The Wild Boys

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Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting

Wild Boys bound

The Wild Boys. London: Corgi Books, 1973.

Samuel Delany’s copy. The copy has been handled roughly, as if thoroughly inspected or in an act of passion. Numerous pages are dogeared, the covers are distressed. For example, although the binding is intact, the entire book is, in effect, rebound by three extremely tight red rubber bands, which have left marks upon the sides of the book, like that on a wrist enclosed by a handcuff, a rope, or a wire. The bound Wild Boys has been placed in a simple cardboard box and wrapped in burlap and again bound in twine. The symbolic notations are in black ink and occur in the margins, yet also between lines of text, as in an insertion or a penetration. Location: The Estate of Burton Weiss.

The Samuel Delany who annotated Burroughs’ The Wild Boys is not the Delany of Nova or the Return to Neveryon series, nor even the Delany of Dhalgren, although the figure of the Kid is a species of Wild Boy. The Delany who rendered impure the blank spaces of Wild Boys was the Delany of Hogg, a novel of murder, homosexuality, sexual abuse, child molestation, incest, coprophilia, coprophagia, urolagnia, anal-oral contact, necrophilia, and rape, that just may be a “serious book with literary merit,” as described by Norman Mailer, and according to Jeffrey A. Tucker “gave expression to the author’s hostility toward a heterosexist society, an anger that had no socially constructive outlet prior to the modern Gay Rights movement.” Or Hogg just might be sick and obscene. Hogg takes the aggressive fantasies of Naked Lunch and pushes them even further without the hallucinatory, satirical sugar coating of Burroughs. Legend has it that Hogg was the only book Maurice Girodias of Olympia Press refused to publish on the basis of the extreme nature of its sexual content.

Delany wrote the first draft of Hogg in San Francisco just days before the Stonewall Riots and he completed a further draft in 1973, the date of publication of the Corgi Wild Boys. Hogg would not be published until 1995. One would suspect that Delany owned the first edition of The Wild Boys by Grove or Calder & Boyars, but Delany chose to annotate the Corgi paperback with its cover illustration by Philip Castle. Maybe he has was drawn to Castle’s cover art with its strong echoes of Kubrick’s adaption of Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange of which Castle did the movie posters. There are echoes of A Clockwork Orange in both The Wild Boys and Hogg. Maybe it is the pulp, sleaze, and pornographic elements implied by the format of the paperback itself that attracted Delany. Both The Wild Boys and Hogg come out of a boom period in the explicitness, openness, and production quality of all pornography. Burroughs’ letters from the late 1960s and early 1970s reveal a fascination with and fear of the gay porn industry. Wonder over the openness of it all, but trepidation that it would make Burroughs’ own work, like The Wild Boys, obsolete.

Delany has not written a single word in his copy of The Wild Boys but instead marked the book throughout with an elaborate array of symbols, for which there is no key or legend. Their meaning resides with Delany alone. The annotations serve as a ritual of initiation, a series of tatoos that incorporates The Wild Boys into Delany’s circle of reading and understanding.

Setting aside the meaning of the annotations, just the act of annotation deserves a moment of contemplation as regards the sexual fantasies of The Wild Boys and Hogg. There is a sexual element to marginalia. For some, the act of writing in one’s books is a form of intimacy. Such readers are not courtly lovers placing the clean flesh of the page on a pedestal to be admired from afar. To inscribe a book is to treat it carnally, to physically interact with it. A loving embrace. For others, annotation is a form of rape, an act of mutilation. Annotators are aggressive bullies, marking their turf with their territorial pissings. What type of reader is Franklin “Hogg” Hargus, what type of reader is Delany? Is Delany treating The Wild Boys with love and respect as befits a text with such a close relationship to Delany’s own work of the period? Or is Delany subduing the text and making it submissive, as befits an author experiencing an anxiety of influence and jealous rage? Is annotation about sharing and interacting with a text and author or controlling them? Delany’s annotations, like Hogg itself, can be read as having literary merit or as being merely an act of perversion and violence.

Michael Hemmington in The Review of Contemporary Fiction describes the character Hogg as a “rape artist.” Maybe that is another way to think of the controversial figure of the annotator.

Return to the Library of Interzone

Written by Jed Birmingham and published by RealityStudio on 31 October 2012.

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