Oliver Harris on Yage

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Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting

I received an email from Oliver Harris, author of William Burroughs: The Secret of Fascination and editor of The Letters of William Burroughs. According to his research and the research of others, much of the information on my web site concerning photographs of Burroughs in New York and Peru is inaccurate. The information Harris provides is wonderful stuff. It is an insight into the type of scholarship we can expect from The Yage Letters Redux and The Latin American Notebook due out soon. See RealityStudio for an interview with Harris on these topics. Hopefully, other readers out there can add their opinions and knowledge to current or future posts. Please check out the link for the Ginsberg Trust. Possibly, Burroughs will get similar treatment in the near future.

Dear Jed,

Just looking at your very interesting site via its link to RealityStudio, and really enjoyed your caption to the photograph illustrating “William Lee.”

However… you’re mistaken about the date. This photograph, taken on Ginsberg’s camera (and presumably by Ginsy himself) dates from autumn 1953; it’s on the same roll and sequence as my favourite picture, the one of WSB in the Met with his Sphinx… Although the exact date is unknown — anywhere between September and December is possible — it’s definitely not ’45, and unlikely to be the Fag in the background… Equally, I think you may be mistaken about the subway station. Like you, I think it ought to be 103rd St and B-way, but Bill Morgan thinks otherwise (and he is pretty reliable). If you check out the Ginsberg Trust site, you’ll see the details they give for this image.

I hope this is useful — I get the impression you care as much about detail as I do, and therefore would prefer to be corrected rather than mistaken, even about little things. Then again, it does rather spoil a nice caption…

One other small query for you – on your page about The Yage Letters, you say that the photographs make you think of “Roosevelt After Inauguration,” but you don’t say why; so what is it about these poses that makes the link?? (By the way, I think you may be mistaken in saying that the picture of WSB with his gun was taken in Pucallpa in July; and with the other picture, I can say with confidence that it wasn’t — I did a lot of research into this one, and worked out that it was taken outside Mocoa in March, and taken by none other than Richard Evans Scultes…)

Oliver

P.S. RealityStudio notes: That doesn’t look like the 8th Avenue and 14th Street subway station to me. The signs there say 14th Street, not 8th Avenue, and the sign in the picture clearly says “Ave.” And it’s definitely not 103rd and Broadway, a location you might pick only because Burroughs mentions it in Junky. To me it looks like the 2nd Avenue station on the F line. The sign looks like it says “2nd Ave.” And compare these pictures of it: 1 and 2. The signs are obviously different but the station is similar. (Then again, many NY subway stations look like that.) This also would have been the nearest station to Burroughs when he lived on East 7th Street with Ginsberg.

Written by Jed Birmingham and published by RealityStudio on 9 March 2006.

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