersonalized i.e., Joyce and others, Burroughs, the process takes place in a matter of seconds — from one word to the next there is no possibility. He may be saying plenty. He is. So does a treadmill. It isn’t as if virus is a parameter for Bureaucracy. The number of analogues for Bureaucracy must be very high. The point in doubt is that any one of them is any clearer than the next. Language put to any use inevitably has a varying amount of nonsense in it. It seems a structured defect for Burroughs to have counted so much on the rather high-powered analogy of the virus and bureaucracy. Other comic shots work superbly, (the firstest with the moistest) the rusty sardine can top surgery of Dr. Benway. But that segment of his line isn’t required to support any “statement.” Benway is the most exact construction of a doctor I have ever encountered.

*

It is probable that all art has finally to respond to the constant exclamation, “help!” Burroughs certainly has indexed all the propositions thereof but he has not sense whatever of response. One is not talking of solution of course. Those are not forthcoming form him anymore than from anyone else. There is nothing to hamper any arrangement of content. But if a novel is not various it is no novel, i.e., it cannot be singular — The Naked Lunch is solely composition. Of course N.L. isn’t a novel. Traditional American journal writing.

*

So The Naked Lunch is entertainment.

*

“Human analogue approach” attempt to duplicate mind process of a human translator as closely as possible in computer.

*

Burroughs should have been a “T” man. Burroughs is against Democracy. Crazy. That puts him in the same booth with John Wesley, Allen Dulles, Barry Goldwater and William Z. Foster. Democracy is pretty relaxing as a matter of fact. All it means any way is that you have on stage certain idiots going through a routine at which they don’t excel any more than you would. How then does it differ from any other form of “government,” drug oriented or not?

*

Necessity is a formalized notion in literature, as against what happens in “life,” just as moral precepts are in religion or philosophy, i.e., relative only to what is given, to the argument of what is, not what is. The absence of a moral ordering is common enough, though hard to recognize because the habit is to supply missing parts. Cain’s Book is built solidly upon the large foundation of the late 19th century novel, i.e., Dost., Hardy, Lewis, Ford, possibly even Lawrence who is like a delayed reaction proceeding from that century. C’s B is antimodern through its use of a strict exclusiveness, a, an, the, individual, is the only opportunity of its sense. Nihilism is precisely exclusive and limited to a class, the underclass, which has not had the use of the machinery of possibilities, which if it did have it wouldn’t be.

*

One of the failures of form in T.N.L. is that is isn’t indexed. Who get there the firstest with the mostest stands in a simple arithmetical relation to who get there the latest with the leastest. Both vicious tricks. Both the cheapest tricks in the industry.

*

What structure more dull than an ego — a self assertive referent to the arbitrarily external.

*

Use:

Burroughs’ only referent is himself — the machine referent is only to itself — for instance it has only been talked about that data fed a machine has solution value — this is not inevitable — the machine is just as much machine when the plug is pulled. The plug is where the human element enters — but it is hardly a necessity of the machine. There is a self satisfied containment in isolation — plugged in or plugged out.

*

T.N.L. should be a popular book — something for everybody — needs only a glossary of terms for the unhip. Poses no problem of intellectual sophistication as to form, profundities, etc. Dr. Benway, “a loveable character.”

*

Burroughs as an anthropologist: I have a feeling another thing that’s wrong with T.N.L. is that it doesn’t have pictures.

*

Trocchi should be given money, grants, whatever, because he is the primary aesthetician of habit. The National Science Foundation could do no better than support him. Trocchi at least has the decency not to preach. He’s not a man called Peter. I find the “appreciation” of dope in C’s B of a deeper order than in T.N.L. Trocchi’s precise will is a superior conveyor than Burroughs’ mere autonomy of needle.

*

Irritating (imitative of the state?) that Burroughs is literally without presence — the writer not there — it seems less a question of masks than absence — (he is time-bound, i.e., to the present) one can accurately deduce he has led a terrifying life — o.k. — but before he made that aesthetic choice he probably didn’t bust his ass too much — it remains so sticky — where is he? — that’s a good question — it’s just like that goddamn sniveler Henry Thoreau looking out the window at his neighbor trundling around some stores. Hank is so cute, about what a fool his farmer friend is — while he, Thoreau, has the gig utterly exposed for the silliness it is, from his window, mind you — they’re all ranters, the bastards, of little use to anyone save a few hip middle class pricks here and H.T. let someone pay his taxes.

*

All right, The Naked Lunch is a description of the present state of emergency, and occasionally the positing of possible combinations for the various possible conclusions of the future — run by occasional surrealist traditional imaginative machinery — the interrogation to all this is where is the pain between men?

*

Phrases like “he got there there firstest with the mostest” are impeccable memories of language, like feedback.

*

How does the economy — the reality of how a man lives in the flux of the demands of the “world” — how do these forks grab. In a novel like T.N.L. are they, for instance, as full of care as the text of Jude the Obscure? What happens to a man, etc. — the only theme anyway.

*

Burroughs doing what Miller suggests . . . Miller equals emotional participant . . . Djuna Barnes equals arty . . . the third sex equals Genet equals ambisexuality equals limbo of omni-decision. William Golding: expert, you go to a man and say, etc., write me an allegory — he says ok, I’ll do ‘er. Symbolising, downfall, expert, method.

*

Junkies must be the tightest little group of how-to-live-ers since the days of Brook Farm.

*

In principle there is no more difficulty in connecting for heroin than in connecting for, on the part of masses of men, food. At first glance the term “addicted” can be applied to all use — but the most unfortunate user is a lot better off than the starving man.

*

Phrases like “he got there the firstest with the mostest” are impeccable reach-backs into the language, operate like feedback. Although terrible and truly funny it isn’t humor at all, it is research and I dare say, at the right moment countless other phrases would be employed. The funny business doesn’t arise from any internal necessity of the prose line, it’s superimposed as one possibility — depends on what’s been fed. This necessity isn’t necessarily a necessity, but too great a collection of miscellanea, single shots, into a prose body whose anatomy is otherwise barren of any kind of birth, is a frustration for everyone, both husband and wife. The Naked Lunch is like the eternal pregnancy, the caesarian that had to go ten months and of course the 10 months stretched into 20, etc. (I heard of a woman who carried a feotus 7 years.)

*

No demand that anything be born, finally obviously that’s not up to me — that’s a concern of the writer. But this much is clear — a piece of writing, any kind, can’t stand as a body outside itself, i.e., to be an allegory of what the whole sense was intended to transmit. What I am driving at is that if The Naked Lunch has the intention to convey a large, general reality as a state of unfulfilled pregnancy, the birth that was anticipated but for some private reason never occurs — it simply can’t. Not that way. And doesn’t. Politically and socially it is a singularly naïve book. Messages aren’t art, or writing, even. They are a vortex of horseshit perpetrated for one irrelevant reason or another. They depend on what anyone of us has known for a very brief time, say 2, 3 years (archetypes are news multiplied by 1000). If that’s the case with T.N.L. as I suspect it is, it should be rewritten — more carefully paying attention to what language is — a plant potted in the mouth, no a finger between the toes. Big difference. The fingers can go elsewhere to thrive, the language can’t.

*

But is it great anthropology, in the traditional sense — gathering, like Bastion, Rassmusson, Levi Strauss?

*

The language of the novel, is not special (anthropology uses a semi-special language, some mathematicians use a pure, exclusive, special language). Novel language is anti-special. Otherwise novel would not be a current, available, trans-cultural form. Anthropology is a casual, entertaining science that doesn’t have to reiterate instantly the terms of belief of which sciences are augmented. The whole range of the writing of internal original necessity — poetry, novels, stories — is not subjected, except perhaps by an eccentric, to belief. And if what Whatmaugh says is true, “Not only is equivalent reproduction, i.e., translation, impossible,” then the hang up of T.N.L. consists of its by-passing simple analogy in order to represent itself. As T.N.L. is a series of scrambled messages, it is in its inception a translation, in its original form a translation. This is probably the first time a book has been written in translation instead of the normally original language. Whereas Finnegans Wake is a “score of different and incompatible linguistic pattern, thereby giving rise to a very large amount of noise,” T.N.L. is one removed from the original language by the author’s informal collections being superimposed on a generally alarmed self-identity. He, Burroughs, is plugged into a reality, namely a vaguely shaped, haunted pharmacopaeia, while his phantoms are those which are Smith Brothers to us all. The “connection” he know he would wait a long time for, but he didn’t know he wouldn’t make it — Burroughs is an imperfect machine — only one prong of the plug got into the socket. Those phantoms don’t work that way anymore. As significant recall it is a bad failure — he is certainly the aesthetician of the asshole but “cork screw motion” has the power of the jargon of two close friends in high school. Don’t they laugh a lot.

*

Again, there is an unlucky dependence on the topical, on rubrical reiteration to hold together anecdotes from the activities of primitive anthropological gathering. I see it as a failure of form. Gilbert Sorrentino, in a letter in “Floating Bear,” does not, if I am to take him seriously, by saying he wouldn’t mind if the man proceeded with a pair of scissors in each hand. But Burroughs is a painstaking and deliberate worker whose method of work I can detect as only highly conventional. Personal applications aside, he clearly proceeded with the constructive logic of a plumber. Everything comes out in the end, like a joke. There are no questions in T.N.L. There are many implied answers. Back to the machine. This tape, T.N.L., is a parody of the machine and in that perhaps Burroughs is also a prophet, i.e., gives answers when no questions were fed. This procedure has the obvious advantage that the writer doesn’t have to propose anything and further is totally uncommitted. The rat. Then why is he so preposterously puritanical about dope? I’ll never know. I can’t see the slightest reason for his concern. And those implications are so thoroughly preached, and by application that element constitutes a distinctly boring characteristic of the book. Once more, this question-answer hanger might be the intended lesson that there are no questions only answers? A reversal of the simple usual. And the dope concern a cute play for the status of expert?

*

The Burroughs’ dream is not horrifying. Dreams are capable of invoking a horror of a very specific time only — that point at which you open your eyes from them and “realize” where you were. Within the dream, before wakefulness, the horror is isolated from open cognizance like an ocean liner at sea. His dreams are entertainment, to a certain extent: (his pronouncement at one point that he is no entertainer, but a recording instrument, his own desire for notoriety as a machine, the latest thing, is itself theatrical and of course he is a liar, he is actually an entertainer). And an excellent one. Years ago in Chicago, 2 pictures — “Desire” and “Passion” played. Hedy Lamarr was said to run through them naked, chased by something. A clinging fascination. I never saw them. Lots of rubes like me did. Certain parts of T.N.L. involved that quality of hesitant curiosity in men. But even these props — the recurring act of breaking the neck, snapping the spine or neck in the midst of anal-sodomy — is straight from the farm, in the form of an anecdotal joke. An old farm joke, usually involving chickens because chickens wiggle so when their necks are snapped, not very important; but then neither are rubes not are those jokes. That all comes through anthropology. Edgar Anderson says anthropologists should pay more attention to the midwestern farm. The Burroughs machine is I believe now located in Indianpolis. Cornhole is a word for sodomy with animals in the midwest. Sodomy is very strong in the midwest, the fantasy of sodomy at least, or should I say was; to a large extent, I understand, animals have been isolated on the present farms for various reasons — sanitation, confined quarters to insure “thriftiness,” etc. But this material is finally real, i.e., chronologically before dream — i.e., isn’t dream a definition of what goes before and only prophetic of future time/lag? Burroughs should reframe his work with non-informational material. If he really desires not to be an entertainer. Entertainment is dead information — “the funniest thing happened to me on the way to the theatre this evening.” As a matter of fact this is all machines can handle too. Recording instruments. It is a great fallacy to be enamoured of the potential of the machine creature. No matter what finally or in a hundred years comes to pass for the machine’s benefit, think for itself and all, it will probably not learn to do the job better than Burroughs does right now. I don’t care how funny it gets to be, because after you pay your money and get your kicks and leave the book or the movie you want to stop laughing. You always do. And as for any kind of information, (by the way I am not considering “warnings” to be information, but rather uncomplicated flat data) it’s useless to the exact extent that you knew it or you didn’t know it and now you do.

But if the desire of T.N.L. to be a strict record has not been frustrated, the author has oversimplified himself at one point, to the extent the sense is unclear. His allegorical disposition of Bureaucracy as virus is so close to the objections to bureaucracy by Herbert Hoover, Robert Welch, and Barry Goldwater as to make me wonder if he means it that way or is this one of the jokes I don’t get. This again is a spot in which he chooses to object to people who don’t like addicts.

*

The means of communication being what they are today, i.e., manifest, a work like T.N.L. is obsolescent by the time it hits the streets, I mean in its possible value to the English speaking and reading race at large. Any small daily has enough AP dispatches to fulfill the demand in the area T.N.L. is able to cover. Burroughs is of course a much better writer than anyone the AP has, but is that so important, for that material? This is the grit of a UP dispatch today, picked at random: an unemployed man moves into line at a cafeteria his burning eyes on the steaming cabinets. (Now I won’t play around with the quality of eyes — insect or otherwise — the thing about any eye is that it sees and is not an eye, input.) The man moves closer and grabs a piece of ham and it lodges in his throat and he falls down and is dead a few minutes later. No matter what Burroughs has to say it is no more important than that. And that isn’t important because it is one of those “endless” fragments in the stream of what is called reality. If what you mean is not important or engaging enough to pause for — to stare at even, or linger with, and it with you, in some peculiar fashion — it is sadly that flat. All of it is dumped into the digester to be reprocessed — or that story in Time magazine about the technicians’ concern over what would happen to the carcass of a man who might die enroute to the moon, Mars, & points beyond — couldn’t put him in the digester (which would convert all waste back into food, etc.) along with the other shit because of the clear implication of cannibalism.

*

I am not trying to frame any requirement that a man tell us something new. I know better than that. Us, no. No one ever did. But plenty of people have told me things new and different, so much that I wouldn’t have thought it possible. Any attempt to discuss T.N.L. as a “literary” endeavor is pointless. It is more to the point to bring in Skinner with his one-thing-at-a-time, or as against that other man on the west coast who wants big chucks. It is that kind of a proposition: because this might make a text book of sorts — would be a good style book for AP, make a dull scene lively and much more vivid and entertaining at least for a while. One thing is quite clear — T.N.L. is in no way a dangerous book politically or otherwise, and the only thing that stops its publication in this country must be that Grove Press has not completed its buildings to the orgasm (money) of the publishing date.

*

The novel as it is popularly read is still being written because it is still commercially profitable — there is a boredom with more efficient media which makes a passive attention to the novel still financially interesting. When those other media (T.V most obviously, but also a whole host of other “electronic” possibilities) become set in the now recalcitrant mind the novel will be read only as Latin is read now, or as whist is played, or as poetry is “read.” In a limited way both C’s B and T.N.L. are departures in form because they make of the remnant of the novel a diary. All diarists are “recording instruments.” How can one so easily define a form as it is used? Most AP dispatches are brief novels. All writers have a keen notion of what it is they are doing. Both Trocchi and Burroughs can be thanked for continuing the anti-state line. Brawny, adventurous men, with the minds of globe-trotting piglets, will continue to extol the virtues of having plenty of bread, while they themselves chew placidly away. That much was always certain. In a sense all “social” novelists are simply white traders. The life is excellent but the writing a little preachy in the sense that if you posit a god — sex, a bull, a bullet, you have to also make it remotely available, otherwise it’s the same old small print fable. One must say this for Burroughs — he gives you the whole formula, you don’t have to go chasing after missing ingredients — the kit is complete, you don’t even have to assemble it — great improvement, he assembles it for you — a tireless man. Lawrence is quite out-dated in that the kit is never complete — you find yourself having to have a certain kind of myth-date, a certain kind of sex-key, a certain bit of travel experience, a certain kind of woman, a specific kind of looking on certain primitives, every notion in the writing of Lawrence is so “derived” there is no one place to go to verify it, because Lawrence is no “common” which is precisely that commoner with a message — worst sort of preacher of all (Burroughs) — of course you can take his word for “experience.” That’s certainly up to anyone. Lawrence tried to push the moral hang-up resulting from an increased insignificance of the single industry of single man back to a metaphysical question — is there an alarming and dominant dark guidance in his gut? – the answer turned out to be yes but it had been yes from the beginning. All Lawrence’s work ends up nowhere, and not significantly there, one extension Burroughs has made is a shambles of any kind of a race and hence all other darknesses.

*

Burroughs is correct in not wanting to be an entertainer, although he is one. He is as greedy as the next. I mean he has his piercing hog-call going for eternity or “his-own-time,” to who said it. His particular trough is not likely to runneth over. A great deal of “literature” which is “great” is simply curiousity. Like, a man who was capable of many things, did one. The state of the machine is still undecided. The hopes of some small eyed men of course are apt to be fulfilled. They always are, or have been thus far, the machines can’t answer any question it ain’t wired for; and presumably can’t ask any.

*

It would seem too early to chuck the human active process into an “abyss” of diaryism. Records were never worth a damn anyway, and given the lobotomized hopes of the “specialist,” they will be worth less. The brain becomes a “mechanism” easily, dependent upon the bank of simple external phenomenal material for its clear, and clever, manipulations. “Shock,” as a matter of fact, is subject to tolerance also, as “dope” is, and I see this tolerance of recorded phenomena, from assholes to elbows, leading right straight not to hell, that might be too interesting, but to a hideously simple minded rock in the chair. Burroughs I am aware is out to point his finger at this state. Trocchi is simply saying no matter what happens I will have the shit cooking, which strikes me as utterly simple and clear. Between the former and the latter there is a no man’s land that houses apparently lots of people, I am never arguing any “responsibility” for god’s sake, the direction of that emotion is totally unstated in this world, 1962.

*

Form is never outside the question — for when it is begged it is no less there as a force to be disposed of. Trocchi is in command of the recurrence of his people. Apparently Burroughs isn’t. Obviously the internalized traffic, his people, is not regulated by any will. Trocchi may be operating form an “unconscious” memory held briefly to with all the arrogance of ego. Trocchi continues to write as a man with the conscious range of a mind which has grasped what it is capable of. It seems to me this process is both older, and will be, newer, than the locally modern, i.e., upset stomach, throw up Burrougsh.

*

It is practical to treat the reader as a voyeur, i.e., involve him in that way, but only if one is an entertainer, with that exhibitionistic necessity. Joke books require a special audience; T.N.L. has no means in operation, that I can discover, beyond the recitative, i.e, most all jokes forgo meaning in exchange for the setting into motion of their basic machineries, i.e., the joke seeks to make the auditor “function” in a certain way (viz — the joke’s on you). What is the aim of Burroughs and his naked lunch? What does he seek for, say, an ideal result, reaction of, his subjects? Is the joke on us? I know what the joke was, of course, but I want to know where it is. I am not demanding that as a “right to know,” but simply to know, after all, I could have been reading another book. It is personally important for me to know because I don’t read joke books, and if his rancor, and sensibility are aimed at making me function, i.e., plugging me in, I reach for the cord, because I am as puritanical as he is, I choose who turns me on. For better or worse, he has, I found the book a succession of minor wrecks. What I had wanted, is a place to locate him, B. The only difference between a hydroelectric dam and a river without one, is simple. Burroughs is continuous so long as he defies location, that is the cheapest trick in the industry. The thought that one, anyone, can write for oneself is nonsense. The writer is no longer private the minute he has taken himself to be cute enough to be printed.

Cannot the modern world charge be met in a clearer way than T.N.L. proposes? (C’s B. is pre-modern individualism, T.N.L., “modern” same.) The strongest indicator of which is the unlocatability of the human individual — nearly dead — about to be reclaimed by a new visit, as in the case with the moon, the early modern, or pre, is different from the present only in terms — there haven’t been any new motivations in 500 years — D.H. Lawrence is dated only by his terms, nomenclature — can’t our predicament be suffered with deeper penetrations? Does prose, to enjoin an ugly time, have to be itself ugly? or clumsy? Is there truly a correspondence between the thing wrought and the wroughting? A likeness? Is it that way? Or does it come to be the light and dark it is by virtue of the torque which throws it somewhere else? By its haunting (suggestive) dissimilarity? DHL’s essay on The Scarlet Letter seems to say the art in spite of the artist. Is T.S.L. a representative of the world above and beyond the pedestrian exposures of Burroughs?

*

Henry Miller, like every humanitarian, was simply having a good time, at least Burroughs has more to say than that. Lawrence has the advantage of time of course — when The Scarlet Letter was fresh it did not have all the barnacles of terms picked up later in the psychoanalytic seas. Whatever cognizance accrues from a later time, it was an advantage to T.S.L. that it was not “representational.” Even, if it is the most beautiful allegory in the language, is allegory removed by no more than one step from “representation?”

*

The symbol still has a persuasion literal portrayal does not — both consciences yield better when the nail is driven into the grain, rather than head-on, straight in. Has it been more than a tradition to go in sideways, a requirement, the word at the gate?

*

T.N.L. is bereft of symbols, singularly Benway is the most neatly rendered literal doctor imaginable, being an exact conventional portrait of members of that fraud class of men. Burroughs’ achievement with that character is a grand, brief, uh-huh, i.e., he stops just then — but do doctors? One disadvantage of literalness is that it reaches its limits — its outpost of awareness immediately, instantly — there it comes to a halt with the throwing of the lives into the corner of the ward, the putting of the rusty sardine can, back into the black bag, or, coincident, with T.N.L., the selling of stale blood to dying men. But, there is another point, what is lovable, lascivious windbag, Benway, doing now, to us. I find myself mauling the idea — I find Burroughs utterly “accurate” in one respect (he is polemical of course), i.e., his common sense — Burroughs says something like: “if anybody’s in something, there’s something in it — the scientist is a reality addict — he wants everything real so he can get his sweaty hands on it, and of course it is a forgone conclusion when he does he’ll squeeze the shit out of it.” But there is something else Burroughs ought to feel obligated to say — scientists are in no danger, they constitute a harem for the State. As long as the shiek makes it, they make it. The scientist doesn’t want to get his hands on reality, not at all, in fact it is true the scientist hasn’t any wants or needs. He is rather directed to get his hands on your reality.
*

It could hardly be more obvious that the scientist does what he’s told, the more liberal, the truer. The scientist can only operate against you. He can’t help it, really. (Burroughs in his impotent generalness only hints at this as he does at all things — “wouldn’t you?”). The fact is built into that “industry.” Addict is quick. The scientist isn’t a user in that limited argot. He doesn’t even have necessarily, only incidentally, to use your reality. He’s got his own still, and shows every sign of keeping it, while you weren’t looking he pinched yours and kept his own. It’s an old banking principle. Thus he doesn’t want “reality.” Or I mean it isn’t an important point. Nothing new in it at all. So, he is allowed to keep his reality, and what is in it? Nothing much! Never forget the scientist is a worker. Millennia ago he was a muscle man. He still is but his lapels have narrowed. He has the defective sensibility of the worker; after work, he goes home. There, he does this routine (ritual to his objective “intelligence”) with his “reality.” A definite hierarchy — i.e,. if he is a very big shot snob scientist, ultimate snob as he thinks of it, he listens to esoteric music instead of the technologist’s funeral of Beethoven, Mozart, etc., served through the dish of a machine “sensitive” enough to pick up the aftermath of the conductor’s lunch. This is needless to repeat of course, after Ortega. Suffice it to say the scientist’s reality is not yours, it is cheap, of course, his reality, but it is inviolable, that’s all that interests him in this position — he doesn’t even care about your reality — he is compelled by those who control him to do what he can with it. He’s paid. Why not? It is a curious miscomprehension on Burroughs’ part that he doesn’t seem to get this simple point — making important basic distinctions is not his strong point — there is manifest in his prose the inability to make simple separations of dangers to those he must see to engage. Does this make him a “recorder?” No. The simplest records would perform this service. They do, in fact. In that sense he very much underestimates the worlds that alarms him. The mark of the type of a good puritan Burroughs wants to be is that he doesn’t make such errors. Some factors of actual men are not subject to mutation. The proof seems to be that the world has known a continuous change, but a tedious one, the briefness of all time notwithstanding, and, possibility being one of the established infinities, there has been a poverty of variables. The speeded up “mutation” of the nerve-brains by drugs is an excellent thought. But Burroughs’ use of “mutation” is not classical, it is adjectival, the same as Lawrence’s “blood-conscience,” it means simply an infirm change of short duration, the need of repetitive administration basic. It was never settled whether man could “change” himself (presumably for the good) through other means toward some flexibly real different thing. As long as the charge is put upon the nerve-brains the whole residue of malevolent conventional authority, i.e., the pricks, is still a free, thus dangerous agent.

*

The nature of T.N.L. is one of misconceptions riddled with a tour de force here, some brilliant writing there. It was suggested to me that Burroughs has created the one truly new character in modern “fiction.” Viz, the purple assed baboon. That I accept as the truth.

*

William Burroughs is Westbrook Pegler in disguise. The language. One thing seems certain — language has no shock as such — there’s no material weight to it after the Victorian reign of suggestion, the great English and Americans drained that energy by forcing generations of readers and writers to search and they worked, i.e., they weren’t “fed” — the main reason the coercive machinery of censorship is run down now is that everybody knows language cannot shock (rather than the official “anything goes” account — the collapse of the morality/suggestion means is complete — only the words remain and the names have been changed. That letter of Thoreau’s to H. Blake, Dec. 7, 1856, in which he says of Leaves of Grass, “I do not wish so much those parts were not written, as that men and women were so pure that they could read them without harm, that is, without understanding them” — i.e., all the modern quarrel with self knowledge, the split “twixt the mind and body, the danger of an ascendancy of either.” The social terror of that former talk is all gone — there is a dirty thrill to see easily fuck shit piss cunt cock juice, etc. on the page, but not on the part of the “populace,” they still read the 19th century style prose. Only the “intelligent” reader is exposed to that new liberation bestowed on him by the groovy presses — good luck. Hot dogs. But it isn’t scatological, like the rightists say, scat is a study. If there is a textual force derivable form such spillage, it must be words qua words, that immediacy of effect, those processes such words are studs for (like keys) are not necessarily what best springs the desired myth-anthro-Jung memory story.

*

It seems true that the two consciences might be choosy in what they want to acknowledge and thus might be bored by familiarity, they may not be exactly autonomous regarding what they will allow called forth, but maybe devious. Boredom is a reality. Some idiots, who look just like men, insist on the ignorance that the subconscience is a helpless depository of all the human being might suspect it wants to accrue, like learning a language while you sleep, either to its delight or controlled uncontrollable terror. It seems unlikely the selectivity of the whole organism has this special exception — the subconscience. A great many rather jazzily terrible bits must be ignored by it. Persons who suffer “breakdowns” might just be indiscriminate recorders. In fact that’s so. But it isn’t a problem for those who seek to manipulate personal systems in a certain way. The susceptibility may be only for that highly specialized group. Usually the writer addresses the world at large and then lets it go to hell. The knowledges (not great) Burroughs operates with levers seems valuable — his mistake I can’t quite define — but when he climbs in the cab of his Euclid he heads for the dump, where certainly there’s a lot of stuff, besides his own, and he’s got his content in the bed, yet his assumption is, instead of being however poor an excuse for a man, is that you are the city dump. He’s a thoughtless man. He get paid for dumping.

Originally published in Kulchur #7 (Autumn 1962). Posted by RealityStudio on 21 Sept 2013.

One thought on “Edward Dorn, “Notes More or Less Relevant to Burroughs and Trocchi” (1962)

  1. I’m sorry but this is so great. Dorn had obviously thought extensively about WB/NL and AT/CB. Certainly he favors AT but he hits on the nagging doubts I had about Burroughs’ work for a long time, alas. It feels like Dorn’s discoveries hurt him a lot more than they did WB. I actually believe WB’s writing improves a lot after “the word horde” gets mostly exhausted. I am impressed every I read an article by Dorn—this one is surely book worthy in itself–I must seek out more prose by this man.

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